Born on March 23, 1857, Bostonian Fannie Merritt Farmer significantly influenced the way Americans cook. By standardizing measurements in her recipes, Farmer guaranteed her readers reliable results. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook became a classic kitchen text. Still widely available, the cookbook remains a popular home cooking reference.
While a young woman, Farmer enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. After graduating in 1889, she became assistant director of the school. Within five years Farmer was at the helm, and, in 1896, she published the first edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, today known as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
Preparing and eating food is an essential part of our culture. In American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, many interviewees discuss memorable recipes, meals, and foodways. Mary Anne Meehan, an American of Irish descent, made her living as a cook. She recalled the foodways of her youth:
I always was cooking. I can’t remember when I didn’t know how. My mother was a corking cook. She could boil a ten-penny nail and make it taste good. I took after her. I could make cakes, light as a feather and I was a master hand at pie crusts. My tart shells would melt in your mouth; if I do say it myself. Everybody made jelly then and tarts was a favorite dessert. You never see a tart nowadays.
“Mary Anne Meehan.” Louise G. Bassett, interviewer; Brookfield, Massachusetts, June 10, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
- Use the research guide Community Cookbooks: An Online Collection to discover regional favorites from across the United States. Also find the widespread social and cultural effects of immigration, expansion, urbanization and industrialization through the ingredients and methods, kitchen equipment and household hints, advertising and recipes.
- Search on cooking, recipe, or baking in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 to find more descriptions of edible delights. “Italian Feed,” an interview with Mari Tomasi, will be among the results.
- Search the collection Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982 on cooking to find a variety of colorful materials. View, for example, the video “On Cooking Mountain Oysters” or listen to the audio “Comparing German and American Foodways.”
- Sign up for the Library’s Pinterest Board The Art of Good Eating to explore gastronomic and epicurean-themed illustrations from our fabulous rare book collections.
- Search on cookbook or cook book in Emergence of Advertising in America, 1850-1920External to find a variety of cook books from that era. See, for example, Sloan’s Cook Book and Advice to HousekeepersExternal and the Cow Brand Soda Cook Book and Facts Worth KnowingExternal.
- Household items were among the consumer goods advertised in short films shown before a main feature in movie theaters. In Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929, view the film advertisement for “Onward Flour.”
- Find out more about cooking and other household-related topics through the Science Subject Guide: Food & Nutrition compiled by the Library’s Science Reference Services. For example, view the webcast “The History of Household Technology” which describes the evolution in technology of such items as washing machines, irons, and stoves, and their impact on women’s work in the home.
- The Imagination section of the online exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress contains several cookbooks and recipes, including the First American Cookbook and the 1892 New York Cookbook. Locate these and other treasures under the heading “Domestic Arts.”