The Art of Cooking

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.

Schrafft’s, Madison Avenue and 58th St., New York City. Cakes in Bakery. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, Jan. 30, 1948. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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

Birmingham (near Detroit), Michigan. Kitchen Utensils hanging below a Spice Rack…. Arthur S. Siegel, photographer, [July 1942]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Learn More