american history Womens History

Fannie Farmer: Sick Day Saviour

Ok, Hands up whose ever been ill? Everyone, right! So then, you’ll know that food can be a god send when you’re under the weather. Maybe its a bowl of soup, maybe it’s your Granny’s homemade stew, maybe its a mammoth tub of ice cream; one things for sure, the sayings true, chicken soup (or whatever your sick day fix) is good for the soul.

But, just where did this food for feeling better idea come from? 

May we present Ms Fannie Farmer! (Yes ok, we know…now lets all be grown ups and get over the name)

Fannie Farmer (seriously guys, move on from the name!)

Now guys, strap in, because the story of Fannie Farmer is EVERYTHING

Born on March 23rd 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts in the US of A; Fannie was the oldest of 4 sisters. Her Parents Mary and John were staunch liberals, and as such they were determined that ALL their daughters would be educated and go to college.

Yeah… didn’t work out like that.

Fannie suffered a paralytic stroke and at just 16, she was told she wouldn’t be able to walk again, let alone go to college; a life of being bed bound awaited her.

Fannie wasn’t taking that shit. She was determined to get her life back.

While recuperating, Fannie stayed in the boarding house her parents ran. Slowly, she started learning to cook, as a way to help get back her motor skills.

Fannie released she not only loved cooking, but she was really bloody good at it! Soon her local community was lining up just to get a taste of her food.

Actual footage of people eating Fannies food

By the time Fannie turned 30 she’d just about regained the ability to walk (with a significant limp) This being Fannie, she didn’t waste anytime and immediately signed up for cooking school.

Unsurprisingly Fannie was top of her class.

It may have taken her a while to get there but Fannie excelled at College and on graduating the school offered her a position as assistant to the school director.

Just TWO years later Fannie was made the Principal of the Boston Cooking School!

The Fannie Farmer motto

But Fannie was far from done.

In 1896 she published her own book, with practical tips on household management. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, was packed full of household management tips and also had a real emphasis on the importance of measuring ingredients whilst cooking.

Fannies publisher, Little, Brown & Company, weren’t convinced this whole ‘accurate measurement’ thing would make for scintillating reading. So they limited the release to just 3,000 copies AND Fannie had to pay for the print run herself!

It goes without saying… Little, Brown & Company were totally wrong; the book sold out immediately and it has been selling ever since – now more commonly known as the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. 

Boston Cooking School Book.jpg
That. THAT. Is a good looking cook book

Fannie said of the book

‘It is my wish that it may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.’

Fannie’s emphasis on using science in cooking paid off and the book became a staple in American homes… as did measuring equipment!

Go Fannie! And also yay for knowing how much stuff to actually use in cooking!

Not content with giving us a classic recipe book and changing the way we look at cooking forever, Fannie wanted to contribute even more.

So, Fannie started touring America giving lectures on food preparation for the convalescent.

She wrote a book on the subject (Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent) and toured the country, stressing the importance of presentation and taste when feeding those recovering in hospitals and at home, because janky arse food has never helped anyone get better!

Fannie even lectured at Harvard’s medical school and her approach revolutionised how convalescent nutrition was handled by doctors and nurses.

This was undoubtedly the work Fannie was most proud of.

Seriously, is there anything this woman can’t do????

Fannie had more strokes throughout her lifetime and used a wheelchair for the last 7 years of her life, determined to keep on touring and lecturing on good food practice and the importance of nutrition for the sick.

She lectured right up until she passed away, giving her last lecture just 10 days before her death in 1915 aged 57.

Her legacy continues with her being cited as a huge influence on using measurements in cooking, treating it like a science. And her practical input into teaching physicians, nurses and dietitians the importance of food for those who are sick.

This was interesting, where can I find out more? Well, why not check out one of Fannie’s books! You can still buy them (for not that much TBH) and learn from the best!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.



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