“With the progress of knowledge the needs of the human body have not been forgotten. During the last decade much time has been given by scientists to the study of foods and their dietetic value, and it is a subject which rightfully should demand much consideration from all.”- Fannie Farmer
The holidays are filled with memories of special cookies. One of my favorites that my mom used to make all the time were “Chewy Noel Bars.” Oh how sweet, chewy, and delicious a cookie! So, while I was home over the holidays I decided to make a batch. I found my mom’s old Fanny Farmer cookbook and set to work. As I flipped through the pages the Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook, I marveled at how simple the recipes were and how few ingredients they required. You could make about 7 different types of cookies and bars with the same 5 ingredients, on average. This is amazing! Have you picked up a modern-day cookbook? They require everything from crystallized ginger to radiccio. Not exactly your “everyday” type of ingredients – if you know what I mean. All of this led me to wonder, “when was this book was published and who was this ‘Fannie Farmer’ character anyway?”
As it turns out, Fannie Farmer was quite a lady! Born in 1867 in Medford, MA the woman had a paralytic stroke at the age of 16. At which point she dropped out of high school, regained her ability to walk, and turned her parents’ home into a boarding house. At 30 she started attending Boston Cooking College. Mrs. Farmer was consider a top student at the school and happened to be there during the hight of the “domestic science” movement. She learned what crude science they had then for nutrition, food safety, chemical analysis of food, as well as general home economics topics.
In 1891 she became the principal of the Boston Cooking College and published the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1896. The book was a huge hit! It is this cookbook that introduced standard measurements (i.e. cup, teaspoon, tablespoon) to the American public. Up until this point recipes used the ever trusty “handful of this” and a “pinch of that” measurement methodology.
In 1902 Farmer left the Boston Cooking College to start Farmer’s School of Cookery. Her school the basics of both fine and everyday cooking to women. It was during this time that her interest in nutrition and health really started to develop. She published Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent and lectured at Harvard Medical School on the topic of nutrition. Farmer was before her time in realizing that the presentation and taste of food in a hospital was of utmost importance. She ranked these characteristics for food in hospitals over cost.
Spending lots of time in the hospital, I don’t think that the medical community has yet to fully understand that people who are ill and lack an appetite are not going to be enticed to eat bland and putrid smelling food.
As a student earning her masters of science in nutrition, Fannie Farmer’s history was an amazing find! I am so impressed with her tenacity to overcome obstacles both physical and social to reach the higher echelons of education and science. In her day, that was not a small feat! It amazes me that despite Farmer’s findings over 100 years ago, we have yet to fully understand the healing power of food. I agree with Farmer’s quote from the start of this blog posting. However, I find it disheartening that we have not made more progress in understanding our body’s relationship to food and nutrition.
In case you want to make your own “Chewy Noel Bars” you can find the recipe on Christmas-Cookies.com
For more information on Fannie Farmer check out these sites: