I like to say that cooking is an art based on science.

1950s kitchen

1950s kitchen

Cooking is one of my favorite expressive arts, and I also love the prep work. Give me a knife and a cutting board and a stack of vegetables, and I’m a happy girl.

The image here of the 1950s kitchen could be either very late 50s or early 60s, in my opinion. Those built-in wall ovens and counter cooktops didn’t really appear in newly built homes until about 1960, as I recall. My house was built in 1948, and the kitchen, remodeled by the original owner in the early 60s, looks so much like the one here that it’s jaw dropping. My oven, cooktop & range hood are stainless, though, very modern and expensive for those times, and my custom cabinets are cherry wood with big, round, “mod” stainless handles. Otherwise, identical layout.

I was a foods & nutrition major in my first run at a bachelor’s degree in the late 1970s (Cal Poly Pomona), and I do love to cook (and eat. Oh: and drink.) So, it seems fitting to share a tasty tidbit about one of my favorite creative activities (cooking) on a Web site about creativity. The tidbit is one NPR/Garrison Keillor sent today as “The Writer’s Almanac” for March 23, 2009.

Fannie Farmer

Fannie Farmer

Here’s a copy/paste of it: “It’s the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer, born in Boston (1857). She published the first cookbook in American history that used precise cooking instructions and level measurements. Her cookbook was filled with recipes and also advice on how to set a table, scald milk, cream butter, and remove stains. At first, all the publishers turned her down because they thought all these recipes and techniques were things that young women could learn from their mothers. But Fannie Farmer finally got her cookbook published, and it was an enormous success.”

I have many, many cookbooks, some new, some old and some very old. I also have recipes from my great-grandmother, who came to Saint Louis in the late 1800s as a child in a covered wagon from Kentucky. She cooked very basic farm fare and made killer chicken* and dumplings, stuffing, potato salad, potato bread, and, of course, the best friend chicken* that was ever associated with Kentucky. She never went to school and couldn’t read or write, so to get her recipes I had to follow her through them a couple of times when she was in her 90s, and I was in my early 20s, measuring her pinches and dabs and such, and taking notes on color, texture, etc.

1983 edition cover

1983 edition cover

I have The Fannie Farmer Cookbook that was published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, as the 12th edition in 1983. It’s hardbound and was practically unused when I bought it at a used book store in Overland (now sadly shuttered.) The frontpiece says the book was, “Published originally in 1896 under the title The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book By Fannie Merritt Farmer.”

My 1983 edition is more than 800 pages, and it retains much “old fashioned” information about ingredients, substitutions, kitchen basics, family meals and entertaining. It’s all as relevant today as it was the day it was first published, and I learn something new every time I use it. (I also have to admit that I often don’t follow any recipe precisely; I read the ingredients and methods of cooking, and then I take off in my own direction. I rarely have a failure. So I suppose I’m a product of and a balance between Fannie Farmer and my great-grandmother.)

sauce-mag-logoI think of the struggle Fannie Farmer had getting her cookbook taken seriously, and I compare that with books like The New Basics Cookbook by Rosso & Lukins that hit the book stores like wildfire, and widely read magazines we take for granted, like Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Wine Spectator, and our own local contender among the best food publications anywhere, > Sauce Magazine <. While we’re giving out local kudos, let’s not forget >Slow Food St. Louis<. If you’re not familiar with the Slow Food philosophy, please check them out.

To our Fannie!! ;-)

To our Fannie!! ;-)

My copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has information about wine on page 10 (selecting, serving, storing), and I say, “Let’s drink a toast to Fannie Farmer with our next meal,” for her pioneering efforts in the art of cooking; those of you in recovery, have some sparkling apple cider, and those who aren’t, pair a nice wine with your dinner, all in her memory.

She overcame some serious obstacles to getting her work published, including personal health issues and social obstacles of those times. If you want to read an easy biography on her, here’s a > LINK <.

POP QUIZ ON THE ART OF COOKING**

Question 1: Do you like to cook and consider it an art?
Question 2: Do you have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook?
Question 3: Do you have a favorite cookbook, or cookbooks, of your own?

Photo of 1950s kitchen from retrorenovation.com
Photo of Fannie Farmer courtesy of the Corbis Corporation
Photo of 1983 edition cover from Zenobi Books/Amazon

*Editor’s note: apologies to my vegetarian/vegan readers.
**Regarding the POP QUIZ: There are no wrong answers!

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