50 Women Game Changers in Food: Fannie Farmer (Week 3)

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In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Number three on the list is Fannie Farmer.

fannie-farmerIf you’ve ever expressed gratitude that you measure something using standardized measurements, you can thank Fannie Farmer. By advocating the use of standard measurements in recipes, she revolutionized the way Americans cooked.

Fannie Farmer (March 23, 1857 – January 15, 1915) was born near Boston, MA in Medford. She suffered a stroke when she was 16, which left her homebound for several years. While her family believed in education for females, her stroke left her unable to finish high school or attend college. When she was 30, she began attending the Boston Cooking School. She did very well, and after completing the program, she became the assistant to the director, and eventually the principal of the school in 1891.

In 1896, she published her most well-known cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which introduced the idea of standard measurements. Farmer provided scientific explanations of the chemical processes that occur in food during cooking, and also helped to standardize the system of measurements used in cooking in the USA. Before the Cookbook’s publication, other American recipes frequently called for amounts such as “a piece of butter the size of an egg” or “a teacup of milk.” Farmer’s systematic discussion of measurement led to her being named “the mother of level measurements.”

In 1902 she left the Boston Cooking School & founded her own program: Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. She continued to teach, write & lecture (even lecturing on nutrition and illness at Harvard Medical School) until her death in 1915.

Her original cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, is actually still in print today. It has been revised many times, most recently by Marion Cunningham. in 1996 to celebrate the books 100th anniversary.

While her original recipes are much easier to read and comprehend, they still are challenging. They lack something that is pretty darned standard in modern recipes: oven temperatures. For example, the scone recipe I’m about to share has the baking time/temperature written as “bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes.” What constitutes a hot oven? 250? 350? 450? Those questions have been answered in the revised copies of her cookbook. I’ll talk more about Marion Cunningham in Week 51, but she did a fantastic job making these recipes accessible for today’s home cooks, and adding a few new recipes of her own. Finding something to make out of the 100th Anniversary edition of the book was challenging. It seemed everything I picked out had been added by Marion Cunningham, and wasn’t original to the book. So, I went back to the digital version of the original and was determined to find something. I have to say… 19th century recipes don’t sound all that appealing, so I finally landed on the bread section. I’ve never made scones before, and this recipe from the 1918 edition seemed easy enough (since it was in the 1918 edition, I have no idea if this was actually her recipe, or something someone else added). I jazzed these up a little bit with some lemon zest, and added a simple lemon glaze to the finished product. The hint of sweetness was perfect, and these were absolutely delicious. The original recipe doesn’t give serving sizes, but the Marion Cunningham edition says it makes 12 wedges. I wanted bigger pieces, so I just went with 8 wedges.

(Side note: used copies of this book are CRAZY cheap on Amazon. I got mine for less than $2, with $3 for shipping. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy for your own kitchen. The recipes are great, but the tips, tricks & helpful information make this book a winner.)

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Lemon Cream Scones

(Original recipe slightly modified from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of butter; cut into small pieces
  • 2 eggs; well beaten
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together and cut in the butter, using a pastry cutter or your fingers, until it resembles a coarse meal.
  3. Mix the eggs and the cream into the dry ingredients until well combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for another minute.
  4. Cut the dough into wedges (or whatever shape you prefer), and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat (you’ll want a small amount of space between each scone).
  5. Bake for 15 minutes.

Serve with butter or jam, or top with a powdered sugar glaze. I made a simple glaze from 1/4 cup of lemon juice (the juice of 2 lemons) and 1 & 1/4 cups of powdered sugar. I brushed the glaze on top of each scone with a pastry brush  and let dry. And I still topped the scones with homemade blueberry-peach jam (which was darned good on these!).

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