Picture of two Fannie Farmer Cookbooks
Cookbook History

History of Fannie Farmer Cookbooks

The oldest cookbook I own is a 1964 reprint of the 10th edition (1959) of The Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook (now just referred to as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook). I also have a 1980 copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (12th edition). Both of these cookbooks belonged to my Grandma and I inherited them. 

I always wondered who Fannie Merritt Farmer was and what made her write her first cookbook. Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 23, 1857. At age 16 she had a stroke which prevented her from attending college. Fannie instead stayed home and to help out around the house started to learn how to cook. Once she had recovered enough from her stroke her parents encouraged her to attend The Boston Cooking School, which she graduated from in 1889. Fannie was asked to stay on as the assistant director and eventually in 1894 became the head of the school. 

In 1902 Fannie left The Boston Cooking School to open Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery to train housewives. Fannie Merritt Farmer passed away in Boston on January 15, 1915 at the age of 57. 

Fannie Merritt Farmer is credited with the introduction of standardized level measurements in recipes. She published the first edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896 (there was a previous version written by Mary J. Lincoln but the Fannie Merritt Farmer version is recognized as the first edition). The 1914 revision was the last one revised by Fannie Merritt Farmer before her death. Over 100 years there have 13th editions published with many reprints in between and over seven million copies sold. 

Picture of corn bread on a white and gold plate on a blue placemat

Both of my copies of Fannie Merritt Farmer’s cookbooks were well loved over the years by my Grandma. In the 1964 edition there is still a bookmark from my Grandma in the pages with recipes for muffins, popovers, corn bread and johnnycake.

I decided to try the corn bread recipe as I believe it is something my Grandma may have made. Amazingly I had all of the ingredients on hand in my pantry and fridge. I love that the recipe calls for shortening that is melted, but also clarifies that you may use butter, bacon fat, chicken fat or beef drippings (I don’t believe I have ever seen that in a recipe before). In my pantry I have vegetable shortening so I used that for the corn bread. The recipe is very straightforward and easy to follow. The corn bread was moist and delicious. 

I am so grateful to Fannie Merritt Farmer for creating the standardized measurements we use today. I can’t imagine trying to follow recipes with out the measurements. Trust me I have tried to recreate a dish my Mom makes without a recipe before and had it come out a disaster, looking at you pepper steak. 

What’s the oldest cookbook that you own?

What recipes have you made from it?


  • KellyK

    Physically, the oldest cookbooks I have are a few Frugal Gourmet cookbooks from my in-laws. I’ve made a chicken cacciatore from one of them, and my husband makes the chicken pot pie with biscuit crust fairly regularly.

    I’m interested in historical cooking, so I also have a couple reprints of 18th century cookbooks from Townsends, and a couple modern cookbooks with redactions of medieval recipes. Those are notorious for a complete lack of standard measurements or instructions.

    • Kim Reynolds

      I’ve never seen any of those cookbooks, will keep an eye out for them. Exploring historical cookbooks is so fun. I’ve been searching for a physical copy of The Cook Book of the United States Navy from 1945 and haven’t found it yet but did stumble upon a pdf of it. All of the recipes will have to be modified as they are set for 100 portions! You never know what gem of a recipe you will stumble upon in a historical cookbook.

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