FANNIE FARMER 1896 COOK BOOK:
The Boston Cooking School
The predecessor to all the great Fannie Farmer cookbooks that would be printed over the next 50 years, this was the one I really wanted most. It was out of print for a long time, but now, it’s back in print and also on Kindle. However, cookbooks have to be something I can bring into the kitching without worrying about them getting wet or covered with flour or batter.
I finally ordered it. First, I had to move out some other cookbooks that I don’t use, some of which were duds in the first place. As a warning, never buy any cookbook that starts with “365 Ways to …” The recipes are typically mediocre and sometimes a lot worse than that. However, whenever I traveled, I always bought one or more cookbooks. Sometimes they turned out to be fantastic. Sometimes uninspiring. I always thought the best souvenir you can bring home from someplace you loved than their food. So I have Caribbean cook books, Maine cookbooks, Cape Cod, Chinese. One book entirely devoted to rice and another devoted to people who can’t cook at all which I hoped would convince my husband to give it a try.
Nope. But he did laugh a lot, so I suppose it was worth the money just for that.
This one is a treasure. It’s available in hardcover. As a book, the only thing wrong with it is that it’s small so the type is small. If you are me, there’s a good deal of squinting involved.
Also (and this is not a problem but the inevitable result of buying a cookbook written before modern kitchens were invented) is you have to figure out how much of something no one uses any more equals whatever it is we use now. For example, how much dry yeast is in a cake of yeast? Answer: about a teaspoon and a quarter of dry yeast.
The book starts off by teaching you how to build a proper fire for baking in a wood-fired stove. I enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way, but not quite that old-fashioned. I wouldn’t mind a gas oven, though. I think natural gas produces a more stable heat with natural convection.
I live in an area where there is no natural gas. If you want gas, you have to buy big canisters and then you are cooking with propane, which is not nearly as hot as natural gas. So electric it is. My oven runs cool and I have learned from hard experience to bake hotter and for at least five to ten minutes longer than the recipe calls for.
One of the nicest things about this cookbook is that the recipes don’t call for any expensive gadgets. An eggbeater is an advanced cooking item in this book and I’m pretty sure most cooks didn’t own one. You needed strong arms and muscular wrists. It also helped if you didn’t mind getting burned a bit. Also, it contains a lot of recipes for everything from Parker House rolls to egg sandwiches.
In the very back of the book are lots of old advertisements for kitchen and other household goods. Hub ranges (wood-fired) and King Arthur Flour, which I still stock and it’s my favorite flour. Some things never change.
It’s available on Amazon and I’m sure elsewhere as well. It’s worth the price at just under $11 in hardcover.