Gospels of American Cooking

The All New Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook

Bantam Reference Library, 648 pp., 95 cents

The Joy of Cooking

by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
Bobbs Merrill, 849 pp., $5.95

The New Settlement Cook Book

Simon & Schuster, 676 pp., $4.95

At the turn of the century, an American cookbook was expected to contain not only recipes for the fashionable dishes of the day, but remedies for everything from leaking faucets to receding hairlines. A cookbook devoted wholly to food was inconceivable. As scientific frontiers expanded and the nature of nutrition began to be understood more clearly, a new kind of cookbook emerged. For the first time, cookbook authors attempted to explain the chemical composition of food and to present their recipes in a clearer, less arbitrary fashion than before. Thus Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook and The Settlement Cook Book were born. Their immediate success inevitably generated a host of imitators, but it was not until thirty years after their publication that The Joy of Cooking, a cookbook of comparable importance, appeared. Throughout the years these three books have sold millions of copies and might be considered the culinary trinity upon which, for better or worse, the gospel of American cooking has been built.

Each of these basic American cookbooks in their present revised, expanded versions contains no less than 3,000 recipes, to say nothing of tables of food values in the daily diet, vitamin and mineral charts, tables of weights and measures, conversion formulae, freezing timetables, information on caloric intake, and the like. In short, they claim to be “general all-purpose cookbooks, with up-to-the-minute information on all matters pertaining to food and its preparation in the home.” Although they profess to follow the precepts of their original authors, the present books must be judged not by what they were, but by what they are.

The only apparent connection between the first edition of Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook published in 1896 and the present Bantam paperback edition is the title. But for that, the books might have been written by different authors. And in effect, they were.

After Fanny Farmer’s death in 1915, each successive edition of her book (in all there are ten) was revised until 1923 by members of her family. From then on, the revisions were the sole responsibility of Wilma Lord Perkins, Miss Farmer’s niece. The present version, completed in 1959, is Mrs. Perkins’s sixth revision and, as she explains in her preface, the most “fundamental” and revolutionary of them all.

Graciously granting that Aunt Fanny “invented” the use of level measurements, a system of measuring food by the level teaspoon, tablespoon, and cupful, Mrs. Perkins has nonetheless found it necessary to rewrite The Boston Cooking School Cookbook in its entirety. She has added hundreds of new recipes and adapted a few of her aunt’s old recipes to “new ways, modern ingredients…and the mode of the day….” Were it possible to confront Miss Farmer with her book in its present state, it is doubtful that she would recognize it.

Fanny Merritt Farmer was in every way equipped to write the authoritative Boston Cooking School Cookbook. She was not only a skillful cook but an articulate, inspired teacher besides. Although she had in early…

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