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Review of The Fabulous Fannie Farmer

Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook



cover of The Fabulous Fannie Farmer by Emma Bland Smith

Calkins Creek

(Astra Books for Young Readers)


40 pages

Ages 7 -10

Author: Emma Bland Smith

   Illustrator: Susan Reagan

Character: Fannie Farmer

Overview for Review of The Fabulous Fannie Farmer:

" When Fannie Farmer learned to cook in the late 1800s, recipes could be pretty silly. They might call for 'a goodly amount of salt' or 'a lump of butter' or 'a suspicion of nutmeg.' Girls were supposed to use their 'feminine instincts' in the kitchen (or maybe just guess). Despite this problem, Fannie loved cooking, so when polio prevented her from going to college, she became a teacher at the Boston Cooking School.

Unlike her mother or earlier cookbook writers, Fannie didn’t believe in feminine instincts. To her, cooking was a science. She’d noticed that precise measurements and specific instructions ensured that cakes rose instead of flopped and doughnuts fried instead of burned. Students liked Fannie’s approach so much that she wrote a cookbook. Despite skepticism from publishers, Fannie’s book was a recipe for success."

Tantalizing taste:

"As Fannie whipped and simmered, something revolutionary was cooking in her head. Fannie, you see, had the mind of a scientist. Through trial and error, she noticed that precise measurements made a whole heap of difference. Standard measuring cups and spoons had been invented, but few people thought they were necessary. I mean, who needs standard measurements when you've got your trusty feminine instincts, right?"

And something more: The section in the back of THE FABULOUS FANNIE FARMER, Fannie's Legacy, explains: "If she heard about an amazing new meal at a restaurant, she would rush out to sample it, and sometimes sneak a bit home in order to further analyze the flavors. She really was something of a kitchen scientist. (One writer referred to her ability to 'Sherlock Holmes' a chef's dish - to deduce the methods and ingredients.)" Such sleuthing reminds me of what authors and illustrators of picture book biographies need to do to research, write and illustrate. And Emma Bland Smith did just that as can be seen from the book's extensive Bibliography (with sources marked with an asterick to indicate quotation sources). And Emma even included two of Fannie Farmer's recipes in the book -- I can't wait to bake her Popovers!


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