Cooking School: Introduction

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

Fannie Merritt Farmer, c1904

The opening of this wonderful yet irritating book says:

“Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and willingness and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art and Arabian hospitality; and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always ladies – loaf givers.”

This book gives credit for the quote to someone called simply, “Ruskin.”

That one simple paragraph says than I could ever come up with on my own. To be a cook, to practice the art of being a cook, one has to know more than how to simply put a recipe together or to follow the directions of someone else. It means that you know enough to put things together in such a way as to feed and nourish which also impresses others. We are to use without being wasteful. We are to find and put together what we can; using what is available to us.

It is the last line, where it talks about being a lady, a loaf giver that hits me right in the sweet spot. Doesn’t that give you pause? It means that we’re the ones who feed. We, the ladies, are the makers of the food that gives life. Remember the quote from the Bible, “Give us this day, our daily bread”? A lady, a woman, a mother – we give the daily bread.

As we travel to the “Preface” of this ancient writing, we read the words of Fannie Merritt Farmer herself, saying:

“With the progress of knowledge the needs of the human body have not been forgotten. During the last decade much time has been given by scientists to the study of foods and their dietetic value, and it is a subject which rightfully should demand much consideration from all. I certainly feel that the time is not far distant when a knowledge of the principles of diet will be an essential part of one’s education. Then mankind will eat to live, will be able to do better mental and physical work, and disease will be less frequent.

“At the earnest solicitation of educators, pupils, and friends, I have been urged to prepare this book, and I trust it may be a help to many who need its aid. It is my wish that it may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.”

From these two sections, one could begin to understand where I am going with this writing. What is my purpose in telling you all that I have read and sharing it with you, dear readers?

Quite simply, I want to share with you as I travel the path of learning from someone who is long gone; a teacher to many on the art of cooking for health and welfare – not just for sustenance or to show off. So many things in today’s society are meant to “show off” what we know, what we have, what we can do. Just this once, I want to step back in time. I want to return to the beginning of the 1900s where the basics of life were what mattered.

This will be a continuing course. We’ll follow a path and travel a course that is a mix of what is set out from the book I’m studying and what I’ve attempted to put together to mix our current times with our past. I’ll be a teacher but I’ll be studying and learning as I go. I ask that you bear with me, add your input and ideas as we go along together. Give me your knowledge to post here for all to read and learn from.

I just realized that I never did explain why I called this book “irritating” at the beginning of this little post. The reason I use that word is because the book not using any heating reference. It doesn’t say to “bake at 350 degrees for so-many minutes.” It describes all recipes by saying, “Moderate Oven” or “Moderately-Hot Oven.” I hope you’ll take this journey with me and figure things out with me as I go. Perhaps we can assign some temperature gauge to the recipes. I know there are many newer versions of this book; however, I want to use the original and go forward with it.

What I wouldn’t give for an old wood stove to test some of these recipes on and learn that way. Wouldn’t it be great to know that we’ve gained the knowledge of the past – in case the worst should happen and we have to return to a wood stove as our primary means of heat and cooking?

Looking in the back of this book, there’s a schedule of classes. The classes are given weekly and each session is 10 weeks long. The cost for the “First Course” is $12. For the first course, the first weekly lesson is as follows:

  • How to use a gas range
  • Breakfast Cereal
  • Baked Apples
  • Creamed Chicken
  • Boiled Potatoes
  • Potato Border
  • Dry Toast
  • Milk Toast
  • Boiled Coffee

It does also say, “Previous to each lesson a talk will be given on food-principles, food-products, their dietetic value, illustrated by charts and blackboard drawings. I know that I can’t do all that with you, dear readers, so we’ll make do the best we can. Shall we do our lessons on Saturday nights? We could always test what we learn on Sundays and give feedback, allowing a week to absorb each lesson.

Please let me know what you think and if you’re interested in continuing this with me. I’d love to know how many we can get together to try this experiment. Besides, if I have people watching and paying attention, I’m more likely to keep it going and not let it fall by the wayside.

You can download a PDF copy of the book I’ll be using HERE. It has the exact same information that I have in the 1904 edition in my hands. The homepage for this download is HERE. You can learn more about the Boston Cooking School HERE. For the first week, I think I’ll cover Chapter I: Food. What is it? Why is it important and what can we do with it? I may follow the recipes as they are given in the outline at the back of this book. Something for us to practice with as we move forward.

Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

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