Friday, June 24, 2011

50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #3 Fannie Farmer - Homemade English Muffins

In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 women...one per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
the "Gourmet" prompt...
3.  Fannie Farmer - If it weren’t for her we’d still be cooking with “handfuls” and “pinches.” Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking–School Cook Book introduced standardized measurements. She also explained the chemical stuff a century before Harold McGee.

When I think Fannie Farmer, I think of a two things: a thick cookbook with fraying edges in our kitchen when I was a kid and the chocolate store in the middle of the mall.  Turns out, they are not one in the same.  The American candy maker (spelled Fanny) actually named their company in honor of the culinary goddess (spelled Fannie) that made the top 50.  "The" Fannie Farmer was born in 1857 and is the author of The Boston-Cooking School Cookbook which eventually evolved into the large volume I remember sitting in the kitchen of my youth...The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  At age 16, Fannie suffered a paralytic stroke which made her unable to continue her formal academic education.  While in the care of her parents at home, she took up cooking.  This eventually led to her turning her mother's home into a boarding house with a reputation for high-quality meals.  Although Fannie was unable to walk for  a number of years, by the time she was 30 she and walking with a limp that never really went away, she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School.  It was there that she what was then considered the "most critical elements of science", which included nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management.  She did very well in school and stayed on as director's assistant eventually becoming the principal of the school.

In 1896, Fannie published what would eventually become one of the most famous cooking-reference books in American history, The Boston-Cooking School Cookbook.  In it was a new form of measurement for home cooks.  Instead of using "a teacup's full of said-ingredient" or an ingredient "the size of your fist", she introduced the concept of standardized measurement in the form of cups and spoons.  In this book she cited "scientific explanations" for the chemical processes that happened while cooking (much like Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking and Keys to Good Cooking...as mentioned in the "Gourmet prompt", only way earlier).  There were sections on Helpful Hints for the Young Housekeeper, Suitable Combinations for Serving, preserving fruits and vegetables (canning & drying), as well as Food Values (nutritional information).   Over the years, this book has instructed many housewives and budding cooks.  It has evolved and come out in many new editions, and it now bears the name of its creator, Fannie Farmer.  It still contains an "About the Kitchen" section with useful information on Menu Planning, Entertaining, Developing Good Cooking Habits plus facts and instruction on kitchen equipment, ingredients, and more.  Farmer's influence on American Cookery is still relevant and today and this cookbook is still revised (by Marion Cunningham) and well-loved (check out some reviews on Amazon)

worth further exploration:  Fanny's Last Supper (Recreating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook) by Christopher Kimball.  Catch a glimpse at Fannie's Last Supper.
English Muffins
slightly adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
yield: 16 muffins

½ c. warm water
1 pkg. dry yeast
1½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1 c. warm milk
3½ c. all-purpose flour + more as needed
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
½ c. white cornmeal
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over, and stir.  Let stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.  Stir in the salt, sugar, warm milk, 2 c. of the flour, and the oil.  Stir briskly with a spoon for a minute to mix well.  Add remaining flour and stir to blend smoothly.  Dough should be soft and supple.  If it is still sticky, add just a bit more flour at a time and work it in until it has just lost its tackiness...but is still very soft.  Cover and let the double sit until doubled in size, ~1 hour.  Flour work surface and your hands and turn the dough out.  Knead three or four times.  Pat and push the dough out so it is ~¼" thick.  Using 3" rings (or tuna cans with the bottom and top cut out) as a cutter, cut the dough out and place on a sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal.

Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.  Heat a griddle until medium hot and film it with grease.  Grease the inside of the rings and place them on the griddle.   Put the muffins in the rings and cook over low to medium heat for 10 minutes on one side, and then flip and cook another 5 minutes on the other side.  Slide onto wire racks to cool.

Split muffins with a fork and toast to serve.  They get awesomely crunchy on the outside while warm and tender on the inside.
"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." ~Fannie Farmer (from the preface of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook)
Fannie Merritt Farmer: March 23, 1857-January 15, 1915
Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?
*sources: Wiki Bartleby, Fannie's Last Supper 
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*Yeastspotting!
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