Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Standardization of Cooking

Ingredients, Sugar, Flour, IngredientIf you've ever read an old recipe you'll see measurements that make no sense to us such as butter the "size of a walnut" or a pinch of salt or a teacup of yeast.  These informal measurements were understood by all.

Early recipes are a mystery to most women in today's world.  Look at this cake recipe with its unique way of listing things.

If you read the following recipe, you'll note it tells you to warm the creme but that ingredient is not listed anywhere in the ingredients list.
"Cake Bread.
Take one Gallon of flowre, two pound of Currans, and one pound of butter or better, a quarter of a pound of sugar, a quarter of a pint of Rose-water, halfe an ounce of nutmeg, & half an ounce of Cinnamon, two egs, then warm cream, break the butter into the flower, temper all these with the creame, and put a quantity of yest amongst it, above a pint to three gallons, wet it very lide, cover your Cake, with a sheet doubled, when it comes hot out of the Oven; let it stand one hour and a half in the Oven."

I couldn't tell you what temperature the oven is supposed to be set at.  This recipe is from the mid 1650's for cake.  This next recipe is from the 1800's for buns.  If you check it out, you'll see it doesn't give any information about cooking in the oven.

One cup of milk, one cup of sugar, one cup of yeast, flour to make a batter.  Let it rise over night, then add one-half cup of melted butter, a cup of sugar, flour to knead it and let it rise again, then roll and cut into cakes, and let it rise again."  I assume one bakes it in a hot over.
In 1896, Fannie Farmer changed all this when she published her first cook book.  This cookbook used the standardized measurements we are used to in today's recipes.  What makes this even more interesting is that Fannie Farmer suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side. 

Over the years she improved to the point she was able to enroll in the Boston Cooking School and complete the program with such excellent marks she was offered the position of assistant director of the school.  Two years later, she became the director.  While director, she published the first edition her Boston Cooking School cookbook and there were 21 editions of this cook book published before her death.

She established her own school upon resigning from the Boston Cooking School which was designed to teach housewives how to cook rather than preparing them to be teachers.  In addition, she stressed cooking practice rather than theory and she used standardized measurements in both her cookbooks and her courses. 

In addition Fannie Farmer wrote a column on cooking for a publication for ten years.  In the later years of her life, she suffered another stroke but that didn't slow her down in that she continued lecturing from her wheel chair.  She gave her last lecture ten days before she died in January of 1915.

This is a copy of a recipe from the 1918 edition of her cook book and you will notice how detailed it is compared to recipes in the late 1880's.
 Water Bread

2 cups boiling water21/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter1/4 yeast cake dissolved in
1 tablespoon lard1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoon sugar6 cups sifted flour

Put butter, lard, sugar, and salt in bread raiser, or large bowl without a lip; pour on boiling water; when lukewarm, add dissolved yeast cake and five cups of flour; then stir until thoroughly mixed, using a knife or mixing-spoon. Add remaining flour, mix, and turn on a floured board, leaving a clean bowl; knead until mixture is smooth, elastic to touch, and bubbles may be seen under the surface. Some practice is required to knead quickly, but the motion once acquired will never be forgotten. Return to bowl, cover with a clean cloth kept for the purpose, and board or tin cover; let rise over night in temperature of 65° F. In morning cut down : this is accomplished by cutting through and turning over dough several times with a case knife, and checks fermentation for a short time; dough may be again raised, and recut down if it is not convenient to shape into loaves or biscuits after first cutting. When properly cared for, bread need never sour. Toss on board slightly floured, knead, shape into loaves or biscuits, place in greased pans, having pans nearly half full. Cover, let rise again to double its bulk, and bake in hot oven. (See Baking of Bread and Time-Table for Baking.) This recipe will make a double loaf of bread and pan of biscuit. Cottolene, crisco, or beef drippings may be used for shortening, one-third less being required. Bread shortened with butter has a good flavor, but is not as white as when lard is used.

We can thank Fannie Farmer for making cooking easier for most of us.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.


  1. Lee, I grew up with lots of British cookery books with measures like "a knob of butter." As a recipe developer and food writer, I write recipes with very precise measurements and detailed directions so that cooks of any skill level can get good results. These old recipes you've included here are fun to read, if not to cook from!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and reading this. I have replica's of several old cookbooks and they are so fun to read.

  2. Interesting! You might enjoy reading about this new project that was inspired by measurement. A mathematician/chef wondered why you can't measure small amounts accurately in a measuring cup. He used his math skills and designed one that can. I participated in the kickstarter and just got mine.It's cool!

    1. I had not heard of that one but I'm going to have to check it out. Thank you for sharing and thank you for stopping by. Have a great day.

  3. This was very interesting I love old recipes. Thanks for sharing on Bloggers Pit Stop. Hope to see you next week.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it.