Tuesdays with Fannie

It’s with great excitement that I announce my plan to turn back the pages of time and embrace with boldness all things buttered, creamed, and, by our 21st century standards, totally old-fashioned and unhealthy.

I’m going to spend each Tuesday with Fannie Farmer.


This may mean homemade doughnuts for breakfast.

This may mean finding out, once and for all, what on earth creamed chipped beef on toast is.

This may mean creating, with my own hands, the dish I fear most of all: aspic.

Oh yes, but it will also mean:

Real macaroni and cheese

The chocolate roll. Need I say more?

I made this with Mrs. S's jelly roll pan. And her kitchen linens--almost sacred kitchen tools.

And connecting with the tastes Americans enjoyed before the highway system, before long-distance shipping erased the seasons, and before processed foods and endless gadgets made their way into everyone’s kitchens. Oh, yes, and before the “obesity epidemic,” Type II diabetes, and so forth.

Last week, my dad remarked ruefully that the only thing we could really speak of as “American” food is fast food. We Americans, we’re used to taking a hard rap for our eating habits. And yeah, if you’ve read any of this blog, you know that I think we ought to be taken to task for some of our nastier habits. But who is motivated to change by being fed guilt-trips?

And who is motivated to change by radically “healthy” diets that sacrifice taste and tradition for the sake of “revolutionary” concepts of health?

But Fannie Farmer? She’s not about health food, exactly, but in her own time she was known for her work in encouraging the sick to eat; she was even invited to lecture at Harvard Medical School. She felt sure that taste, appearance, and presentation had to take precedence over “nutrition”–then a young science, but already a consuming concern. Food that looks and tastes good, made with care from real and quality ingredients? Yeah. That’s a revolution I can get behind.

There’s no way I’m going to try and tackle Ms. Farmer’s nearly 2,000 recipes in a year. And I don’t really want to turn this blog into the “Rachel and Fannie” project. (Doesn’t have quite the ring of “Julie and Julia,” does it?) So this is my plan: to cook from my old editions of the Fannie Farmer cookbook a few times a week and report here on Tuesdays. Hence, Tuesdays with Fannie.

Another component of this project is this: my very old, very dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. S. are in a nursing home just a couple of miles away. In her day, she was quite amazing at home cooking in the style of Ms. Farmer. (She’s the reason I know of the chocolate roll, the creamed everything, the dreaded aspic.) In his day, he was quite a champion at dining, and tells the stories of Depression days with brown bread & beans for Saturday dinner and creamed chipped beef on toast during the week. They’re now the people that Ms. Farmer most cared about feeding: “invalids.” And they really do NOT like the food at the nursing home (and I really do NOT blame them.)

So my plan is to bring them–at least once a week–the kind of dishes they grew up on, cooked according to the wisdom of Ms. Farmer.

And in the process, I hope to learn more–for better or for worse–about the style of cooking that was once considered “American*.”

This’ll be fun!


{*of course this definition of American is an over-simplification; “American” food has embraced many forms of cuisine, and Fannie Farmer’s is basically New England style. I’m not trying to leave other regional cooking styles out, but for now, I’m doing this, because I happen to live very near New England.}

5 thoughts on “Tuesdays with Fannie

  1. What a beautiful project! I grew up with chipped beef on toast, but my husband totally shot it down early in our marriage due to an intense dislike of peas. (And he claims it’s not supposed to have peas in it at all, but I’ve always had it that way.) I’ll be excited to see your version!

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