Behind The Story: Deborah Hopkinson on FANNIE IN THE KITCHEN

FANNIE IN THE KITCHEN: THE WHOLE STORY FROM SOUP TO NUTS OF HOW FANNIE FARMER INVENTED RECIPES WITH PRECISE MEASUREMENTS by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz, 2001). Marcia’s not the least bit pleased when Mama hires a mother’s helper who isn’t Marcia herself. After all, Marcia does such a good job making the floor-to-ceiling candles and polishing the oil lamps (despite breaking one or two). But Fannie’s cooking and friendship soon win her over. A humorous look at Fannie Merritt Farmer, who is sometimes credited with having invented the modern recipe. Nancy’s delightful illustrations are right-on-mark for this historical tale. Ages 4-up. This interview was conducted via email in 2001.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I grew up in Massachusetts, and one of my earliest memories was eating in a Fannie Farmer coffee shop on shopping expeditions with my mom. There was also a Fannie Farmer candy, and for years I probably never even realized Fannie was a real person!

I read a chapter about her in a book of women inventors, and at first passed over her. Then a year later, something tugged at me and I went back to see if I could craft a story for children from her remarkable life.

What impressed me the most was how she had overcome illness herself to forge a career at a time when women were still not encouraged to work outside the home.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

This story was written over about eight months in 1996-97 and didn’t appear until 2001. I had a hard time with the material and did a number of drafts. But when I saw Nancy Carpenter’s clever, delightful illustrations it was all worth it!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Although I called several colleges in Massachusetts and the public library, I wasn’t able to find much factual information about Fannie Farmer.

So unlike some of my other historical fiction books (such as A BAND OF ANGELS), I consider this a very fictionalized take-off on a footnote to history. But I think that’s immediately obvious from the humorous style and the illustrations.

A real breakthrough came when I decided to break the story into “courses,” like chapters, and to play off the Victorian era in the subtitle: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements.

In her art, Nancy used a combination of Victorian clip art and her own original drawings. Nancy Carpenter and I are doing another book together, entitled APPLES TO OREGON, a tall tale based on the true story of the first apple trees to go to Oregon on a wagon, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!