Mrs. Goodfellow

This review originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVIII, Number 3 - Summer 2012

Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America's First Cooking School
by Becky Libourel Diamond, published by Westholme Publishing, 2012; 288 pages, cloth, $26.00.

Married and widowed three times, Elizabeth Baker Pearson Coane Goodfellow (1768-1851) owned a popular bakery and sweet shop in Philadelphia during the first decades of the nineteenth century. In addition to catering to the city's wealthy families and possessing a reputation of making the finest desserts and sweet dishes in the young nation, her business stood out from every other establishment in another way: she ran a small school to teach the art of cooking, the first of its kind in America. Despite her fame - references to her cooking as a benchmark abound in the literature of the period - little is known about her. Since she did not keep a journal and never published her recipes, historians must rely on her students, most notably star pupil Eliza Leslie (1787-1858) who recorded many of Goodfellow's creations and techniques. Goodfellow is known to have made the first lemon meringue pie and for popularizing regional foods such as Indian corn meal. Her students also recalled that their teacher stressed using simple, wholesome ingredients that were locally grown, presaging contemporary culinary fashion.

By assembling the many parts of a puzzle from old recipe books, advertisements, letters, diaries, genealogical records, and a host of primary sources, Becky Libourel Diamond has been able to provide a more complete portrait of this influential figure in cooking history. Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America's First Cooking School opens with what had been known about the illustrious cook - where and when she was born, her husbands, her children, and the location of her shop. The author takes readers on a journey through time to discover the types of foods that would have been available to Goodfellow and how she may have used them. The book next turns to the rise of both commercial eating establishments and books of recipes. Diamond explains the rapid expansion of cooking schools, such as the New York Cooking Academy, the country's first French cooking school, and the Boston Cooking School, made famous through its association with Fannie Farmer (1857-1915), and concludes with a discussion of the role and impact of celebrity chefs. Exhaustively researched and featuring an array of authentic period recipes, Mrs. Goodfellow is a delicious exploration of the life and legacy of one of America's most influential cooks.

Her reputation was international. An 1851 article about the Paris Hippodrome noted that when horse riders from the Philadelphia circus were sent to Paris to perform tricks their remarkable skills were likened to an art form. "Another branch or school of Philadelphia Art might succeed here -" the writer continued, "Mrs. Goodfellow's pastry-cooking, whose cocoanut pudding for example is equal to the best inspiration of suicidal and immortal Vatel." (Francois Vatel was an acclaimed seventeenth-century French chef credited with creating crème Chantilly, a sweet, vanilla-flavored whipped cream.)

For Further Reading

pa-heritage-magazine-summer-2012_compact Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Summer 2012

mrs-goodfellow-cover.jpg Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America's First Cooking School
by Becky Libourel Diamond

Westholme Publishing
Mrs. Goodfellow