Marion Cunningham | Cookbook author, 90

Marion Cunningham, a venerated figure in the food world, at home in 2004 in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Marion Cunningham, a venerated figure in the food world, at home in 2004 in Walnut Creek, Calif. (BEN MARGOT / Associated Press, file)
Posted: July 12, 2012

Marion Cunningham, 90, the home-cooking champion whose legacy can be found in the food-spattered pages of Fannie Farmer cookbooks in kitchens across America, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at a hospital in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Wednesday, a family friend told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Best known for her revisions of the classic The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, in 1979 and again in 1990, Ms. Cunningham also wrote several other books, including The Breakfast Book, Cooking With Children, and Lost Recipes.

Though she moved in rarefied circles that included culinary luminaries such as James Beard and Alice Waters, she resisted trendiness. She was an ardent supporter of the humble iceberg lettuce and specialized in straightforward recipes.

Waters, a longtime friend and the force behind the groundbreaking Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., said Ms. Cunningham preached the value of food quality and home cooking long before it was fashionable, and in doing so became the nucleus of what grew into the modern food movement.

A self-taught cook, Ms. Cunningham didn't take her first steps toward a cookbook career until her mid-40s when she traveled to Oregon to take a class that Beard, then a chef and food writer, was teaching.

"It was just a magic gathering," she said in a 1983 New York Times story. "To have someone come right out of the pages at you. That's really what changed things for me."

Beard subsequently invited her to be his assistant and, later, recommended her for the job when publisher Alfred A. Knopf was looking for someone to update the classic Fannie Farmer cookbook.

"She had so much humor and charm and earnestness and passion . . . ," Waters said. "Everybody listened up." - AP

comments powered by Disqus