By Joe Petrizzo
Over 200 years ago on Dock Street in Philadelphia, America’s first culinary institute opened its doors. Today, this institute, called Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School, no longer exists and would be long forgotten if it wasn’t for Becky Diamond and her new book, Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School.
Diamond’s book tells the deep history of how one woman began a delicious tradition and paved the way for future chefs of America.
Diamond says that she used the skills she learned while studying journalism at Rider, as well as her library degree from Rutgers University, to help conduct research about Goodfellow and her culinary school. She specifically credits writing movie reviews with journalism professor Dr. Thomas Simonet as one of the things that helped her on her journey because it taught her how to put together a story.
“I’m very proud that she published a book and gratified to know that she learned something in my writing class,” Simonet said. “She wrote one of the best papers on Annie Hall so I am not surprised that she’s finding success in this field.”
Diamond said that she was motivated to write the book because it combined her four favorite hobbies: research, writing, history and cooking.
Her main sources were the Historical Society of Philadelphia and the Library Company of Philadelphia, but she also used modern sources such as Google Books and other online resources, which she was previously unfamiliar with.
“I had to learn how to adapt and keep up with trends in the field,” she said. “You have to know which sources are going to be able to help you.”
Goodfellow’s Cooking School opened around 1801 and closed in the mid-1850s — a few years after the her death. During this time period, Philadelphia was one of the most renowned food cities in America because of its location and wealth.
During Diamond’s research she discovered that Goodfellow created the basis for lemon meringue pie, though it was originally called lemon pudding because she used lemon curd and did not include the meringue topping.
Her other signature recipes included Spanish buns — cakes similar to cinnamon buns but without the frosting — and jumbles, cookies made with nutmeg and rosewater.
Goodfellow was also among the first to look at cooking as more than just preparing food.
According to Diamond, Goodfellow viewed cooking as a science. She also refused to use new leavening agents that were being invented, such as baking powder and baking soda. Instead, Goodfellow used “tons of really whipped eggs” to keep her recipes pure and simple.
She was also an advocate for locally grown foods, which Diamond believes stemmed from her Quaker heritage.
“She was a proponent of fresh, pure, quality foods,” Diamond said.
Diamond also explains that Goodfellow was ahead of her time. In addition to her cooking school, she also ran a pastry shop and an ice cream parlor — which was referred to as a saloon at the time — with her son.
After her death, her son operated the cooking school and other business for a few more years.
Goodfellow’s recipes still exist because one of her students, Eliza Leslie, published a cookbook using the recipes she learned while attending the school.
The release date for Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School is set for May 14, 2012, but can be preordered on the Westholme Publishing website and Amazon.com, and will be available at Barnes & Noble upon release.
A copy will also been donated to the Moore Library for those who are interested in reading more about Goodfellow and her love of all things food.
Diamond currently resides in Yardley, Pa., with her husband Joe and children Cate and Patrick — to whom the book is dedicated.
Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School is the first major publication that Diamond has completed on her own and she is optimistic about its success because of the topic.
“Who doesn’t love food?” Diamond said.