Before there was Martha Stewart, Philadelphia had Mrs. Goodfellow


As home cooks around the region are heating up their kitchens for Thanksgiving, many will wish they had taken a class to learn how to make a meal that inspires thanks. And what few know is that Philadelphia was home to the first cooking school in the country.
Young women came to learn from the Martha Stewart of the 1800’s – Mrs.Elizabeth Goodfellow. Becky Diamond of Yardley, Bucks County, wrote the biography, “Mrs.Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School” and she says in today’s world of food obsession heralding fresh, local ingredients, that’s not such a new trend. Mrs.Goodfellow was doing it two hundred years ago.
“Goodfellow was an advocate for American foods, or what we think of now as American — like cornmeal, tomatoes, squashes things that were grown here in the New World,” said Diamond. “She would incorporate them into the Old World recipes.”
This devotion to fresh, local quality ingredients observed Diamond was the foundation of Goodfellow’s business, first located on Dock Street and eventually Washington Square. Quite the entrepreneur, Goodfellow had a bake shop and catering business in addition to the cooking school.
“One of her signature dishes was Indian pound cake,” said Diamond. “Instead of making a pound cake with butter, flour, and sugar she would incorporate corn meal. It is still is delicious but a slightly different taste.”
Cooking was much more labor intensive in Goodfellow’s day.  Early in her career everything was done on the hearth and there was no refrigeration to preserve food. Even something as simple as baking powder hadn’t been invented yet.
“She had to use yeast or eggs to make baked goods rise,” said Diamond, “and when you use eggs you have to whip them to such a degree that they create a foam and that makes the baked goods rise and it could take at least an hour for someone standing there whipping eggs especially for a cake because it often takes ten or a dozen eggs to make that happen.”
Local markets much like today’s Farmer’s Markets also defined our early food scene. Picture our Market Street from Front to Eighth streets filled with vendors.
“A big part of Mrs. Goodfellow’s week would be two trips to the stalls and stores on Market Street,” said Diamond. “They were covered markets that stretched for a mile. She could get fresh dairy, meats — much of it was produce coming from Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” added Diamond.
Still, Philadelphia was a busy port in the 19th century, and like our fascination with new and exotic ingredients Goodfellow used imported Caribbean spices such as nutmeg; oranges from Portugal and even coconuts. But it was the lemons that brought about another Philadelphia first that can be found in almost every diner.
“She’s the one who created lemon meringue pie out of her famous very rich custardy lemon pudding and at some point she put that meringue topping on and it just took off,” said Diamond.
You can find the recipe for Mrs. Goodfellow’s jumble cookies on Becky Diamond’s website

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal