Parloa, Maria, 1843-1909

Titles by this author
Chocolate and cocoa recipes
Miss Parloa's new cook book : a guide to marketing and cooking

Maria Parloa, one of the most popular cooking teachers and cookbook authors of the nineteenth century, was born in Massachusetts, but nothing is known of her family or exact place of birth; she was orphaned sometime in her youth, and supported herself by working as a cook in homes and New Hampshire hotels and summer resorts. She enrolled in the normal school of the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield in 1871, at the age of 28, and completed her teacher training in two years. In 1872 she published her first work, The Appledore Cook Book, named after the Appledore House, a resort on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. While serving as a pastry cook there for many years, it is possible Parloa met some of the artists and writers who frequented Appledore, including the island/resort owner's daughter, poet Celia Thaxter, and Harriet Beecher Stowe (represented in this collection with co-author Catharine Beecher.) After graduation, Parloa took a teaching position in Mandarin, Florida, and remained there for five winter seasons. Mandarin, a small town located south of Jacksonville on the St. John's River, was the winter home of Stowe, who strove to improve the vicinity's schools and churches with the zeal of a missionary.

Parloa gave her first public lecture on cooking in the summer of 1876 in New London, Connecticut to raise money for a Mandarin Sunday school organ. Its success helped launch Parloa's career as a culinary instructor; in the spring of 1877 she gave several popular lectures in Boston, and opened a cooking school there the following fall. More teaching opportunities followed, at private schools as well as charitable schools for the poor. Her varied cooking interests led her in many directions. In 1878, she published a thin volume, Camp Cookery, which included instructions for setting up camp and constructing a camp stove by covering the hole of a dug-out, stone-lined bank with the top of a common stove. She toured England and France that summer, observing cooking classes at London's National Training School for Cookery, and learning French cooking. She published a textbook, First Principles of Household Management and Cookery (1879), which included information on the chemistry of food and principles of digestion. Scientific instruction was always part of her curriculum. Juliet Corson, a pioneer in the scientific cookery movement (featured in this collection) publicized Parloa's work in her influential Training Schools of Cookery (1879), a U.S. Bureau of Education circular. Ellen Richards, the "mother of home economics" and trained chemist who was the first women to be graduated from M.I.T., credits Parloa for encouraging her own development of a curriculum for the chemistry of cooking and cleaning. The curriculum Richards first devised for Parloa's school ultimately became widely adopted by public schools and colleges. As Richard's recalled, " . . . it was a cardinal principal of belief with [Miss Parloa] that the public school was the place to spread good ideas." Years later, Parloa would be among the charter group led by Richards that met at Lake Placid, New York, in the summer of 1899, to begin the work of professionalizing home economics. Parloa was present in 1908, a year before her death, when that work culminated in the formation of the American Home Economics Association.

Parloa became one of the original instructors at the Boston Cooking School (BCS) in March 1879, where Mrs. D. A. Lincoln (featured in this collection) was her pupil. Exceedingly popular, she charged very high fees to lecture, so after inaugurating a normal class in 1880, she was let go from the BCS and continued on at her own school instead. The normal program became the backbone of the BCS, providing women with a means to a career and an independent income. At about the same time, she published Miss Parloa's New Cookbook: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking (1881), an all-inclusive manual that, like The Appledore Cookbook before it, went through numerous editions, including one published in Shanghai, retitled The Oriental Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking in English and Chinese (1898). Written in an easy, clear style, Miss Parloa's New Cookbook encourages forays to the market ("Many think the market not a pleasant or proper place for ladies. The idea is erroneous.") and a broad knowledge of and an interest in the variety of foods becoming readily available. "The railroads and steamers connect the climes so closely," she wrote with a sense of the growth of global markets, "that one hardly knows whether he is eating fruits and vegetables in or out of season." She advocates a cooking style based on mastering five methods (baking, boiling, broiling, frying and stewing) and varying the dishes with sauces, hence "the variety of dishes within the cook's power is great." She disdains the perennial emphasis on learning fancy dessert recipes before knowing the basics, a view heartily approved by The New York Times in its January 1881 review:

"Miss Parloa shows good judgment in devoting a great deal to the three columns which indeed support the table - the soups, the roasts, and the entrees. 'If women would but forget cake and pastry long enough to learn something of food that is more satisfying,' writes Miss Parloa, and she hits the nail exactly on the head."

Parloa's mention of certain brand name products heralded the age of endorsements, yet she carefully attests that their praise is merited "without the solicitations, suggestion or knowledge of anybody likely to receive pecuniary benefit therefrom." Eventually Parloa, like other famous cooking teachers, would lend her name to promotional recipe pamphlets, such as One Hundred Ways to Use Leibig Company's Extract of Beef (1893) and Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes by Miss Parloa (1909) published by the Walter Baker chocolate company. Parloa wrote nearly a dozen cookbooks, many of which went through numerous editions. Among her last publications are two Farmers' Bulletins prepared for the United States Department of Agriculture: Canned Fruits, Preserves, and Jellies (1904; also issued in translation by the Mexican government, 1911) and Preparation of Vegetables for the Table (1906). She was also a highly successful magazine journalist. Beginning in 1891, she wrote regularly for the Ladies' Home Journal, of which she was also part owner. Her articles on French living, written during an extended stay in France in 1894, are especially informative.

Though Parloa's cooking school in Boston was thriving, she took advantage of New York City's explosive growth, and opened a school there in 1883. In the evenings she taught immigrant girls for free. By 1887, enjoying considerable prosperity, Parloa cut back on her teaching and moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts; she travelled and wrote, moving once more to New York in 1898 before settling in Bethel, Connecticut for the last six years of her life. Having never married, she shared her home with two orphan girls, and was active in community landscaping projects. She died in Bethel as she was preparing for another extended visit to Europe. Her ashes were buried at Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston.


  • Foster, John T. and Sarah W., Beechers, Stowes and Yankee Strangers. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.
  • Hedrick, Joan D., Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Lincoln, Mary J., "The Pioneers of Scientific Cookery," Good Housekeeping Magazine, October 1910.
  • Longone, Janice B., American Cookbooks and Wine Books 1797-1950. Ann Arbor, MI: The Clements Library, 1984.
  • "Miss Maria Parloa," Journal of Home Economics, October 1909.
  • Parloa, Maria, Miss Parloa's New Cookbook: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking. New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1882, c. 1880.
  • -----Camp Cookery: How to Live in Camp. Boston: Estes, 1978.
  • -----"Outside Domestic Aids in Paris," The Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1894.
  • -----"Heat and Light in France," The Ladies Home Journal, November 1894.
  • "A Practical Cookbook," The New York Times, January 30, 1881.
  • Shapiro, Laura, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.
  • Stage, Sarah, American National Biography. Vols. 17, 18. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford, 1999.
  • Wilson, Mary Tolford, Notable American Women 1607 - 1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 3. Ed. Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • The WPA Guide to Florida. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
  • [BROKEN LINK] (2/23/03)

Written by Anne-Marie Rachman