Culinary legend Marion Cunningham died Wednesday morning in Walnut Creek after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. The author of more than a half-dozen best-selling cookbooks, including the revised "Fannie Farmer Cookbook," was 90 years old.
Cunningham, like her good friends Alice Waters and Julia Child, was a celebrity chef long before it was a household term. She wrote for Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, as well as the Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. Her cooking show, "Cunningham and Company," ran on the then-fledgling Food Network for more than 70 episodes.
A protege of James Beard -- and one who only began her culinary career in her early 50s -- Cunningham received international acclaim as well, including the Grand Dame award from Les Dames d'Escoffier in 1993, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2003.
"Marion Cunningham epitomized good American food," Knopf Editor Judith Jones said in a statement. "She was someone who had an ability to take a dish, savor it in her mouth, and give it new life. At a time when Americans were embracing all kinds of foreign cuisine, Marion Cunningham's love and respect for American food helped 'The Fannie Farmer Cookbook' once again earn a place in kitchens across America."
"I always felt like Marion was a best friend of mine but I'm sure I'm not alone," Waters said. "Her empathy, charm and humor inspired deep friendships instantaneously. She was always ready to listen if one needed to talk -- one could call her day or night. It's true, we didn't agree on iceberg lettuce but we did agree on a few things -- including the uselessness of the microwave. Marion never thought cooking was a lofty activity; she was a home cook, someone who loved and knew the importance of eating together at the table with family and friends."
To legions of home cooks, Cunningham was a warmly reassuring figure who demystified the intricacies of cooking and made recipes and techniques accessible -- and the Twitterverse brimmed Wednesday with fond recollections and salutes as news of her death spread.
Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, San Francisco-based, Peabody award-winning radio producers of The Kitchen Sisters for NPR, mourned the loss of a "home cook visionary, lover of life, people, iceberg lettuce, waffles and fast cars."
Omnivore books owner Celia Sacks fondly recalled Cunningham's instructions on how to open a coconut: "Throw it on a cement patio. That's how monkeys do it, and they are professionals."
Others shared their favorite recipes.
Cunningham withdrew from the public arena after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but that didn't stop other chefs from honoring her with special dinners including, for example, a Chez Panisse 90th birthday party in her honor Feb. 7 of this year. Cunningham was too frail to attend.