05 July 2011

Good Reads - Fannie's Last Supper



I've been reading Fannie Farmer's Last Supper - Re-creating One Amazing Meal From Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook by Chris Kimball. This all came about because of the 50 Women Game-Changers posts that I've been playing at, plus the research and reading that goes with it.

Chris Kimball had a thing about Fannie Farmer ... an interest that went beyond just living smack dab in the middle of her stomping grounds in the South End of Boston. He and his crew at America's Test Kitchen set out to re-create a multi-course menu right out of her 1896 cookbook and in so doing, he wrote an account and filmed a documentary on how the job got done. It was no easy task, as he and his cohorts used authentic ingredients, cooked almost everything on a coal-fired cookstove reminiscent of those used during the 1890's, and used cooking techniques that have become obsolete for most of us. Of course, some of the original recipes were too strangely textured or bland or fatty for Kimball's and his head chef cohort's taste, so they worked to 'improve' some of the dishes. They always, though, started working with the original recipe from Fannie Farmer's cookbook and went from there.

The book is highly readable, educational, and sometimes funny. Kimball has an easy way of expressing events and has fun commentary on Boston culture, the historical aspects of the story of Fannie and the Boston Cooking School, Victorian manners, Boston culinary history, and the foibles of working with calves' brains, killing lobsters, working with puff pastry, making Victorian punches, and getting ready to host a twelve course meal for twelve highbrows. He also gives history lessons on the development of Boston food markets, the inner workings and techniques for cooking on Victorian cast iron cookstoves, and food trends of the Victorian era.

His altered recipes are included in the book. It's fun to compare them to the originals from Fannie's cook book. Of course, I'm going to try at least one of them! Right now, I'm leaning toward the Grilled Salmon with Lemon and Caper Vinaigrette. I have a fridge full of food leftover from the 4th, though, so the salmon will have to wait. The book, though, is quickly being consumed ...

7 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you reviewed the book. I knew about the dinner he hosted but had no idea that he had written at length about it. I'm heading to the library to see if they have a copy. I hope you had a great holiday weekend. Blessings...Mary

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  2. I saw Kimball's "Fannie's Last Supper" documentary on TV (PBS) about a year ago. Fascinating stuff. It was held/shot in his own 19th Century townhouse, which I think (?) is in the Beacon Hill area. However, many of my fellow historic cooks and I don't appreciate his re-working, and in essence re-writing, Fannie's receipts. Doing so dishonors her work. We stick to the originals all the time; there's no need to "improve" them. And the end results are NOT "bland," but simply, and amazingly, delicious. HUZZAH!

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  3. @ Carolina - I have to agree here ... if his goal was to re-create he changed it midway through the project. I suspect having invited his chi-chi guests, he was feeling that the simpler flavours of a century ago just wouldn't cut 'the mustard'. Again, we go back to our conversation concerning the authenticity of the baked beans recipe ... food tastes and trends evolve with the tastes of the culture and making them 'palatable' to the current generation is important , if folks are to enjoy the dining experience. I understand your argument, Carolina.

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  4. It sounds really fascinating. I'd love to have a copy of the original Fannie Farmer cookbook, and this sounds like a great companion to it.

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  5. Sounds like a great idea for a book. I've never heard of Fannie Farmer but we have equivalents in the UK like Mrs Beeton also from the 19th Century, it's fascinating!! :D

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  6. Sounds like a fun book to read and I'd love to see the documentary but doubt it's even available in Canada.

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  7. @ All - I have been looking on-line for the documentary on DVD and in the inventory of my Netflix account and can't find the it. Thought I would try Kimball's website and inquire after it ... It has been a fascinating read ... the money and time he put into the venture is astounding.

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