Christopher Kimball, founder of America’s Test Kitchen, wanted to understand the many contradictions posed by America’s culinary past such as the rush to convenience foods born out of a from-scratch culinary heritage and the hodgepodge mixing of bad English cookery with the recipes of Escoffier.
But researching old cookbooks, magazine, and newspaper articles doesn’t always tell the whole story. Instead, he decided to cook his way back through history--investigating the ingredients and the techniques of late nineteenth century America, making the puddings, the soups, the roasts, the jellies, and the cakes. He then gave himself a final exam--a twelve-course Victorian blowout dinner party, served in his 1859 Boston townhouse, complete with an authentic Victorian home kitchen and a distinguished guest list, all filmed for an upcoming public television special.
Kimball’s muse was The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by Fannie Farmer and published in 1896. It was the best-selling cookbook of its age--400,000 copies were sold by 1915; 4 million sold by the 1960s--and was ripe for reevaluation. Two years later, after meticulous research, recipes, and taste tests, Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook by Christopher Kimball, is now here!
In Fannie's Last Supper, Kimball describes the experience of re-creating one of Fannie Farmer’s extravagant menus: a twelve-course holiday dinner that spanned a wide range of Victorian cookery, from oysters, rissoles, soup, venison, and lobster to goose, salmon, fried artichokes, sorbet, jellies, cake, and a final cheese course. Kimball immersed himself in the full experience of managing close to twenty different recipes--including Rissoles (filled and fried puff pastry), Mock Turtle Soup with Fried Brain Balls, Lobster à l’Américaine, Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing and Jus, Wood-Grilled Salmon, Roast Saddle of Venison, Canton Punch, Three Molded Victorian Jellies, and a spectacular French-inspired Mandarin Cake--all prepared in a Victorian kitchen complete with an authentic 1880s coal cookstove.
The recipes required mastering many now-forgotten techniques, including regulating the heat on a cast-iron coal stove and simmering calves’ brains without turning them to mush--all without the benefit of modern appliances. Sourcing the unusual ingredients and implements led to some hilarious scenes--all described in the book--bizarre tastings, and a truly cozy armchair thriller for readers interested in food and the Victorian era.