Fun Concept, False Advertising, Good Read All the Same

So. Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball. Let’s talk about this book, shall we?

The concept was deeply cool. When Kimball moved into a house built in Boston in 1859, he learned that it was right down the street from where America’s most famous home economist and cookbook author, Fannie Merritt Farmer lived. This inspired him to decide to create an historically accurate kitchen and – using Farmer’s recipes and the techniques of the day – cook and serve an historically accurate American Victorian dinner party, circa 1896, the year the Fannie Farmer Cookbook was first published.

The result is a highly readable (albeit occasionally painfully graphic) documentation of his attempts to do just that.

And this is where we come to the false advertising bit. You see, in the end the only Fannie Farmer recipes he used were for the amazing gelatin creations. For every other course served, he used a recipe that Fannie Farmer didn’t write down in her book. For some he turned to Escoffier, who is at least a contemporary of Farmer. But when it came to the lobster dish Kimball wished to include in his feast, he chose a recipe by none other than Gordon Ramsey whose grandfather probably wasn’t even a gleam in the milkman’s eye when Fannie Farmer died in 1915.

I think part of the problem was that Kimball decided what dishes he wanted to serve first, and then picked recipes to fit his ideal menu rather than choosing the courses based on the best dishes Fannie Farmer had to offer.

Overall, I wish that Farmer had been as well represented at the table as the Victorian era was. I’d love to see someone try this challenge, but stick to the principal of using the dishes of the woman being honored.

Still, there’s a lot of good history of both American culinary trends of the late Victorian era, as well as cooking methods of the period to be found in here. And I do love a good tilt at a windmill, so the concept of pulling all of this together did fascinate me. But the weak of stomach and those squeamish about the fact that meat is animals ought to beware: as I said before, there are certain passages that are tremendously graphic, and I’m not kidding about that. There were stories in there that I found fascinating or even wildly funny that Mr. Twistie will never hear about because he would have a serious attack of the Vapors and quite possibly severe nausea for days afterward, to boot.

So if you’re up for learning how Mock Turtle Soup is really made (one of the more graphic bits, actually), and learning the truth about Fannie Farmer’s rumored invention of standardized level measures, this is definitely a good book to check out.

Best of all, you can get it from Amazon for just $10.40 in hardcover, or $12.99 for the Kindle edition. Oh, and the hardcover version? Qualifies for free Super Saver Shipping on orders of $25.00 or more.

2 Responses to “Fun Concept, False Advertising, Good Read All the Same”

  1. Genevieve August 12, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    I wonder why he didn’t use her recipes… Good point you raise. I wonder why we don’t eat jellies as much as before, apart from jell-o!

  2. karen August 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I absolutely love the premise of this book, but I doubt I’ll read it. I’m a bit squeamish about some foodstuffs, yes, but I would have dealt with the promise of a full Fannie Farmer meal. Using a Gordon Ramsey recipe is particularly unforgivable to my mind.