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Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook Hardcover – October 5, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Kimball, founder of Cook's Illustrated and host of the PBS series America's Test Kitchen, spent more than two years of "research, recipe testing, and intense planning" in order to host a Victorian dinner based on the recipes of Fannie Farmer, author of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which was first published in 1896. Kimball is as exhaustive in his research as he is in one of his own test recipes for Cook's Illustrated, and fans of his work will appreciate his attention to even the smallest morsel of information. Kimball is off on a culinary and historical adventure as he literally traces Fannie Farmer's steps around Boston at the turn of the century, regaling the reader with a history of Boston, observations of the Victorian character, manner of dress, and cooking implements and appliances available. In the meantime, his own team has been assembled and they are methodically testing recipes and ingredients in Kimball's 1859 red-brick Boston bowfront. All this work culminates in a foodie's dream dinner party, complete with Victorian plate settings, an all-star guest list, and 12 courses you won't find in any restaurant today. A must-read for history buffs, home cooks, and professional chefs alike.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Chris Kimball founded Cook's Magazine in 1980; it has grown to a paid circulation of 1,000,000. He hosts America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country, which are the top-rated cooking shows on public television, reaching 2 million viewers per week in over 94% of American households. Kimball is a regular contributor to both the Today Show and the CBS Early Show. He has been written up in most major newspapers, many national magazines including The New Yorker and Time, and regularly contributes to NPR's Morning Edition, including doing a regular Thanksgiving segment. He will also host a public radio show on cooking starting in the fall of 2010.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401323227
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401323226
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Margaret Johnston VINE VOICE on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was excited to read this, because I love Cook's Illustrated (of which Kimball is the founder) and I thought food history plus Cook's Illustrated would be neat. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.

First, the book is positioned as a tribute to Fannie Farmer, yet Kimball has no respect for her. He refers to her constantly as not much of a cook, but as a great businesswoman. He calls her "middle class at best". He denies her claim to being "the mother of level measurements" based on little more evidence than his feeling that the claim is "apocryphal". And he just flat-out doesn't like her recipes.

Kimball not only rewrites the recipes he does use (which I was expecting), he often goes and uses some other recipe entirely: for example, the lobster l'Americaine is based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe. Fannie Farmer's cake recipes are "rather uninspired", so off he goes to an 1888 French cake book for Mandarin Cake instead. The subtitle ought to be "Creating One Amazing Meal from a Couple of Recipes in Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook and Lots of Other Recipes I Like More". A lot of the recipes do look good, but making a bunch of non-Fannie Farmer recipes is simply not what the book claims to be about.

Kimball may be a good cook, but he's clearly not much of a historian. Each chapter begins with a little historical essays on some aspect of 19th-century cooking, Fannie Farmer, or Boston generally. The essays are disorganized and packed full of unrelated factoids; often the entire essay has little or nothing to do with the rest of the chapter. Why do we need to read three pages on Boston clubs, for instance (other than to find out that Kimball belongs to one)?
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when Mr. Kimball says that this would be his "fantasy dinner party" he's not far wrong. I'm not sure how, with all of the poo-poohing of cooking techniques and ingredients, this is supposed to be a re-creation of a Victorian dinner at all. It often reads as insufferably arrogant and ignorant, with recipe directions to sing a song to get a correct measurement being regarded as "silly". Mr. Kimball, they didn't all have watches or clocks or standardized measuring equipment, all of which you should know. This is all unfortunate, because I do enjoy reading Cook's Illustrated. You probably can glean some good information from this but it is a irritating book to read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When this book arrived I rushed to my bookcase to pull down my 1922 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. It was a slightly newer version than the one this book was based on, but I still expected that it would be fun to read Fannie's Last Supper and compare it with my disintegrating copy of the cook book, imagining what it would be like to put together a dinner party with recipes from 1896. I should have left Fannie on the shelf and taken several other, newer cookbooks instead.

It was a few days before I figured that out, though. I started by reading from the beginning, at the author's story of buying an 1859 Victorian bowfront in Boston. It was, apparently, not a pleasant place to live, with drug dealers on the sidewalk and a working girl with a customer in the neighbor's doorway. The author confronted drug dealers, got ripped off by neighborhood children, and joined a historical society, and his family was robbed at gunpoint and attended a gay wedding, though not at the same time.

All this might make an interesting book, and if I had wanted to read about relocating to South Boston in the 1990s I might have enjoyed it. Eventually I got to the first recipe, Victoria Punch, "courtesy of Donald Friary", who is "an expert on punch and punch bowls and a fellow member of Boston's St. Botolph Club". This was a bit of a surprise since Fannie Farmer had 15 punch recipes, including one for Victoria Punch which has nothing in common with Friary's. But Friary's recipe looks far less sweet and contains ingredients which would probably be easier to find, so perhaps that's the reason for the substitution.

The next chapter introduces Fannie Farmer a bit. "For starters, she was middle-class at best," it begins.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At first Chris Kimball's book starts out as an interesting exploration into Fannie Farmer's Boston and her cooking. He tells us why he was interested and what her Boston must have been like and what his Boston is like today and how he came to want to prepare this fantastic meal. Much of his writing of the cooking and the meal itself is in exactly the same style and tone of America's Test Kitchen, with much digression into what was tried and what was a failure and which was a success.

We do learn from him that Fannie was not much of a cook and in his opinion her recipes are completely unpalatable to modern taste. It seems strange that a book that titles itself "Creating one amazing meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook" uses little if any of her recipes; even going so far as to search out and use Gordon Ramsay for the lobster a l'americaine. Kimball even rejects Fannie's method of folding over the puff pastry for the rissoles. Fannie certainly does not come out well for a work that purports to be celebrating her.
The descriptions of dealing with calf heads, brains and eyes are not for the faint hearted, nor are the descriptions of killing the lobsters.
There is much fine and interesting historical information here about food preparation and the daily toil of keeping a home in the Victorian era. Kimball does have a most depressing summation on the lack of good utilization that modern people put their time to use - gained by labor saving devices, inventions and prepared food.

If you are interested in the Victorian era in America and especially of Boston, this book would be of interest to you. Dedicated cooks would also enjoy this experiment in food preparation and dining.
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