Fannie’s Last Supper, by Chris Kimball, 272 pp., $25.99 (on sale as of Oct. 5)
Leave it to Christopher Kimball, founder of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated, to take Victorian cooking to the extreme. After moving into an 1859 five-story townhouse in Boston’s South End, the chef extraordinaire grew curious about the period, particularly in culinary terms. Using the legendary Fannie Farmer as a guide, Kimball set out to learn bygone techniques, ingredients and recipes, culminating with a 12-course Christmas dinner from the expert’s bestselling work "The Boston Cooking School Cook Book."
Mockturtle soup with fried brain balls, saddle of venison with lyonnaise potatoes and sugared beets, fried baby artichokes, and a trio of molded Victorian jellies only skim the surface of the elaborate 28-recipe dinner. In "Fannie's Last Supper," Kimball recreates the famed menu the way they did a century ago: from scratch, food coloring included. He even forgoes the luxury of most modern appliances, and installs an authentic cast iron coal stove into his kitchen.
As Kimball describes the daunting – even for him – task of testing and mastering the recipes, he recounts an American era rich in culinary history. His take is enthusiastic (“the meat would have to be larded, a technique I was eager to test”), frank (on Farmer: “To tart up a recipe, she would simply give it an ersatz French name”), and overall entertaining. Ambitious readers can attempt any of Kimball’s revamped recipes – he includes them in the book.