Laura's Reviews > Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook

Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball
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's review
May 15, 11

bookshelves: food, library-books
Read from May 10 to 15, 2011

This book had all the raw ingredients to appeal to me: cooking and eating, history, Boston, architecture, a nineteenth-century woman (Fannie Farmer). But the preparation & presentation went horribly wrong. I must agree with a number of other reviews here that Kimball is profoundly disdainful of Farmer's recipes, which makes one wonder why he would take on the project of creating a 12-course dinner based on her cookbook? In the few instances when he discovers Farmer knew how to do something as well as, or better than, he does, he expresses surprise. The book becomes a sort of critical review of Farmer's cookbook, as if it were a current publication he's testing, instead of a window into the past. For the first 40-odd pages I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he would "update" Victorian food to some extent. But whenever he doesn't like something about Farmer's cookbook, he snorts knowingly and proceeds to "correct" it (ie, change it in accord with his own personal, 21st century taste), or he simply substitutes another recipe by some one he likes better (preferably by a male French chef). He shudders at the idea of cooking without "modern appliances" even though he has lots of help in the kitchen. He can't conceive of anyone who would actually like a white sauce on fish, so he decides on Grilled Salmon as a fish course even though he admits Farmer's American contemporaries didn't grill fish. He finds Farmer's cake recipes universally horrid so he makes something from L'Epicure instead. He asks Gordon Hammersly for advice on cooking lobster. More examples abound. As a result, Kimball fails utterly in recreating a late 19th c. dinner, much less in understanding how late 19th c. Americans ate or what their relationship to food was like. He professes admiration for Farmer as a teacher and business person but he never grasps who her students really were (neither servants nor elite women). He overlooks Boston's rich history as the center of 19th c. intellectual life and radical reform (transcendentalism, abolitionism, women's rights) in favor of its stereotype as a stuffy starchy town. The text is further marred by repetition, disorganization,digression, and sexism. I may try a couple of his recipes but most are there just for drama, impractical for any home cook today to attempt. (One thing I liked, to be fair, is the care with which Kimball traced the types of ingredients with which Farmer would have been working, from the average weight of geese to the variety of pears.)

If this topic interests you, I highly recommend instead Harvey Levenstein's _Revolution at the Table_ (incredibly missing from Kimball's bibliography) and Laura Shapiro's _Perfection Salad_. And for cooking one's way through an iconic, influential cookbook, this is a poor successor indeed to _Julie and Julia_.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah GREAT review! I picked up this book, which I also expected to love, and was so immediately turned off by it, that I put it down. Now I know not to bother picking it up again.

Laura Thanks, Sarah! To be honest, I kept reading it because I wanted to write the review, and felt that to be a fair critic I needed to finish the book.

Susan Grodsky I think your short word "smug" is better than my verbose "arrogant and snobbish".

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