I read Fannie’s Last Supper earlier this year, after having ordered it on a whim from those “Get Yourself a Little Something” screens on Amazon.
(sidenote: Can we talk about how evil that screen is? They just pluck things from your wishlist and sit them up there right when you’re in the middle of buying something. Terrible. And effective, in my case.)
This book is the brainchild of Christopher Kimball, host of America’s Test Kitchen and other PBS cooking shows. I have a few of his Cooks Illustrated cookbooks, which are well worth owning. Basically Christopher was doing challenging cooking before the Food Network came along and glammed it up. He explores the science behind things and tries to improve upon old standard recipes.
This challenge was months in the making: a full twelve-course Victorian meal served on one evening for Chris, his wife, and some friends, using period methods and tools. The book takes apart every step they went through to get to a workable menu. For a history and culinary nerd like myself, it was great fun. I also know more about cooking a calf’s head than I ever thought possible.
Not to be missed is Christopher’s final chapter, in which he reflects upon the process and results. Some funny things occurred: the chefs, after some time getting used to it, actually preferred the giant beast of a woodstove for cooking to the gas range in the other room. There were other ways in which the painstaking preparation, planning, and execution were satisfying for those involved in a way that modern cooking can’t supply.
PBS also made a film of the evening, which I have yet to see. The trailer is below. More info at the Fannie’s Last Supper website.