Well, here we are at 2015. I’m ready for it to be a fine 12 months. I started the year by going back in time. I had to order a new version of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Mine falls to pieces the minute you open it. I didn’t get the requested item for Christmas, so I ordered it online. While I was browsing around I came across another book, intriguingly entitled: “Fannie’s Last Supper.” The author is Chris Kimball, the host of America’s Test Kitchen. He wanted to recreate a meal from the original, 1896 edition. I’m a sucker for stuff like that, so I ponied up and got myself an ebook copy, which I’m reading on my iPad (talk about juxtapositions!).
The book got some bad reviews on Amazon, mostly because the author found most of the recipes in the cookbook to be absolutely terrible. I think he’s being a bit hard on the old girl. That was then and this is now. If you can’t deal with soggy, overcooked vegetables and heavy cream sauce over everything, then do something else. Still, it’s an interesting read with lots of social and culinary history thrown in among the revised recipes and admonitions.
I have a few historical versions of this cookbook: a reproduction of the original, a reprinting from 1918 (with wartime recipes and suggested substitutions, another version from 1951 and another from 1965. The menus change pretty radically along the way, so I guess jellied salad and fish boiled for an hour didn’t withstand the test of time. At some point they swapped out coal stoves and added baking temperatures, thank God. Really, I don’t need to learn how to light and maintain a stove. Checking oven temperature is an absolute necessity, particularly in my crappy old stove. See? If I had the cast iron coal stove, I could have switched it over to gas and it would outlast me by 100 years. So, there, Chris Kimball!
I have to say, I like the book, although he’s very snooty towards Miss Farmer. He did acknowledge her marketing and business sense, since the book is a classic and has been for over a century. It sold like hotcakes the minute it came out. It had precise weights and measures, suggested menus (holy cow!), information about cooking classes at the Boston Cooking School and even a section on cooking for the sick. Toast water, anyone? And how about this for brekkies:
Shredded wheat biscuits
Dried smoked beef in cream
Hash browned potatoes
Baking powder biscuit
Burp. I’ll get a cramp in my hand if I copy down her suggested dinners. Would I make anything from the original cookbook? Probably not. Some of them really do sound kind of gross and the method of preparation would cook every bit of nutrition right out. Boil that sucker for an hour! Get the deep frier ready and pass the cream sauce.