On Nov. 7, 2009, Chris Kimball had a few friends over for dinner in Boston. The menu included oysters, mock turtle soup, rissoles (fried puff pastry with various sweet and savory fillings), Lobster à l'Américaine, saddle of venison, wood-grilled salmon, fried artichokes, roast stuffed goose and a variety of homemade jellies made using a calf's foot gelatin.
This sounds like pure decadence. But Mr. Kimball, the founder of Cook's Illustrated magazine and host of "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS, was trying to re-create a traditional 12-course meal from the famed 1896 edition of Fannie Farmer's "Boston Cooking-School Cook Book." And even more than the Victorian meal, he was striving to replicate the Victorian effort. He used only the six-burner coal cookstove in his 1859 bowfront house and as many authentic ingredients as possible while avoiding modern conveniences such as the food processor. To create the meal took two years of preparation, research and taste-testing, and the undertaking is chronicled with meticulous detail in "Fannie's Last Supper." (The book's careful account is in keeping with Mr. Kimball's magazine's extremely detailed, exhaustively tested recipes.)
The effort must be termed Herculean. The mock turtle soup, for instance, called for a calf's head stock. Little did Mr. Kimball know that the brain and eyes needed to be removed before boiling. "The soup was at once gamey and slick with a gelatinous back-of-the-throat scum of fat," he writes, "exotic but sufficiently off in flavor and texture to produce the first tentative signs of gagging. . . . I had just eaten something that was best left still attached to a nervous system."
Read it here.