RFR Book Reviews

The Boy was home from school for almost a week with a bad cold, and I had this freakishly large knot in the muscles of my neck, making it impossible for me to turn my head, let alone cook interesting food. So I have been catching up on some food-related reading. It’s not what you think. Here are a few recommendations for you:

Fannie’s Last Supper: Recreating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook, by Chris Kimball

Chris Kimball is the host of the PBS program America’s Test Kitchen and founder of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He is clearly as fascinated with the history of how we cook and eat as I am, and so I was intrigued and excited to read this book.

I was let down. There’s plenty of history here, for foodies and Boston-philes (did I just make that up?) alike, maybe a little too much history. It ended up being a bit dry. There are scads of recipes, and the reader is directed to the website for even more. But rather than being a recreated meal, it’s actually a redesigned meal, taking Fannie Farmer’s (and others’) recipes of the period and updating/tweaking/outright rewriting/passing on altogether for something with more “modern” diners in mind. Kimball’s recreation of the 1896 Victorian formal dinner for his 21st century guests (and PBS) was ultimately designed to entertain his dinner guests and PBS viewers, rather than present something authentically Fannie Farmer’s. He actually spends a fair amount of time criticizing Farmer’s recipes and cooking; he was clearly not impressed with her simple style, and heavy-handed use of flour-based sauces.

So this book was not what I thought it was, from the title. But the meal was amazing, I’ll give him that.

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton

I loved, loved, loved, this book. I could not put it down. I think I liked it even better than Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell. They are similar, in that they are part memoir, part cooking, but the similarity ends there. Where Powell is self-critical, even self-flagellating, Hamilton is very matter-of-fact, presenting her difficult road to adulthood in a straight-forward, unapologetic way that also manages to avoid challenging the reader to judge. The story of her wayward (inadvertent) path to owning her own very successful New York restaurant is compelling, laugh-out-loud funny, in the way that we laugh at foibles and insecurities we recognize in ourselves, and redeeming, as Hamilton rises above all that life tosses her way to see where her own happiness is distilled-in food. Read this one; you will not be disappointed.

The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher

M.F.K. Fisher-I’m having trouble writing this sentence, because her style is extraordinary. I have not read any other food writer like her. That’s saying something, because this is a compilation of books written during the 30’s and 40’s, and is still as breathtaking as I’m sure it was then. The language and style, contemporary to the WWII-era, takes only a few pages to adjust to. Each book deserves its own review, but they would all be glowing, so I’ll spare you the gush. Fisher writes about how food intertwines with life, love, and experience, using her own life as background. Sometimes with recipes, sometimes without, always intensely personal, but never sordid or tawdry; if you read M.F.K. Fisher, you will see all your food, its preparation, and its flavors, with a new awareness, and you will never look at a tangerine, escargot, or mariachi bands the same way again.

That’s it for now; next time hopefully some more food. See you.

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