I admit I am not a great fan of Chris Kimball. He boarders on the obsessively geeky and I find him a bit dry and didactic. That being said, all his obsessiveness has come up with some pretty cool ideas. I never make pumpkin cheesecake without first draining the canned pumpkin on paper towel and I would have never thought of that if not for Mr. Kimball.
When I saw that he had written a book about re-creating a menu from an old cookbook, well I had to read it. I love nothing better than gleaning elaborate menus form period publications and bringing them to fruition. If ever there was a place for Chris Kimball's fussiness, it is in re-creating a meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook.
Don't be discouraged by some of the lukewarm reviews of this book. Many people were initially critical of Kimball for tweaking the recipes. That is what Kimball does. He is Mr. Tweaker. There is no way that you can give Chris Kimball a recipe and not have him screw with it all day long and into the next.
Everything that Kimball changed was changed for a reason that he explained. The book is fun history of cooking, Boston, manners and Victorians. And for all the things he could have easily cut corners on, like using prepared gelatin, he went the distance like making his own gelatin from calves feet. Along with a rather funny explanation of how he went about finding calves feet. Here is his recipe if you are so inclined.
Homemade Gelatin From Calves Feet
This was a much less smelly and also an easier proposition than we had thought originally. Yes, you do need to purchase split calves' feet, but the good news is that this gelatin base can be used to thicken a great many jellies or puddings. We decided to use this gelatin in our lemon jelly but used regular powdered gelatin in the other two jelly molds. We did detect a slight aftertaste to the calves' foot gelatin, and did not want the flavor of the spatlese or rhubarb jellies to be affected.
4 calves' feet, split in two
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
1 cup white wine
1. Soak split calves' feet in cold water for 1 hour; drain. Transfer soaked feet to 17-quart stockpot, cover with water and bring to boil for 10 minutes; drain. Return feet to stockpot, and add sugar, lemon juice, wine and 6 quarts of water to cover. Bring to boil, and reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer; simmer for 4 hours. Remove and discard feet; skim fat; strain liquid through fine mesh strainer. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator; chill overnight.
2. When it firms up, remove any fat from the top, wash the surface with warm water to remove all traces of grease. Lift out jelly, without disturbing sediment at the bottom. Use per recipe for Lemon Jelly Mold.
Yields about 3 quarts
Kimball even went so far as to procure and assemble an authentic Victorian cast iron stove into his Boston brownstone. It sounds exactly like a gigantic fire waiting to happen. In the end the whole thing was filmed for PBS. I never saw the documentary, but the book was delightful. I admit I read the selections on finding and refurbishing the stove first.
This book is a delight for those of you who are interested in the Victorian era and really I don't hold it against him that decided to make a zippier desert. Really! I am sure Fannie would have been proud.
Check out more recipes and info at Fannie's Last Supper.