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Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook

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In the mid-1990s, Chris Kimball moved into an 1859 Victorian townhouse on the South End of Boston and, as he became accustomed to the quirks and peculiarities of the house and neighborhood, he began to wonder what it was like to live and cook in that era. In particular, he became fascinated with Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published in 1896, it was the In the mid-1990s, Chris Kimball moved into an 1859 Victorian townhouse on the South End of Boston and, as he became accustomed to the quirks and peculiarities of the house and neighborhood, he began to wonder what it was like to live and cook in that era. In particular, he became fascinated with Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published in 1896, it was the best-selling cookbook of its age-full of odd, long-forgotten ingredients, fascinating details about how the recipes were concocted, and some truly amazing dishes (as well as some awful ones). In Fannie's Last Supper, Kimball describes the experience of re-creating one of Fannie Farmer's amazing menus: a twelve-course Christmas dinner that she served at the end of the century. Kimball immersed himself in composing twenty different recipes-including rissoles, Lobster À l'AmÉricaine, Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing and Jus, and Mandarin Cake-with all the inherent difficulties of sourcing unusual animal parts and mastering many now-forgotten techniques, including regulating the heat on a coal cookstove and boiling a calf's head without its turning to mush, all sans food processor or oven thermometer. Kimball's research leads to many hilarious scenes, bizarre tastings, and an incredible armchair experience for any reader interested in food and the Victorian era. Fannie's Last Supper includes the dishes from the dinner and revised and updated recipes from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. A culinary thriller. it offers a fresh look at something that most of us take for granted-the American table.


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In the mid-1990s, Chris Kimball moved into an 1859 Victorian townhouse on the South End of Boston and, as he became accustomed to the quirks and peculiarities of the house and neighborhood, he began to wonder what it was like to live and cook in that era. In particular, he became fascinated with Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published in 1896, it was the In the mid-1990s, Chris Kimball moved into an 1859 Victorian townhouse on the South End of Boston and, as he became accustomed to the quirks and peculiarities of the house and neighborhood, he began to wonder what it was like to live and cook in that era. In particular, he became fascinated with Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published in 1896, it was the best-selling cookbook of its age-full of odd, long-forgotten ingredients, fascinating details about how the recipes were concocted, and some truly amazing dishes (as well as some awful ones). In Fannie's Last Supper, Kimball describes the experience of re-creating one of Fannie Farmer's amazing menus: a twelve-course Christmas dinner that she served at the end of the century. Kimball immersed himself in composing twenty different recipes-including rissoles, Lobster À l'AmÉricaine, Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing and Jus, and Mandarin Cake-with all the inherent difficulties of sourcing unusual animal parts and mastering many now-forgotten techniques, including regulating the heat on a coal cookstove and boiling a calf's head without its turning to mush, all sans food processor or oven thermometer. Kimball's research leads to many hilarious scenes, bizarre tastings, and an incredible armchair experience for any reader interested in food and the Victorian era. Fannie's Last Supper includes the dishes from the dinner and revised and updated recipes from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. A culinary thriller. it offers a fresh look at something that most of us take for granted-the American table.

30 review for Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook

  1. 5 out of 5

    else fine

    It looked so promising: effusive cover blurbs, snappy synopsis, nice pre-publication cover art. I guess the cooking community is probably like the sci-fi community or the romance writing community - too small to criticize your fellow writers, even when they've produced something really bad. Or maybe Christopher Kimball, founder of Cook's Illustrated and the guy behind America's Test Kitchen, is the kind of man you don't want to cross. He sort of gives off that vibe, and surely there is a good re It looked so promising: effusive cover blurbs, snappy synopsis, nice pre-publication cover art. I guess the cooking community is probably like the sci-fi community or the romance writing community - too small to criticize your fellow writers, even when they've produced something really bad. Or maybe Christopher Kimball, founder of Cook's Illustrated and the guy behind America's Test Kitchen, is the kind of man you don't want to cross. He sort of gives off that vibe, and surely there is a good reason why this book is so poorly edited - maybe whatever luckless editor was assigned to whip this haphazard mess into shape was simply too intimidated to pull it off. I don't mean to just blindly insult this book. As a work of history, it's a failure. Kimball spews an assortment of trivia and facts, some of it barely related and some of it outright irrelevant, hopping decades and sometimes centuries, at no point creating a cohesive picture. It reminded me at times of listening to a wikipedia-addicted nerd on a bad Mountain Dew jag (yes, I've been there); at others, of being trapped in a reference section with someone's genealogy-obsessed aunt (occupational hazard of bookselling). It's a pity, because there are some interesting tidbits jammed in there, but it's thankless work to fish them out. Especially annoying are Kimball's opinions expressed as facts - and herein lies the heart of his trouble with History as an actual genre. Kimball may have very good taste, but fails to see that taste is not an absolute, and cannot be removed from its context. For instance, historians tend to refrain from expressing their personal feelings about medieval food, though most would probably agree that it sounds really gross. I have cookbooks which tell me that fried sago grubs are delicious, something that might be true but which I will not put to the test, and I've been told that many cultures find our Western fixation on congealed blocks of moldy dairy products (aka cheese) to be absolutely vile. Taste is, as you see, relative. This might seem obvious to you and to me, but not to Kimball. For instance, he compares Fannie to a Martha Stewart 'bereft of taste' and wastes a lot of page space mocking her sadly provincial and ham-handed approach to baking, sauces, and table decorations. He rather bizarrely and unfairly persists in comparing her - unfavorably, of course - to contemporary French cooks, who, being male and in France, were unarguably better-trained cooks. His dislike for poor Fannie runs so deep that, instead of re-creating her recipes, he liberally re-writes them, and sometimes replaces them outright. It starts to seem a little weird that someone with such an active dislike of Fannie Farmer would undertake such a project, and in fact we learn very little about Farmer (except, of course, that she was a crappy cook). Fannie, though, is just a convenient excuse for Kimball to try out his authentic Victorian cookstove in his authentic Victorian house. He does unbend enough to permit the use of blenders, refrigerators, and other modern appliances, rendering his claim to have authentically recreated a Victorian dinner even more dubious. The snidely avuncular mockery of Fannie and her fellow Boston Cooking School cooks persists to the point where it begins to smack of sexism, despite Kimball's pointed inclusion of a woman on his cooking team. There's a particularly sad interlude towards the end where Kimball is describing an ice sculpture that he's had carved for the occasion. The sculpture, of a mermaid, is initially compared to Annie Sprinkle - but by the end of the dinner, Kimball snickers, she instead resembles a woman who has had two children. It was at this point that I started to wonder what the editors had been thinking. Who is the target market for this sort of genteel food writing? Women. Middle-aged, middle class women, with an interest in food history and very possibly an affection for Fannie Farmer. Some may have had children, and may not enjoy being compared to a melting ice sculpture. I think that it will very likely sell well - in a tidy pile at the local Big Box Bookstore, it will probably look to a lot of guys like just the thing to get Mom for Christmas. Guys, please consider what this book might do to your mom's feelings. But what about the food, right? These recipes are here to try to impress you, not to actually be attempted in your home. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you will run right out to buy a live turtle for boiling, or get a box of cow feet for gelatin. I think, though, that anyone so inclined probably already had some recipes on hand. The last chapter - about modern convenience food and how it erodes our quality of life - is sad, thoughtful, and well-constructed. It softened up the edges of my rage a bit, but mostly made me wish the rest of the book had not been so awful. PS I've since removed star no 2, because every time I shelve in the cookbook section and see this book I get annoyed all over again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    I was excited to read this, because I love Cook's Illustrated (which Kimball founded) and I thought food history plus the Cook's Illustrated approach to cooking would be neat. Unfortunately, I disliked so many things about it that I almost don't know where to start. First, the book is positioned as a tribute to Fannie Farmer, yet Kimball has no respect for her. He refers to her constantly as not much of a cook, but as a great businesswoman. He calls her "middle class at best". He denies her claim I was excited to read this, because I love Cook's Illustrated (which Kimball founded) and I thought food history plus the Cook's Illustrated approach to cooking would be neat. Unfortunately, I disliked so many things about it that I almost don't know where to start. First, the book is positioned as a tribute to Fannie Farmer, yet Kimball has no respect for her. He refers to her constantly as not much of a cook, but as a great businesswoman. He calls her "middle class at best". He denies her claim to being "the mother of level measurements" based on little more evidence than his feeling that the claim is "apocryphal". And he just flat-out doesn't like her recipes. Kimball not only rewrites the recipes he does use (which I was expecting), he often uses some other recipe entirely: for example, the lobster l'Americaine is based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe. Fannie Farmer's cake recipes are "rather uninspired", so off he goes to an 1888 French cake book for Mandarin Cake instead. The subtitle ought to be "Creating One Amazing Meal from a Couple of Recipes in Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook and Lots of Other Recipes I Like More". A lot of the recipes do look good, but making a bunch of non-Fannie Farmer recipes is simply not what the book is purporting to be about. Kimball may be a good cook, but he's certainly not a historian. Each chapter begins with a little historical essays on some aspect of 19th-century cooking, Fannie Farmer, or Boston generally. The essays are disorganized and packed full of unrelated factoids; often the entire essay has little or nothing to do with the rest of the chapter. Why do we need to read three pages on Boston clubs, for instance (other than to find out that Kimball belongs to one)? Every once in a while he would hit on a pertinent topic, like Boston farmers' markets, and I would read those with interest, but even these bits often devolved into long paragraphs of factoids, unconnected facts, and unwarranted assumptions. But the worst thing about these historical discourses is that Kimball seems to have very little real sense of the period he's writing about. If he doesn't understand it, he thinks it's silly; if their taste is different from ours, it's bad taste; if it's something that doesn't fit into his view of the period (such as their interest in hygiene and chemistry), it's surprisingly "modern". He mocks an early recipe for Indian pudding as "silly" because it directs the cook to let the molasses drop in while singing a verse of "Nearer My God to Thee" (in cold weather, sing two verses). Does he not understand that in an era without measuring spoons or kitchen timers, this is a perfectly reasonable way of measuring molasses? And he doesn't just have a limited perspective when it comes to the past. The problem extends into the present as well and results in a host of prejudiced remarks. As I've already mentioned, he uses "middle class" as a derogatory term to describe both Fannie and her recipes. He has an ice sculpture of a mermaid to decorate his dinner party; it starts out sporting "spectacular breasts, somewhere on a continuum between the Little Mermaid and Annie Sprinkle" and ends up resembling "a naked woman who has had at least two kids." When he buys calf's heads to make homemade gelatin and ends up with ten instead of two, he wonders why the butcher has so many and speculates: "Was this for some ethnic specialty perhaps, an Ecuadorian feast or a Cambodian stew? Were they being used in some sort of bestial ritual, voodoo or some darker, more sinister rite?" I'm sorry, but did you just equate ethnic food with bestial rituals? I could go on -- I left many pages dogeared to mark bits I didn't like -- but I think you get the idea by now. So if you're an upper-middle-class white male foodie with a very limited worldview, then possibly this book is for you. If you're not, it probably isn't. It certainly wasn't for me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenne

    I've always thought Chris Kimball was kind of a smug bastard, with his glurgey "Letters from Vermont" and his self-satisfied bowtie and his over-engineered recipes. This book didn't do much to dispel that impression, and also showed that any organizational skill he might have in the kitchen does not translate to his writing. He loves making lists of things (like, every other sentence is a list of stuff), and telling you pointless facts, like why you should build your chimney inside the house, and I've always thought Chris Kimball was kind of a smug bastard, with his glurgey "Letters from Vermont" and his self-satisfied bowtie and his over-engineered recipes. This book didn't do much to dispel that impression, and also showed that any organizational skill he might have in the kitchen does not translate to his writing. He loves making lists of things (like, every other sentence is a list of stuff), and telling you pointless facts, like why you should build your chimney inside the house, and how the ancient Romans ate geese, and what 174 things you could buy in a store in Boston in 1896, and how difficult it is to pull out an eyeball, and how it's hard to grow apples, and what his chef's hair looks like, and who he inherited his glassware from, and how to tuck up your skirt so you don't trip over it, and the history of oysters, and the derivation of the word "carageenan" and so on and so very forth. Oh, and he CANNOT GET OVER how they FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE BRAIN when they boiled the calf's head! OMG it almost ruined everything. He describes it AT LENGTH. I have a very high tolerance for digressiveness and pointless information; in fact it's a trait I actively seek out in authors. HOWEVER. CHRIS KIMBALL, PLEASE SHUT UP NOW.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    If Mr. Kimball had actually done what the title of the book implies that he did (create an amazing meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 cookbook), I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal. As it stands, he spends an inordinate amount of time telling us why Mrs. Farmer's recipes are inferior to nearly anyone else's, and then proceeds to pretty much make whatever he pleases. I nearly put this book aside unfinished, because I was so annoyed at it. In the end, I finished it only to see if Mr. Kimball If Mr. Kimball had actually done what the title of the book implies that he did (create an amazing meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 cookbook), I think I would have enjoyed it a great deal. As it stands, he spends an inordinate amount of time telling us why Mrs. Farmer's recipes are inferior to nearly anyone else's, and then proceeds to pretty much make whatever he pleases. I nearly put this book aside unfinished, because I was so annoyed at it. In the end, I finished it only to see if Mr. Kimball redeemed himself. Two stars for concept.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This book had all the raw ingredients to appeal to me: cooking and eating, history, Boston, architecture, a nineteenth-century woman (Fannie Farmer). But the preparation & presentation went horribly wrong. I must agree with a number of other reviews here that Kimball is profoundly disdainful of Farmer's recipes, which makes one wonder why he would take on the project of creating a 12-course dinner based on her cookbook? In the few instances when he discovers Farmer knew how to do something as we This book had all the raw ingredients to appeal to me: cooking and eating, history, Boston, architecture, a nineteenth-century woman (Fannie Farmer). But the preparation & presentation went horribly wrong. I must agree with a number of other reviews here that Kimball is profoundly disdainful of Farmer's recipes, which makes one wonder why he would take on the project of creating a 12-course dinner based on her cookbook? In the few instances when he discovers Farmer knew how to do something as well as, or better than, he does, he expresses surprise. The book becomes a sort of critical review of Farmer's cookbook, as if it were a current publication he's testing, instead of a window into the past. For the first 40-odd pages I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he would "update" Victorian food to some extent. But whenever he doesn't like something about Farmer's cookbook, he snorts knowingly and proceeds to "correct" it (ie, change it in accord with his own personal, 21st century taste), or he simply substitutes another recipe by some one he likes better (preferably by a male French chef). He shudders at the idea of cooking without "modern appliances" even though he has lots of help in the kitchen. He can't conceive of anyone who would actually like a white sauce on fish, so he decides on Grilled Salmon as a fish course even though he admits Farmer's American contemporaries didn't grill fish. He finds Farmer's cake recipes universally horrid so he makes something from L'Epicure instead. He asks Gordon Hammersly for advice on cooking lobster. More examples abound. As a result, Kimball fails utterly in recreating a late 19th c. dinner, much less in understanding how late 19th c. Americans ate or what their relationship to food was like. He professes admiration for Farmer as a teacher and business person but he never grasps who her students really were (neither servants nor elite women). He overlooks Boston's rich history as the center of 19th c. intellectual life and radical reform (transcendentalism, abolitionism, women's rights) in favor of its stereotype as a stuffy starchy town. The text is further marred by repetition, disorganization,digression, and sexism. I may try a couple of his recipes but most are there just for drama, impractical for any home cook today to attempt. (One thing I liked, to be fair, is the care with which Kimball traced the types of ingredients with which Farmer would have been working, from the average weight of geese to the variety of pears.) If this topic interests you, I highly recommend instead Harvey Levenstein's _Revolution at the Table_ (incredibly missing from Kimball's bibliography) and Laura Shapiro's _Perfection Salad_. And for cooking one's way through an iconic, influential cookbook, this is a poor successor indeed to _Julie and Julia_.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alyson

    This book drove me nuts because I apparently had crazy expectations from the title that this was going to be the recreation of a historic meal. If you're going to recreate a meal from a historic period on a wood stove in your 1859 brick Victorian bowfront, THEN RECREATE IT. Don't mess around making it more palatable to modern tastes, and certainly don't constantly criticize the author of the recipes you're altering because she had different tastes in a different time period. Unfortunately, that' This book drove me nuts because I apparently had crazy expectations from the title that this was going to be the recreation of a historic meal. If you're going to recreate a meal from a historic period on a wood stove in your 1859 brick Victorian bowfront, THEN RECREATE IT. Don't mess around making it more palatable to modern tastes, and certainly don't constantly criticize the author of the recipes you're altering because she had different tastes in a different time period. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened in this book, the tale of how he and others came up with and executed a 12 course Victorian meal on the wood stove in his 1859 brick Victorian bowfront. Kimball prattles on--often repeating the same information in separate chapters, practically word for word, so there's some *awesome* editing in here--about historic facts and stories, interspersed with the story of cooking the meal on the wood stove in his 1859 brick Victorian bowfront. He also constantly snarks on Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cookery School's tastes, either looking down his nose at their unsubtle sauces or shockingly amazed that they had a good idea (seriously, we're supposed to be surprised that people in the past had delicious food?). This was exasperating to read at times. There's good, interesting information presented here--the bits about making gelatin and cooking brains were actually really interesting-- but Kimball just comes off as the worst sort of snob. Hey, did I mention they cooked the meal on the wood stove in his 1859 brick Victorian bowfront? Did you know Kimball lives in an 1859 brick Victorian bowfront? You'll know by the end of the book that he does!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Finally got through it, just to say I did. Still convinced that Kimball is full of it. The contrast between his "down to earth Vermont farmer" personality and his "using 'middle-class' as an insult while eating food served to him on gold-rimmed plates in his pimped-out Victorian home" personality is just too much to deal with. He's also not much of a historian - sure, the facts might be there, but he has no clue how to organize and present them, so he keeps talking in circles, describing almost Finally got through it, just to say I did. Still convinced that Kimball is full of it. The contrast between his "down to earth Vermont farmer" personality and his "using 'middle-class' as an insult while eating food served to him on gold-rimmed plates in his pimped-out Victorian home" personality is just too much to deal with. He's also not much of a historian - sure, the facts might be there, but he has no clue how to organize and present them, so he keeps talking in circles, describing almost the same things in each chapter (how trains made non-local food readily available, etc.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    John

    I thought it a terrific read -- whenever I put it down, I looked forward to returning for the next course. I'd not heard of the author, and his television program, before starting the book, which I think worked out for the best. I found him funny, and self-effacing, far from a "celebrity" with attitude; he makes a point of mentioning that he does his share of the "drudge" work, not mentioning a celebrity connection at all until the dinner at the end, where he can hardly not mention the famous gu I thought it a terrific read -- whenever I put it down, I looked forward to returning for the next course. I'd not heard of the author, and his television program, before starting the book, which I think worked out for the best. I found him funny, and self-effacing, far from a "celebrity" with attitude; he makes a point of mentioning that he does his share of the "drudge" work, not mentioning a celebrity connection at all until the dinner at the end, where he can hardly not mention the famous guests and their reactions. Anyway, the book and its content ... I give it an extra star for the historical research of both food-in-America, as well as architecture and social customs of Boston - worth it for that alone. I had gotten the impression that the famed grocer S S Pierce had disappeared by the time of Fannie's death in 1915, until my mom reminded me that she used to get stuff from there after I was born (I said the book was historical!). He does revise the recipes, after many of the original ones don't work out well. Kimball does bemoan many of them as "awful", etc., but here I fear he's run up against a cultural bias -- New England Yankees liked bland food - I'm not so sure they would've liked his "improved" dinner all that much! Still, he had to do something to accommodate his modern guests' palates. Think of the dinner as a screenplay, "based on a work by Fannie Farmer", rather than a stage production with the actual text. Definitely recommended!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alyce (At Home With Books)

    Fannie’s Last Supper is the account of Chris Kimball’s attempt to recreate a traditional twelve course meal using Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. Included in the book are the author’s versions of the recipes that he adapted from Fannie Farmer. In addition to the recipes and cooking stories are histories of: Boston’s culinary tradition, the mechanics of cooking in the 1800s, foods of the time, and the marketplace (or lack thereof). To be honest, I was disappointed in this book. I was expecting it to be Fannie’s Last Supper is the account of Chris Kimball’s attempt to recreate a traditional twelve course meal using Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. Included in the book are the author’s versions of the recipes that he adapted from Fannie Farmer. In addition to the recipes and cooking stories are histories of: Boston’s culinary tradition, the mechanics of cooking in the 1800s, foods of the time, and the marketplace (or lack thereof). To be honest, I was disappointed in this book. I was expecting it to be entirely about the cooking process and the adventure of recreating the meal. At least half of the book, however, was historical information rather than being directly related to the dinner. And it certainly wasn’t a “culinary thriller” as the publisher’s description states above, although I guess if you define “culinary thriller” broadly as taking some risks with your cooking then perhaps it could qualify. It certainly didn’t have the pacing or intensity of anything thriller-like. The parts of the story that were about the cooking were highly enjoyable though, so this was really a book of reading ups and downs for me. The author’s stories of finding ingredients – especially when it came to the mock turtle soup made by boiling a calf’s head and garnished with brain balls was hilarious (and best read while not eating). Unfortunately there weren’t enough entertaining moments like this to balance out the tedium of the rest of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    This one gets a big 'eh' from me. While I usually love eclectic cooking, history, Victorian customs hybrid books, this one never grabbed my attention. The premise of the book was that Kimball - of some sort of cooking show fame - was going to take an 1896 cook book and create his own replication of a 12 course meal. The project lasted two years. Two years! I was bored after two chapters! I just didn't feel as if Kimball stuck to his own plan. He goes into a lot of detail about the creator of the This one gets a big 'eh' from me. While I usually love eclectic cooking, history, Victorian customs hybrid books, this one never grabbed my attention. The premise of the book was that Kimball - of some sort of cooking show fame - was going to take an 1896 cook book and create his own replication of a 12 course meal. The project lasted two years. Two years! I was bored after two chapters! I just didn't feel as if Kimball stuck to his own plan. He goes into a lot of detail about the creator of the cook book - Fannie Farmer - but makes her out to be something of a joke. And then he changes all of he recipes for one reason or another so the project never felt authentic. Plus he wants you to go to his website to take a look at some of the recipes. Where is the Victorian spirit in that? The final dinner too was a let down. He invites people from CBS and NPR so they can give him a bit of press about the whole thing. I think it would have been much more fun if they stuck to the customs of when the cook book was created. It would have been a fun night of make believe. Instead it was a way to get a book deal and television program. Perhaps this is all too harsh. Kimball does do a good job of collecting a lot of interesting information about Boston, dining customs and odd bits about Victorian life, but it was never enough to outweigh the cons.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Daugherty

    I love Cook's Illustrated and I even love Chris Kimball's small essays at the beginning of every issue, but taking his smug, self-congratulatory tone through a novella length work is less appealing. He claims to want to recreate a Victorian era, elegant dinner party by using recipes of the era, specifically from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Unfortunately he hates Fanny Farmer and he hates her recipes. He keeps some of her ideas when it will create a clever story that he can make fun of, but he tra I love Cook's Illustrated and I even love Chris Kimball's small essays at the beginning of every issue, but taking his smug, self-congratulatory tone through a novella length work is less appealing. He claims to want to recreate a Victorian era, elegant dinner party by using recipes of the era, specifically from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Unfortunately he hates Fanny Farmer and he hates her recipes. He keeps some of her ideas when it will create a clever story that he can make fun of, but he trashes and reconstructs almost every recipe. He is convinced that his way is the better way AND tries to claim that his meal is still "authentic". Kimball insists that Fanny Farmer was not a cook, but merely a "business woman", then denigrates almost everything she has accomplished. He drags in snippets of daily Victorian life, but not in any coherent fashion. He creates a Who's Who of personalities to attend this dinner, then seems disappointed that they could not live up to his ideal of manners and conversation. In short, Mr. Kimball is disappointed in life and is bound to tell us all about it. There were passages that I did enjoy and details that I will remember, but overall the book left a very bad taste in my mouth.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Taylor

    This is one of those books you have to sip like fine wine, slowly reading sections over time and savoring them. Part account of the cooking of a dinner party from Fannie Farmer's 1896 cookbook, part the travails of trying to do so as authentic to late 19th century technology and technique as possible, and part research and reporting on history, culture, and cuisine from her time to ours, this book is packed with fascinating information and wonderful anecdotes. I highly recommend this to anyone wh This is one of those books you have to sip like fine wine, slowly reading sections over time and savoring them. Part account of the cooking of a dinner party from Fannie Farmer's 1896 cookbook, part the travails of trying to do so as authentic to late 19th century technology and technique as possible, and part research and reporting on history, culture, and cuisine from her time to ours, this book is packed with fascinating information and wonderful anecdotes. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys cooking shows, history, culture, or social issues. Wonderful reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    The idea, the history and menu would make you think that this book is a slam dunk. There were moments that I found myself enjoying the book but for the most part it is written and edited very poorly. He wanders around seemingly lost focus but some of the spew of information is interesting, other bits are not. The author is dismissive and condescending to Fannie through out the book which rubbed me the wrong way.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    Christopher Kimball, whom I know well from my subscription to Cook's Illustrated, finds an old cookbook in an older house and spends two years figuring out how to put on a Victorian spread for twelve, using a coal stove, no less. Along the way we are treated to a history of Boston by way of fresh oysters and calf's foot jelly, in Fannie Farmer's kitchen. I love The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, it is my go-to cookbook whenever I pull something unidentifiable out of the freezer and need a recipe to put Christopher Kimball, whom I know well from my subscription to Cook's Illustrated, finds an old cookbook in an older house and spends two years figuring out how to put on a Victorian spread for twelve, using a coal stove, no less. Along the way we are treated to a history of Boston by way of fresh oysters and calf's foot jelly, in Fannie Farmer's kitchen. I love The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, it is my go-to cookbook whenever I pull something unidentifiable out of the freezer and need a recipe to put it in. I am seldom skunked by one of the recipes therein. So I was amazed to discover that Fannie was more of a marketer than a cook, but if she inspired my favorite cookbook, so what? I would have preferred more about the preparation of the food and less of the history in this book, but there are wonderful observations and nuggets of information scattered throughout that make the book well worthwhile, especially about Victorian dining habits: "Victorians were also less apt to invite friends over for dinner. Dining in someone else's home was an intensely personal event, and an invitation was the "highest form of social compliment."" and "The essence of table etiquette in Victorian times derived from the disturbing relationship between eating and animal behavior. One manual said, "Eating is so entirely a sensual, animal gratification, that unless it is conducted with much delicacy, it becomes unpleasant to others." These dinner parties were, in effect, a test of one's control over bodily appetites." I'll never make a Victorian, I like to eat too much. Right away I was inspired to think of doing an Alaskan-style Victorian meal. I'd make the punch directly from his recipe for Victoria Punch, it sounds fabulous, and he and his co-conspirators certainly made and sampled their share. I can get oysters right across the bay, if I could wrangle some moose bones from friends I could make a clear moose broth, the fish course could be either salmon or halibut, venison from my friend Becky who hunts on Kodiak. Poultry, hmmm, have to find a friend who goes duck hunting. Maybe Joanna's fiance, Kyle? Vegetable, a potato gallette, from Yukon Golds grown in Alaska, but of course! (My recipe here: http://feastforone.blogspot.com/2010/...) Raspberry sorbet, burned butter frosting cake, and the cheeses will have to be from Costco. Only one liqueur, my grandmother's framboise that I make myself (recipe here: http://www.stabenow.com/2009/08/16/we...). Serving twelve? Maybe eight. In two hours? Even Kimball only managed four and a half. Still sounds like a lot of work, but as Kimball rightly says, "...cooking, it seems to me, offers the most direct way back into the very heart of the good life. It is useful, it is necessary, it is social, and it offers immediate pleasure and satisfaction." They did a PBS special on it, too, I can't wait for it to be on DVD. The one thing that is lacking in this book is photographs.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alison Dunleavy

    If the word "ersatz" was used one more time, my head would have exploded. If the word "ersatz" was used one more time, my head would have exploded.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ilze

    I got this book because it claimed to be about something I always wanted to do: Host a historical dinner prepared as per the time period chosen. Now I see that actually doing the loads of work that would be involved would probably put a big damper on any enjoyment I might get out of it. So, no problem, I would really like to just attend a historical dinner prepared as per the time chosen. Anybody doing one? No? So okay, I'm not going to be invited to one of these fetes soon, if they actually exist. I got this book because it claimed to be about something I always wanted to do: Host a historical dinner prepared as per the time period chosen. Now I see that actually doing the loads of work that would be involved would probably put a big damper on any enjoyment I might get out of it. So, no problem, I would really like to just attend a historical dinner prepared as per the time chosen. Anybody doing one? No? So okay, I'm not going to be invited to one of these fetes soon, if they actually exist. But I can read about what it's like to attend one, right? I can enjoy one of these dinners vicariously? Well no, not with this book anyway. When the guy hosting drags you though all kinds of preparation stories, wherein he allows the use of modern conveniences to prepare a Victorian dinner, except for the cast iron stove, (big whoop) he finally gets to the defining moment when all the guests are assembled, and the dinner is served. The big moment lasts about eight pages. And eight not very good pages. No one dresses up, except the host. And no one seems to get into the spirit of history, or at least Mr. Kimball doesn't write about it if they did. I must prefer "Last Dinner on the Titanic" for this sort of storytelling.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I thought the premise of this book was really interesting, and I did enjoy reading about the process of making the meal and some of the historical background; however, it seemed that Kimball abandoned his premise very quickly. Why bother describing it as an effort to recreate a meal from a particular Victorian cookbook when you don't actually use any of the recipes? For all the background about Fannie Farmer, Kimball did not seem to think her cooking was actually worthy of being brought back to I thought the premise of this book was really interesting, and I did enjoy reading about the process of making the meal and some of the historical background; however, it seemed that Kimball abandoned his premise very quickly. Why bother describing it as an effort to recreate a meal from a particular Victorian cookbook when you don't actually use any of the recipes? For all the background about Fannie Farmer, Kimball did not seem to think her cooking was actually worthy of being brought back to life, instead looking to other sources, or creating his own versions of the dishes. Also, the book was terribly disorganized, leaping from one completely separate idea to the next over the space of a paragraph break. Unrelated recipes and historical interjections were interspersed at random with attempts at creating the meal. While a lot of it was interesting, the information definitely could have benefited from improved structure and flow. Also, the author's ego really comes through in his writing, something that is always a turn-off for me, and his diatribe at the end, that all we do with what spare time we have due to modern conveniences is wasted on TV, was a little bit like being told off by an older, wiser adult. I enjoyed parts of it, but would not necessarily recommend it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Finished off Christopher Kimball's Fannie's Last Supper, a tribute to Victorian era cooking that involved two years of cooking research capped off by a 12-course feast for a select group of invited guests from all over. He asks towards the end, "Was this just a bunch of over-privileged gourmands enjoying ridiculous over-consumption while the rest of the country was stuck in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression?" The answer is both yes and no. Yes, it was overindulgent and an un Finished off Christopher Kimball's Fannie's Last Supper, a tribute to Victorian era cooking that involved two years of cooking research capped off by a 12-course feast for a select group of invited guests from all over. He asks towards the end, "Was this just a bunch of over-privileged gourmands enjoying ridiculous over-consumption while the rest of the country was stuck in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression?" The answer is both yes and no. Yes, it was overindulgent and an undertaking (that included buying an old Victorian brownstone in Boston and refurbishing it to fit the project) that was beyond the imaginings of most folk. At the same time, it was not "just" that. Who is to say that the wealthy are not allowed to have hobbies such as cooking and writing about it? Certainly not me. Kimball earned his wealth and how he chooses to spend it, and his leisure and social time, is certainly up to him. The book, however, suffered from being, well, boring. For the most part it just meandered, with far too many irrelevant tangents, and far too many "we decided not to do things the way they were originally done because we didn't like the results" - in the end yielding a dinner that was part Victorian and part Modern, where it suited.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ansate

    An interesting mix of history and cooking and history of cooking, but falls flat at the end with its determination to try to draw a conclusion about what is lost and gained when you spend more time in the kitchen. [return][return]I liked the delivery of the historical information, even if it was sometimes repetitive from chapter to chapter. (Often it seemed as if each chapter was mean to stand alone.) It was interesting to learn about Boston of 100 and 200 years ago, and how cooking and availabl An interesting mix of history and cooking and history of cooking, but falls flat at the end with its determination to try to draw a conclusion about what is lost and gained when you spend more time in the kitchen. [return][return]I liked the delivery of the historical information, even if it was sometimes repetitive from chapter to chapter. (Often it seemed as if each chapter was mean to stand alone.) It was interesting to learn about Boston of 100 and 200 years ago, and how cooking and available foodstuffs changed since those points. Sometimes it was hard to follow what era we were talking about - I would assume 1900 and then find out later in the period that he meant 1800, the better to explain what changed between 1800 and 1900 before comparing to present-day. [return][return]Repetition was also a problem with the portrayal of Fannie Farmer - over and over we heard about her floury sauces, her business acumen, her lack of culinary ability. It was a consistent picture, but it seemed to come across in the same words each time. But it was fascinating to see such a successful businesswoman in that era. [return][return]The last chapter seems to have been tacked on to try to give us a moral dimension. Do we judge the author for enjoying the essentially frivolous endeavor of this cooking challenge? The question wouldn't have occurred to me if he hadn't brought it up. We are also made to ponder whether we, as a culture, are better or worse off for spending less time in the kitchen than we did 100 years ago. Of course the author, someone who loves to cook, believes we should spend more time cooking than we (on average) do. This wet blanket of morality was a sad thing to add after the joyous fun of the successful dinner party. [return][return]Overall, it's a quick and fun read - a nice mix of personal endeavor and history. The recipes are made for his particular stove and goal, and most are probably not suitable for a more casual home cook, but it was interesting to see how they came together.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scott Andrews

    Pales in comparison to a real food or cultural history book, like The Big Oyster.The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell And, this guy is not likeable, at all. He smacks of the whole celebrity 00s TV chef that is so happy with him/herself it makes you hate food until you start to forget he/she exists. The historical paragraphs seemed appropriate for a bathroom reader. Some fun facts. No real depth. It is hard to imagine someone with an unlimited budget and unlimited time pursuing this project for Pales in comparison to a real food or cultural history book, like The Big Oyster.The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell And, this guy is not likeable, at all. He smacks of the whole celebrity 00s TV chef that is so happy with him/herself it makes you hate food until you start to forget he/she exists. The historical paragraphs seemed appropriate for a bathroom reader. Some fun facts. No real depth. It is hard to imagine someone with an unlimited budget and unlimited time pursuing this project for vainglorious purposes- but here he is. The summation was a few paragraphs of self-congratulation, bromides and treacle. That being said, I did not hate the book. Though I WISH Guy Fieri had written this instead. Maybe he would not had beaten down Fannie's "middle-class" "American- read: non Escoffier" recipes and techniques, and had injected a little more humility and joy to the proceedings.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Akamatsu

    This is a fun, interesting and informative read. I've been a big fan of Kimball's magazines, starting way back in the early 80's and even through the late 80's with its sad focus on trends and celebrities. But this book has so much history of Victorian age America and all the changes that fed into this era of wonderful technological advancements and affordability. (Yes, there were invisible costs, but just go write your own review). The recipes are a bit strange, but not unusually so, and certai This is a fun, interesting and informative read. I've been a big fan of Kimball's magazines, starting way back in the early 80's and even through the late 80's with its sad focus on trends and celebrities. But this book has so much history of Victorian age America and all the changes that fed into this era of wonderful technological advancements and affordability. (Yes, there were invisible costs, but just go write your own review). The recipes are a bit strange, but not unusually so, and certainly you want aspire to try some of them. Unfortunately the website for the book is defunct so some recipes are not available, like the rhubarb jelly with strawberry Bavarian, which I will be trying this week after cobbling many recipes together.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    An intriguing idea, but the book fails to deliver on what it promised. I wanted more recipe development, more trial-and-error in cooking techniques. Kimball does include some of that (mostly the unnecessarily overly-revolting details regarding calf's heads), but also wastes a lot of words on "hey listen to this neat detail I learned about food history." It's all good information, but it needed an editor. An intriguing idea, but the book fails to deliver on what it promised. I wanted more recipe development, more trial-and-error in cooking techniques. Kimball does include some of that (mostly the unnecessarily overly-revolting details regarding calf's heads), but also wastes a lot of words on "hey listen to this neat detail I learned about food history." It's all good information, but it needed an editor.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cari

    Interesting twist of recreating a meal from 19th century New England. The details are a bit extensive for the reader and I found myself daydreaming through the book at times. Yet, I applaud the efforts of this group and it was a perfect follow up after Eight Flavors to understand more of American's culinary past. Interesting twist of recreating a meal from 19th century New England. The details are a bit extensive for the reader and I found myself daydreaming through the book at times. Yet, I applaud the efforts of this group and it was a perfect follow up after Eight Flavors to understand more of American's culinary past.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linnet

    A step back in time. . . recreating one of the last dinners Fannie Farmer prepared in Victorian times. It's interesting to learn about the way they cooked then, what they ate and the ambiance in which the food was presented and consumed. A step back in time. . . recreating one of the last dinners Fannie Farmer prepared in Victorian times. It's interesting to learn about the way they cooked then, what they ate and the ambiance in which the food was presented and consumed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mria Quijada

    Hardly 're-creating' when half of the book is about Fannie's lack of culinary skills. I don't think they actually used any of her recipes in the final meal after TWO YEARS of preparation. Contrived, elitist, disgusting.. Hardly 're-creating' when half of the book is about Fannie's lack of culinary skills. I don't think they actually used any of her recipes in the final meal after TWO YEARS of preparation. Contrived, elitist, disgusting..

  26. 4 out of 5

    Whitney 'Thompson' Jenkins

    I really enjoyed this documentary and didn't realize it was a book until my husband got it for me for Christmas! I loved the further details and fun anecdotes that support the documentary and the actual recipes (eventhough I will probably never have the guts to try them). I really enjoyed this documentary and didn't realize it was a book until my husband got it for me for Christmas! I loved the further details and fun anecdotes that support the documentary and the actual recipes (eventhough I will probably never have the guts to try them).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cindi

    What a fun book to read about the trials and tribulations that cooks faced in the past. It was neat to hear how things have improved and why.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    I wrote this review on March 10,, 2011 for http://stylesubstancesoul.com/2011/03... When I think of culinary adventure, my mind wanders to trying a new type of cheese, baking dough that actually has to rise, or eating at a restaurant lauded by a magazine columnist. When Chris Kimball thinks of culinary adventure, he takes it a step further, going so far as to create an authentic 12-course Victorian meal in his own home! He took on the challenge to create this meal, and wrote about it in Fannie’s I wrote this review on March 10,, 2011 for http://stylesubstancesoul.com/2011/03... When I think of culinary adventure, my mind wanders to trying a new type of cheese, baking dough that actually has to rise, or eating at a restaurant lauded by a magazine columnist. When Chris Kimball thinks of culinary adventure, he takes it a step further, going so far as to create an authentic 12-course Victorian meal in his own home! He took on the challenge to create this meal, and wrote about it in Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-Creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook. The entire effort is also documented in a PBS documentary, and on the website with recipes and photos. Kimball’s approach to the story of creating the meal is fascinating in unexpected ways; he ruminates on food history, researches technique and food sources, and regales the reader with the planning and execution of his glorious feast. He is amusing, clever, sarcastic, and thoroughly entertaining. His writing style flows through a variety of experiences, with a wry sense of humor, often causing me to laugh out loud, especially when he described how some of the old recipes turned out. Mr. Kimball is a foodie going way back. He is the founder, editor, and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. He also hosts the television show, America’s Test Kitchen, and has published a variety of recipe books. The “Fannie” of Fannie’s Last Supper is the one and only Fannie Farmer — cooking teacher and cookbook author from the late 18th & early 19th centuries. This book is as much the story of an amazing feast as it is a biography of this controversial and fascinating woman who brought new techniques and methods of cooking into the homes of America during an age when the world was changing rapidly. She was a successful businesswoman, with an eye toward the science and health of cooking. When Kimball and his wife purchased an old “bow-front townhouse” in Boston in the mid-1990’s, they decided to refurbish the kitchen in the original Victorian style, complete with an authentic coal cookstove. A fascination with the history of cooking led Kimball to experiment with original preparation methods for foods of the times. Fannie Farmer’s cookbook from 1896 included a 12-course menu that Kimball used as the basis for his “Last Supper.” Kimball introduces us to the history of home food cooking trends in Boston in the 18th and 19th centuries. He brings in fascinating trivia about the development of culinary arts, including the history of the Boston waterfront and how the shipping industry impacted the city in the early 18th century, how changes in availability of domestic help impacted the American kitchen, and the challenges of food preparation before modern conveniences. These aren’t subjects I thought I was particularly interested in but, in the capable hands of Chris Kimball, the history takes on relevance and lends itself to the appreciation of good food and food preparation. I’d have a hard time choosing my favorite stories from the book, as it incorporates so many surprising tidbits of information, from a very funny synopsis of how and why it is important to delicately remove the brains from a calf’s head when making turtle soup, to anecdotes of social and culinary clubs of Boston’s past. Kimball explains cooking techniques, from larding to daubing, barding and rendering. He even reviews a history of the development of cookbooks. He discusses famous chefs from America’s past as well as modern day culinary experts. As expected, the description of some foods made my mouth water – - including Duxelle & Chicken-filled Rissoles, Potatoes Lyonnaise, Lobster a l’Americaine, and Fried Baby Artichokes; others made my stomach turn! There is so much to enjoy in this book; it is a truly pleasurable experience to join Kimball on his journey to create Fannie’s Last Supper. As Kimball says, “Researching history is a terrific way to cure oneself of taking anything for granted.”

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dixie Diamond

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Read this and this. * * * * * * * * * * Side Note: I lost time by not thinking of it quickly enough, but I did get a copy of the 1896 Farmer cookbook to use for reference while I was reading this * * * * * * * * * * I could go on for pages and pages here, but I'll try to keep it sane. I don't quite understand this. Kimball sets out to host a dinner party in his "1859 Victorian bow-front" (he says it repeatedly) using the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book . . . and then doesn't. Why would he go to Read this and this. * * * * * * * * * * Side Note: I lost time by not thinking of it quickly enough, but I did get a copy of the 1896 Farmer cookbook to use for reference while I was reading this * * * * * * * * * * I could go on for pages and pages here, but I'll try to keep it sane. I don't quite understand this. Kimball sets out to host a dinner party in his "1859 Victorian bow-front" (he says it repeatedly) using the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book . . . and then doesn't. Why would he go to the trouble of seeking out period-correct ingredients and using an authentic cast-iron stove if he wasn't going to use the actual recipes? I thought the idea was awesome, but Kimball was apparently unable to keep his America's Test Kitchen meddling impulses in check and basically un-did all he meant to do before he even got started. If I were invited to a Victorian dinner, I would expect to eat the food as Miss Farmer instructed it be prepared and served, too-sweet wines and all. Otherwise, it's just another dinner party. Kimball might be a great culinary tinkerer but he's a disaster as a historian since he not only cannot keep his own views and opinions out of the material, but he is not even aware of his bias. He seemed so deliberately ignorant and block-headed about so much in this book that I couldn't tell if he was serious or if he was playing the rube for the sake of the book. I'm afraid he might have been serious. It didn't occur to him that cleaning a calf's head might involved removing the brain? Isn't the definition of "cleaning" a carcass pretty much "removing all internal organs"? To begin with, Kimball loves to hear himself talk. The writing is so repetitive I wondered if he'd even had an editor. The first chapter could have been cut down by a third had he kept his incessant descriptions of the 1859 Victorian bow-front and his crime-ridden neighborhood under control. OK, you were on tippy-toe on the foam on the front of the wave of gentrification. We get it. Now shut up. (Or are you trying to make yourself sound less like an upper-middle class food snob? Street cred? Because it's not working.) Kimball knows enough about history to cough up a lot of rote facts but not nearly enough to have internalized the information and formed any sort of perspective or context. He does not seem to be clear on whether his project is supposed to be middle-class, which goes with the book, or upper-class, which goes with the meal he is attempting. He has no respect for Miss Farmer and doesn't seem to understand that the cookbook was intended to be a resource for a middle-class woman, not a gourmet. Basically, who cooks from Joy of Cooking and then complains that it's not exotic enough? Both books are basically middle-class. Why criticize it for something it never pretended not to be? He doesn't see that Farmer's "provincial" adaptations of classics aren't much different from the "America's Test Kitchen" practice of altering recipes and methods for result at the cost of authenticity. He also doesn't make allowances for the fact that many of the ingredients and a lot of the information that he takes for granted most likely was simply not available to the majority of American cooks at the turn of the century. The male, mostly French chefs to whom he finally goes were not Farmer's equivalents, so comparing her to them is really not fair. Worst of all, he doesn't recognize that Farmer's intended audience of middle-class people with higher aspirations is the same one at which his own TV show and cookbooks are aimed.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth Ann

    Getting my head around a review for this book has been difficult. On the one hand there are several good things about this book: It is full of interesting tidbits about Boston in the Victorian Era, it is full of good, researched historical facts, it has tasty recipes included, and it stays fairly interesting despite a, sometimes, dry topic. However, overall, this book has some serious issues. It's as if the author, Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen fame, has tried to cram two books togethe Getting my head around a review for this book has been difficult. On the one hand there are several good things about this book: It is full of interesting tidbits about Boston in the Victorian Era, it is full of good, researched historical facts, it has tasty recipes included, and it stays fairly interesting despite a, sometimes, dry topic. However, overall, this book has some serious issues. It's as if the author, Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen fame, has tried to cram two books together and neither of them fared very well in the process. He has the historical background information on Fannie Farmer, the Boston Cooking School, victorian cooking and eating, and Boston's history on one side and a book about creating, in his words, the ultimate victorian dinner party on the other. This book would have been great if he had either done a book on the history OR done a book on the type of food geekery that the ATK does so well. There were many instances in the book where he says "oh we tested several of these types of recipes and found..." THAT would have been interesting to read, especially in ATK's classic scientific style! In addition there was another BIG problem with the book. The title is a lie. Chris didn't stick to Fannie's recipes in the slightest! He uses recipes from other Victorians and even modern chefs to get something approximating the type of things one MIGHT have seen at a Victorian formal dinner. Sure they do go so far as to create gelatin from calves feet, etc, but if you aren't using Fannie's recipe because you don't like it , then you aren't creating Fannie's last supper. Another, small but distressing note: the website where a lot of the recipes were posted for items in the book, and where you are referred to by the author, no longer exists. This book is only about five years old. I would really expect the website to still be available. Overall, I am glad I read it, because I am interested in food of that era, but I am disappointed.

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