Longtime South End resident and culinary-publishing star Christopher Kimball (America's Test Kitchen) will talk about his personal essays in the bi-monthly Cook's Illustrated this Tuesday at the South End Library at 6:30 PM. And, yes, refreshments will be served: how could we not? For this event, Kimball will bring copies of his recent book, Fannie's Last Supper, a tale of the author's recreation of a 12-course Christmas dinner given at the end of the 19th Century in the South End by Fannie Farmer, who wrote The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. The entire meal was prepared on a wood-burning stove at Kimball's home located near where Ms. Farmer used to live.
Kimball's extraordinarily successful career in food-publishing (The Best Recipe, Grilling and Barbecue, American Classics, Restaurant Favorites at Home, among other cookbooks) has defied general wisdom numerous times since its inception in 1980. Cook's Illustrated lacks the sumptuous photography mandatorily prevalent in food publishing, but offers instead fine line drawings and watercolors of seasonal vegetables, fruits, cheeses, culinary implements and, yes, even its authors. And in an era when print publishing has seen its worst circulation numbers, Cook's Illustrated's subscriber base exploded. What can his secret be?
Perhaps in an era of formulaic publishing formats, the incongruous and unexpected brings the triumphs. Thus the personal essays Kimball pens for each bi-monthly Cook's Illustrated may seem out of place in a magazine devoted to the dreary task of testing recipes and canned-food products, but the cast of characters that has populated the columns for decades enlivens and anchors this publication's unique approach to food and life. There's Charley Bentley, the farmer who doesn't talk much but whose raised eyebrow will tell you all you need to know; and John Kurasinski, the gruff neighbor who likes to do favors but has trouble accepting them because he doesn't want to be in anyone's debt; and there we have Herbie and Onie, the two local farmhands with whom Kimball weathered the many complications of farming.
For Kimball, all roads seem to lead back to Vermont, where he grew up and owns a farm: even in a 2001 essay, recalling his 1969 trip with high-school friends across the Sahara desert to Agadez (Niger), he wonders, three decades later, after dropping off his kids at the local country store to buy candy, whether the journey and the destination are the same thing.
Kimball's visit will close the first season of FOSEL-sponsored The South End Writes author's series. It will resume in September.