A Farewell Letter From Chris Kimball -The Toast

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PreviouslyThere’s some work hands weren’t meant for.

“The Board of Directors of Boston Common Press, the parent company of America’s Test Kitchen, today announced that Christopher Kimball’s employment with America’s Test Kitchen is ending.

While Kimball’s departure is immediate, he remains host for the 2016 seasons of the America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television shows.

“Since its inception, Chris has been an important component of America’s Test Kitchen, as the co-founder of the business. We made every effort to offer Chris a reasonable contract that reflected his significant contributions to the company and are disappointed that we could not reach agreement,” said David Nussbaum, CEO of Boston Common Press.”

Each issue of Cook’s Illustrated begins with a folksy letter with news from down on the old Vermont farm by founder and editor-in-chief Chris Kimball. These charming, old-timey updates remind us all of a slower, simpler way of life, where neighbors stop to swap plowing tips out by the trading post and run when they see Old Henry coming. Who’s Old Henry? Why, what a question, stranger. Old Henry knows who you are. That much is certain. Old Henry knows who you are just fine.

The Toast has received an advance copy of Mr. Kimball’s final letter for Cook’s Illustrated, which we are proud to publish in full here.

In the Good Book – there’s only one Good Book, children, and you must see to it that your name is found there – the disciples went out to teach the people, and the good Lord told them that when they came to a town, if the town was deserving, to let their peace rest on it. And what were the disciples to do if the town wasn’t deserving, girls and boys? They were to take their peace with them, to leave that place and shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against them. Let the dust of my feet be a testimony against wickedness.

Things won’t work in America’s Test Kitchen once I’m gone, children. Not without my floured hands at the wheel. Mandolines won’t slice. Knives will separate at the seam and clatter to the floor. Biscuits won’t rise. Dough won’t proof. Hens won’t lay. Roosters won’t crow. Oven won’t bake. Drawers won’t close. And who’ll pay Old Henry what’s due to him when he comes striding up the walk some fine autumn morning? Your hands aren’t strong enough to hold the tithe. Only mine were. Only I could give Old Henry what was due him, before the dying of the year, and when I’m gone, he’ll exact his terrible price. And you’ll pay it. You’ll all pay it.

Saw a man in rags on the north end of my cornfield this Saturday at dusk. He appeared as if out of nowhere, dancing nervously between the rows. He spoke only in rhyme. Said his name was Granger. Said he used to work the grapevines up in Maine. Worked like a dog. Never saw no money, never met no one named Luck. One day he spat in the ground and said he wished Death would come for him. Then Death came and caught his eye, and he lost his nerve and ran. Been running ever since. His voice was thick and hurt to hear, like his throat ached to say it. “I called for Death, he learned my name/ Now I run through cold, I run through rain/ Oh, I wish I were in the fields again!” He took off before I could offer him a slice of the peach pie I’d made. Someone was walking in his direction after he left. Walked that way a long while. Walking fast against the horizon.

The fiddler’s warming up, readying for to play my swan song. Can you hear him? He’s playing a tune of his own making. Everyone ought to know how to cook. You’ll find me wherever a man is plating his first Oysters Rockefeller, wherever a home cook is learning the best way to scoop drop biscuits (a seashell King Neptune gave you). Turn on your gas range, and you’ll see my eyes in the blue light. Close your refrigerator door, and I’ll sweep through it with the darkness. Scrape your knuckles on a cheese grater, and you’ll see a familiar bowtie in the bloodstain. I won’t be far, home cooks. Always close to hand, that’s Chris Kimball. You can’t get rid of me. Why, I can’t even get rid of myself.

Fall’s coming on. And after fall there’s always winter. Mr. Winter always walking just a few steps behind Mr. Fall, hiding his foosteps in the echo of Mr. Fall’s. Someone will go missing this winter. They always do. Someone who went missing the last winter back will show up on the frozen edges of Fike’s Pond, but with different-colored eyes this time. They always do.

Have you seen Old Henry yet today? Old Henry says hello. I saw old Henry out by the hitching post, and he was doing just fine. “Spry as a mule with a chicken’s ear,” he said with a low, rumbling laugh. He clacked his heels together and I gave him a silver half-dollar, as is my custom.

Ever ridden on a ship of fools, children? Where the mob has drugged the captain and tossed the sextant overboard, and the direction-stars hide their crystal faces out of shame? It’s a dismal cargo of souls bound for noplace. Here comes the mad carnival, pulling into the harbor. The gangplank only goes up, never down.

It’s an old Vermont custom – as old as sinking your mother into a vat of fresh-churned butter and storing her in the jam-cellar for freshness – and it makes for a good harvest.

I remember a time before chicken dinners at the Presbyterian hall behind the fire house. Before bric-a-brac sales. Before Jim Standish put the sign “Gas – $8.50 a gallon” to keep the tourists moving past the weigh-in station. I remember a time before hot. Before cold. Before eyes opened, when all mouths were closed, when nothing moved without permission. I remember it all, and I’ll remember you too when I shake the dust from my feet. I hope the Devil learns your name.

Do you know what comes after spring? Do you know what comes after spring? Do you know what comes after spring?

I was born in my own home, and I’ll die with my eyes open. Bury me at a crossroads with my face pointed up and a silver dollar in my mouth for Old Henry.

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