I had never heard of M.F.K. Fisher until I started working at One for
the Table. She was/is apparently one of the most famous food writers of
the last century. I rarely read about food, only branching out
occasionally to pick up Gourmet, Food & Wine or Cooking Light
depending on what recipe was featured on the cover. In recent months I
discovered I was one of the only ones not familiar with her work,
because her name kept popping up in various pieces on this site as one
of THE people everyone consulted when it came to enjoying good
food. Finally, intrigued by her reputation and tired of reading murder
mysteries, I decided to see what all the fuss was about...and found a
For most of my life, I was never really INTO food, eating mostly what was put in front of me without much consideration. Up until about 5 years ago, I was a very picky eater and though I still don't like the various foods on my plate to touch, I am proud to say I have overcome many culinary hurdles and will now try just about anything once. Especially if I don't know what it is first. I've also taught myself to cook and though I won't be opening my own restaurant anytime soon, the meals that come out of my kitchen are for the most part pretty good. At least I thought so until I read THE ART OF EATING by Ms. Fisher. Now I know I'm just trying too hard and am failing in the biggest way possible– to take the time to truly enjoy the experience of eating.
What's amazing about this book – which is actually an anthology containing her five most famous books SERVE IT FORTH, CONSIDER THE OYSTER, HOW TO COOK A WOLF, THE GASTRONOMICAL ME and AN ALPHABET FOR GOURMETS – is that the stories rarely seem dated and in fact, many of her ideas are back in style today. She was green, eating local and cooking simply and "slowly" long before they became the latest media buzzwords of the 21st Century. Of course, she didn't have much choice in the beginning of her life – she was born in 1908 – but she was still a major force to be reckoned with when all the newest kitchen gadgets and frozen foodstuffs first entered into most "modern" households and she discovered then that ease rarely equaled nutrition or flavor. Many of her tips and recipes in "How to Cook a Wolf" written during the shortages of WWII are useful today and her absolute abhorrence of "sliced white bread" for it's utter lack of nutrition seems almost psychic considering the current "whole grain" craze.
Though her books contain recipes, they are more than mere cookbooks. They showcase tales that not only entertain, but intelligently and with a perfect note of humor, illuminate the simple and sublime culinary pleasures of everyday life. One of my favorites from "An Alphabet for Gourmets" is her "B is for Bachelors" piece, which is a spot-on (and amusingly clever) discourse on the use of food as a tool of seduction that's truthful and timeless.
In her own words: "There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?" The joy of reading her stories is in how she makes you feel connected to food, both in the preparation and the eating. Even though the recipes are over 60 years old, there are plenty I will be trying this fall. They aren't necessarily easy, but there's no doubt in my mind they will be good.
The stories contained in THE ART OF EATING read like a good novel. I looked forward to spending time with Ms. Fisher and seeing what she cooked up next. She is someone I wish I had met and been able to share a meal or at the very least a drink with...though I'm not sure I could have kept up. I love wine and a good cocktail, but my liver hurt through most of "The Gastronomical Me." However, the way she writes about food has made me conscious of savoring not only the flavors of a meal but the company that shares it...even if it's your own.
Unlike many of her contemporaries who were scared to dine with her or, God forbid, cook for her I would have at least given it a go. Who knows what secrets of the table I could have learned? She was human after all and despite her credentials, not the least bit snobby about food, especially if it was prepared with love and served with good humor.
Lisa Dinsmore is a writer and web programmer. She has her own wine blog called Daily Wine Dispatch. She lives with her husband Dave in Los Angeles.