“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” – M.F.K. Fisher
Ron and I love good food, and we really enjoy cooking together in our big farmhouse kitchen. After a long day, what is nicer than to open a good bottle of wine, light some candles, and share a little chopping and dicing and a dance around the kitchen, while wonderful aromas fill the room? When people visit us – customers and friends alike – the kitchen is where we tend to gather. It’s no wonder we have an appreciation for cookbooks and food writing.
Here’s what a couple of literary giants had to say about cookbooks:
“Of all the books produced since the remote ages by human talents and industry, those only that treat of cooking are, from a moral point of view, above suspicion. The intention of every other piece of prose may be discussed and even mistrusted; but the purpose of a cookery book is one and unmistakable. Its object can conceivably be no other than to increase the happiness of mankind.” – Joseph Conrad
“Next to eating good dinners, a healthy man with a benevolent turn of mind, must like, I think, to read about them.” William Makepeace Thackeray
One of my favorite food authors is Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (better known as M.F.K. Fisher) who knew how to tell a good story while divulging great recipes and food combinations. M.F.K. Fisher was a woman who could make scrambled eggs or a peeled tangerine sound spectacular, and have you seeing even the most basic foods in a new light, and enjoying them in a new way.
M.F.K. Fisher was a beautiful woman who lived to be 83 years old (July 3, 1908 – June 22, 1992). She traveled a great deal, and learned to enjoy life whatever her circumstances. Her book, How to Cook A Wolf, was about putting good food on the table when money and ingredients are scarce (written during the war years)…in other words, how to keep the wolf from the door. She explored not only the art of eating well, but the art of living well. Here is a brief list of some of her major gastronomical works:
Serve It Forth, New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1937
Consider the Oyster, New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1941
How to Cook a Wolf, New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1942
The Gastronomical Me, New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943
An Alphabet for Gourmets, New York: Viking, 1949
Nearly all the first editions of her prolific output are highly collectible. This means you need a cheap reprint for reading and cooking by, and if you can obtain one, a first edition to admire on the shelf!
If you think food writing is dry and boring, read her interpretation of how to eat a tangerine:
“In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.
Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales of l’intérieur. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those white pulpy strings that hold tangerines into their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.
Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course — it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.
After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. Of course you are sorry, but — On the radiator the sections of tangerine have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.
All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk. Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension’s chic tearoom. A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o’clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.
The sections of tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.
There must be some one, though, who knows what I mean. Probably everyone does, because of his own secret eatings.”
— From Serve It Forth
And here’s an amusing collecting tidbit: The first state dustjacket of the first printing of How to Cook a Wolf displayed a lovely photo of Ms. Fisher on the rear panel which was, at the time, considered quite provocative and caused a bit of an uproar. (Today it would be viewed as fairly innocent). The publishers decided they had to print a new dustjacket for the next print run which featured a stoic, rigidly posed photo of the author. So if you find a first edition of this book with the author posed in a reclining, come-hither type position on the rear of the dustjacket, you’ve got a real keeper.
(Find your cooking inspiration here at Old Scrolls Book Shop.)