From My Library: The Art of Eating (M.F.K. Fisher, 1954)

Dear Readers, 

Those of you familiar with food writing may have already discovered the almost tangible thrill of reading M.F.K. Fisher's work.  If you haven't, you're in for a treat.  This beautiful 50th anniversary edition is a compilation of her best-known food writing, completed between 1937 and 1954.  While today I feel that the entire collection could be considered a food history masterpiece, M.F.K. Fisher dives into the history of foods ancient and modern in Serve It Forth (1937).  She writes of the food of the 14th century Crusaders, 

Besides the strange meats of crane and peacock and swan, seal was very popular, and whale and porpoise made any meal delicious. Marrow and almond milk were used in almost every recipe, whether with fish, meat, or dainty custard...it all sounds strange now. In as many centuries, our American salads of marshmallow and pink jelly, and our chocolate sodas, will undoubtedly seem even queerer.

She offers a recipe for coffee, borrowed from Frederick the Great:

Frederick the Great used to make his own coffee, with much to-do and fuss. For water he used champagne. Then, to make the flavour [sic] stronger, he stirred in powdered mustard. Now to me it seems improbable that Frederick truly liked his brew. I suspect him of bravado. Or perhaps he was taste-blind.

She even has a recipe for how to cook a wolf.  

Yes, you read that correctly.

How To Cook A Wolf, published in 1942, was written to encourage Americans dealing with the leanest year of rationing and food shortages of World War II. She uses the wolf as an apt metaphor for the hardships of wartime.  In her preface she writes:

War is a beastly business, it is true, but one proof that we are human is our ability to learn, even from it, how better to exist.  If this book, written in one wartime, still goes on helping to solve that unavoidable problem, it is worth reading again...

M.F.K. Fisher's luscious prose requires reading with a pencil in hand, so one can underline (practically) every word she writes: it's full of "aha!" moments of profound revelations, and not just about food.  

In 1949, she wrote An Alphabet For Gourmets, the first of which is "A is for dining Alone."  She continues on with the tantalizing "B is for Bachelor" and so on, through "L is for Literature," "R is for Romantic," and ending up with "Y is for Yak" and "Z is for Zakuski." (Reading M.F.K. Fisher will expand your vocabulary considerably, as well as your palate.  No one will be able to beat you at Scrabble...)  Sprinkled throughout her alphabet are little recipes, personal vignettes, and sage words of advice, such as this morsel from "S is for Sad":

The truth is that most bereaved souls crave nourishment more tangible than prayers: they want a steak. What is more, they need a steak.

M.F.K. Fisher's writing style is a juxtaposition of elegance and crudeness; light and darkness; laugh-out-loud humor and grim prophecies of doom.  I have never, in my years of reading, come across another writer quite like her.  Possibly Shakespeare: I think the two would have gotten along quite well, as she's forever quoting him in her writings.  They both possessed a keen wit and an unmatched insight (albeit tempered with compassion, thank heavens) into the human condition.  

The Art of Eating is a real treat--don't miss it!

Yours Truly,

Sarah