Eat Your Words

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My rough plan for Wednesdays, is to share book reviews (though you might see summaries or lists), based on the topic of the month. I’ll aim to include titles from the past year or two, but there will always be exceptions. Today I’m focusing on two writers who’ve always been able to reignite my interest in food, even during dark times.

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At the top of the stacks, by my bedside and on the kitchen counter, is everything and anything I can find by M.F.K. Fisher. I feel like she’s been overlooked during recent years, because of the Julia Child frenzy. Mary Francis didn’t host a television program or become the focus of a year-long blog project (oh, now there’s an idea…), but she wrote and lived beautifully:

“It is said that a few connoisseurs, such as old George Saintsbury, can recall physically the bouquet of certain great vintages a half century after tasting them. I am a mouse among elephants now, but I can say just as surely that this minute, in a northern California valley, I can taste-smell-hear-see and then feel between my teeth the potato chips I ate slowly one afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, Once a Tramp, Always…

Doesn’t that make you want to find or make potato chips, immediately?  The down to earth quality of Fisher’s work is why she’s the go-to food writer for so many chefs and gastronomes – she adored potato chips as much as caviar. I’m reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Art of Eating. If you’re considering adding to your culinary library this is the one I’d buy, because it includes Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How To Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet For Gourmets. Enough reading to nourish you through the entire year.

One of Fisher’s many fans is Ruth Reichl, the renowned writer and editor. She struck fear in the hearts of New York restauranteurs during her stint as food critic for the Times, and then went on to lead Gourmet magazine from 1999 to 2009. She’s also written a series of funny, smart, culinary memoirs. I had the pleasure of surfing through her stories in non-chronological order, beginning with Garlic and Sapphires, then moving back in time to  Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples. Her most recent title is  For You Mom, Finally

Of course hundreds of other writers have dug into food writing and reporting with aplomb. Molly Wizenberg is a favorite, for her memoir A Homemade Life, and for her blog Orangette.  I’m also reading Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing From Gourmet, edited by Reichl. The collection includes pieces by a few expected food writers (Fisher, James Beard), and many unexpected contributors, including Annie Proulx, Paul Theroux, and Laurie Colwin. I’ll leave you with this short excerpt from Colwin’s short essay A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food.

“The refined slob does not, for instance, even tie up her chicken. Her fancy imported linen kitchen string – which she bought at a snooty cooking shop at great expense and which was, she told her family, for trussing the chicken only – has been purloined by her child, who has used it to make spider webs by tying all the chairs together. Before I had a child, I would no more have cooked an untrussed chicken than I would have re-used the dead coffee grounds, but today I know an untrussed chicken is perfectly fine.”

Laurie Colwin, February 1992

Who are some of your favorite food writers? Or writers who happen to write about food from time to time?

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8 thoughts on “Eat Your Words

  1. I just put the Art of Eating on reserve at the library. It’s been too long since I read MFK. I remember reading her in the 60s.! Time to revisit her writing. I didn’t realize how much you too enjoy food writing. It must run in the family…..

  2. I’m LOVING all of the posts. And this was great. I had no idea that you read books about food. Amazing. I’m thinking this might be a great weight loss strategy…read about food instead of eating food. Um…I might be on to something. 🙂

  3. I’m reading Reinventing the Meal by Pavel Somov, about Mindful Eating. It’s fantastic. I read Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton last year and savored every word:). MFK Fisher is always a favorite. 🙂 My kids have been in to watching Ratatouille lately and that kitchen was based on Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. It’s filled with beautiful images, intriguing metaphors and a sincere appreciation of food.

  4. I got The Art of Eating for my birthday this year, it seems to happen when my husband sees a book out from the library more than five times. You’ve mentioned two of my favorites but I would also add Isabel Allende, not only for all her stories and food scenes but for Aphrodite a book about sensual eating and cooking. On the humor side I love David Lebowitz. But I’d also add some none books to this mix: any old copy of Gourmet Magazine, The Splendid Table podcast, and the movies Eat Drink Man Woman and Monsoon Wedding.

  5. While waiting for the Art of Eating to come in at the library, I picked up Between Friends: MFK Fisher and Me by Jeannette Ferrary. Written in 1991, it recounts the friendship which started in 1977 when Ferrary (then 36 yrs. old) wrote a letter of appreciation to Fisher and continued until Fisher’s death in 1992. She has a later memoir of their friendship as well. I’m looking forward to reading Fisher’s own words and cooking up some of her recipes.

  6. Elise, another author I enjoy immensely is Robert Farrar Capon who wrote The Supper of the Lamb and many books related to cooking and being together. Look him up on Wikapedia to get a feel of his works.

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