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.
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?