The Art Of Eating–M.F.K. Fisher

Just read an article on Slate about the extravagant cost of most recipes you’ll find online and in newer cookbooks.  The article references one of my all-time favorite tomes from one of my all-time favorite authors: M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating.

I first encountered this volume, which is a collection of five books between two covers, over Christmas at the home of one of Harry’s daughters.  She and her sister, visiting from St. Paul, were preparing a luxurious feast of roast goose, dumplings, baked apples and Asian pears stuffed with what we ended up calling “boozy fruit”–snippets of dried fruit soaked overnight in a blend of a few different liquors.

The well-loved and annotated book lay open on the long dark dining table, and I fell into its pages and could barely extract myself until dinner was served several hours later.  (This might also have been partly to disguise my nervousness, back then, about spending the day with Harry’s family.  I have since gotten over it.)

I waited, wanting the book for several months and reminding my local used bookstore proprietor to keep an eye out, before I finally bought a new twentieth anniversary softcover edition in a Sioux Falls bookstore.

Another month after that, my friend at Main Street books got in an older hardcover edition, and I kept that and sent the newer one off to a friend in Seattle, who shares my love of things gustatory and literary.

Fisher often references that Brillat-Savarin masterwork, Physiology of Taste, and some day I may explore its pages–but for now, this collection does so much for me–gives me both comfort and flight of culinary fancy–that I am satisfied whenever I open its pages.

I should explain that The Art of Eating, composed of Fisher’s works How to Cook a Wolf, Consider the Oyster, Serve it Forth, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, is not so much a cookbook as a book of inspiration as much for people who like to eat (as opposed to people who simply have to eat), as for cooks.

You can certainly find recipes within its pages–some simple and some complex, a few pedestrian and some unlikely unless you happen to procure a fresh, whole head of calf with the brains and ears intact.  What I like most about it is Fisher’s belief that even these unlikely situations should be accounted for, and celebrated.

There is no snobbery here–no edicts that eating alone (who hasn’t?) is pitiful or eating cheaply is eating badly, or eating out of a can brands you as a heretic.  On the cooking of fish, she divides into “Haute Cuisine and Campfire” the unsalted butter or bacon fat cooking medium discussion, and states, “There is no arguing with either, as long as the dish is fresh and the fat is honest.”

This book is a gift–the recipes as useful and inspiring as the writing is clear-headed, honest, friendly, comforting.  The stories are without ego–and it is as much–more–about the experiencing of eating, of savoring, of remembering, as it is about the cooking.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt on April 26, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    excellent review. My copy sits right in my kitchen next to Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” and the Veggie cookbook you imparted to me when I was in your area last. As much as I appreciate and love food, I’m fortunate that I’ve had your enthusiasm to prevent me from descending into complete bachelor- cooking.

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on April 26, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I miss your chocolate-dipped madelines!

  3. Posted by Matt on April 29, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    i made chocolate-dipped madeleines? i was sorting recipes last night and came across a couple of madeleine recipes…which I may attempt for that special “morning after” hehehehee. ‘sgonna have to be pretty damn special for me to go the extra step of melted chocolate, though.

  4. Posted by flyingtomato on April 29, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Oh, yes, you made them. I remember you saying you were going to bring some to Meg, as she adored them…

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