Posted on Tue, October 07, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: Books, Uncategorized,
by Slow Food USA Intern, Cecilia Estreich
To open the recent panel discussion on MFK Fisher at the The New School, food historian Andrew F Smith noted that there are only two reactions to the renowned food writers work. First, there are the people who, after reading a sentence, devour everything the woman has ever written. Then, there are the ones who cannot make it through that same sentence no matter how doggedly they try. Since I finished my first MFK Fisher book, I have fallen devoutly, passionately (militantly?) into the former category. I would read a compilation of her grocery lists if only someone would publish it.
Until listening to the panelists at the New School, though, it had never occurred to me how forcefully her attitude towards gastronomy reflects the Slow Food mentality. Fishers observations and musings on the things she ate are always one part poetry and one part practicality.
Her writing belies a person who enjoyed good food ecstatically, but enjoyed it as a humble pleasure that she wanted to be universally accessible. She was an artist in her ability to recount tastes, smells and textures. Yet, her writing also evokes the loved ones, places and contexts that made these foods important to her. She understood, ultimately, that like any complex cultural force, food was not just about beans in a pot or bread to fill your belly.
This gastronomical outlook led her to be deeply practical in her approach to food. Although she was a connoisseur, she was not a snob. She emphasized the importance of simplicity and encouraged her readers to exercise resourcefulness whenever possible. As author and biographer Joan Reardon recalled at the symposium, the highest complement that Fisher ever reserved for food was that it was good.
As a writer she was prolific, completing over thirty books in her lifetime and if you happen to feel the way people in Andrew F Smiths first category do, you will probably finish the entire collection within the next week. However, if you are finding her a tougher nut to crack, I think her most delightful and informative books are her first book, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster and How To Cook a Wolf. Each is full of her characteristic wit and reflects her unique understanding of food (and if you still cant get into her, each is under one hundred and fifty pages long).