Thursday, March 26, 2009

That Pesky Wolf

I have a new love...the very great M.F.K. Fisher.  I have heard about her highly regarded food writing for ages, but until recently, had never explored it.  But I recently picked up How To Cook A Wolf from the library, and having enjoyed it immensely, plan to make my way through her other works as soon as possible.

This book was actually surprisingly topical, as it was written in 1942 when wartime shortages were a fact of life, so much of the book is about how one can economize and yet still eat with "grace and gusto".  I must say that, despite our current rather serious national predicament, having read this book I cannot help but think we whine too much today.  Are you concerned about how to craft your own fuel out of clay?  Do you read many chapters in cookbooks titled "How to Stay Alive" that describe a "sludge" to feed yourself and your trusty dog as a last resort?  No, I thought not.  So if nothing else, this book provides some much needed perspective.

But it also provides some quite good advice, especially with respect to eating intelligently.  Her advice?  Eat real food, do not obsess about vitamins, as assuming that you eat real food you will be provided with adequate nutrition.  She rails against processed foods, against items like refined flour and chemically laced food substitutes.  I actually found this whole thing fascinating.  To think she voiced these concerns more than sixty years ago, and the same argument is today seen as something rather new...whole bestselling books are written on the subject!

Now I'll admit that I'm not itching to make many of the recipes in the book.  Tomato soup cake doesn't sound too appetizing, and she does seem to have an odd love affair with pigeons.  Perhaps because it was a cheap way to feel rich by eating a whole bird?  My one experience cooking squab was just too traumatic to repeat (I didn't remove the feet, so when I pulled the poor little thing out of the oven the legs were stick straight with burnt little nubs that had once been clenched feet, it looked as though it had been gassed and died in tremendous pain), even for Ms. Fisher.  And I find consomme (which she highly recommends) to be a lovely diversion, but not worth the trouble of making it oneself.

But the recipes do provide an interesting history lesson of sorts, and are charming in the slightly retro way that many of Nigella Lawson's early recipes were.  In fact, both women advocate for an odd dish called petit pois a la francaise...peas cooked with lettuce of all things!  I can't bring myself to try it, cooking lettuce just feels a bit too odd to me.  But perhaps I will eventually work up the courage to make the bacon fat "wartime cake".  Now that pork is so fashionable, perhaps I can start a new trend.

And most importantly, the woman can really write.  Her assertion that the most private thing in the world is an unbroken egg is simply genius.  No wonder W.H. Auden was so taken with her literary prowess.

6 comments:

wambalus said...

I've made peas cooked with lettuce, it's wonderful! It opened up a whole new world to me, I've even braised lettuce, it's terrific. Try it!

Terry B said...

What a wonderful post, Laura. And even better, your link to your library tutorial. Whenever we talk about the library, we get the same startled reaction from friends. I don't get it. If Benjamin Franklin had done nothing else, helping establish public libraries would have secured his place in history for us. I wrote about our love for libraries on one of my now defunct side project blogs some time ago, in fact.

Laura [What I Like] said...

Robin - I tried it once and was unimpressed. Perhaps my lettuce was subpar? I could be convinced to give it another go I suppose.

Terry - I love Benjamin Franklin! I attended the university he founded (twice in fact) so I've always had a bit of a soft spot. But yes, I couldn't agree more, the "Free Library" as they are called in Philadelphia, is a necessity for an educated society.

megan (brooklyn farmhouse) said...

Thanks for this - I have a collection of MFK Fisher essays that has been languishing on my shelf for several months now - you reminded me that I need to crack that baby open!

pve design said...

Sauteed escarole with bacon is one of my most cherished dishes. That and a little garlic are sure to keep any fox content. Adding this book. to my list of peas and Q's. Sounds divine.

Laura [What I Like] said...

Pve - I think we must be long lost sisters! Any sturdy green with bacon fat is a thing very close to my heart...Tuscan kale is surprisingly great with hot bacon fat actually...

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