Thursday, July 03, 2008


Few would argue against the wide-held belief that M.F.K. Fisher was the greatest food writer or that she effectively established the culinary essay as a genre.

I first encountered M.F.K. Fisher in 1989, while working as a professional bookseller. The bookstore where I was employed gave me a section to maintain: cookbooks. My first thought was that the assignment was a serious mistake—I didn't cook. Why should I be expected to become an expert on cookbooks if I didn't use them?

I'm here to tell you that, in any self-respecting independent bookstore, there's more to the cooking section than cookbooks. So I didn't cook, but I did love to eat, and the culinary essay subsection whetted my appetite for any author with the sort of descriptive powers to make me feel like I was eating a fine meal. Enter M.F.K. Fisher.

Shortly after a trip to Burgundy in 1998, I lost myself in Long Ago in France, her memoir of living in Dijon, which took me right back to the France I had just visited. Still I had not read her food writing, despite owning most of it. For years, The Art of Eating, the massive multiwork volume of M.F.K. Fisher's early food writing, has been taunting from the foodie shelves of my personal library. This morning, in honor of Fisher's birthday, I pulled down AoE and dipped into Consider the Oyster (1941):
There are three kinds of oyster-eaters: those loose-minded sports who will eat anything, hot, cold, thin, thick, dead or alive, as long as it is oyster; those who will eat them raw and only raw; and those who with equal severity will eat them cooked and no way other.
There are several things to do with oysters beside eat them, although amny people believe firmly in that as the most sensible course.
I'm hooked on her lavish descriptions of food, her presentation of the social, historical, cultural, and political aspects of food, as well as her personal experiences and observations.

Here is Garrison Keillor's very brief tribute from "The Writers Almanac":
It's the birthday of food writer M.F.K. Fisher, (books by this author) born Mary Frances Kennedy in Albion, Michigan (1908). She's the author of many books about food and eating, and best known for The Gastronomical Me (1943). During World War II, she published How to Cook a Wolf (1942), which suggested all kinds of ways people could eat well on food rations. She wrote, "When the wolf is at the door one should invite him in and have him for dinner.
You can read more about M.F.K. Fisher here and here.

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