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The Art of Eating: The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher
It was with considerable serendipitous glee that I read about this month’s theme, the art of eating. It sounded very familiar. Where had I heard it before? I felt that nagging sensation of palpably proximate knowledge. And then I closed the book that I had open in my lap and noticed the title. That’s right: The Art of Eating, by MFK Fisher.
As I alluded to in my review of Ruth Reichl’s excellent Garlic and Sapphires, I haven’t read much food writing, over the years, contenting myself largely with reading recipe books, which is an equally valuable but separate activity.
This compendium, which the excellent MJ presented to me on the occasion of my Aprilian birthday, contains Fisher’s five best known works, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, The Gastronomical Me, How to Cook a Wolf, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, in one handy volume.
One thing that strikes you right away, is that the quality of the writing is exceptionally lucid and engaging. Indeed, esteemed poet W.H. Auden, in his foreword, proclaims, “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.” This is high praise indeed.
I read the first book, Serve it Forth, in transit to and from Istanbul, last month (of which more can be read in my article for Edinburgh Foody), and it provided me with an excellent whistle-stop tour of the history of food, from the year dot to the middle of the 20th century.
Maybe everyone else in the world new that Cardinal Richelieu (or in all likelihood Cardinal Richelieu’s personal chef) invented mayonnaise, but this was a factoid that had eluded me until now. Why was this salient point not covered in ‘Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds’, the source of much of my “knowledge” of French history of this period, I wonder?
Consider the Oyster is a more detailed and personal examination of the humble oyster in all of its guises. It offers an encyclopaedic range of oyster recipes, gathered from down the ages and presented with cool and reasoned insight in to why they arose where and when they did.
An almost direct contemporary of Elizabeth David, my limited knowledge leads me to suspect that Fisher occupies a similar spot in the American consciousness as David does in the British/European.
Her prose alone demands that she should be considered (or re-considered for those lucky to have come across her work previously) by a wider audience. For those with a geeky penchant for all things food related, this is another key text for you to consider and appreciate.
I’m fortunate enough to have the remaining three books still to read, so greatly look forward to learning wolf recipes, and brushing up on my gastronomic alphabet.
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