Thursday, August 23, 2012

When I'm Hungry I Think of MFK Fisher

Some people tell me I cook too much; that I think of food too often. But I cook primarily for two reasons: One because I don’t eat pre-prepared and processed foods which are laden with salt, fat and who-knows-what-else, which means I rarely eat in restaurants and two, because I am hungry!

These reasons cause me to cook from scratch, and I always find the time to do so, even if that means letting go of something else.

I also consider eating good food to be one of the highest arts of mankind and womankind. Perhaps I have read too much Mary Francis Kennedy (MFK) Fisher!

This preeminent American food writer wrote some 27 books, including a translation of The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin. Two volumes of her journals and correspondence came out shortly before her death. Her first book, Serve it Forth, was published in 1937.

Her books are an amalgam of food literature, travel and memoir. Fisher believed that eating well was just one of the "arts of life" and explored this in her writing. W. H. Auden once remarked: "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

I happen to agree. Her writings are worth reading, even if you don’t give a hoot about cooking. We all like to eat.

Fisher had an interesting life. Born in Michigan, the family moved to California when she was young.  After her marriage, she lived in France for a while and in Holland. In her book, The Gastronomical Me, she describes one meal she prepared while living in France:

“There in Dijon, the cauliflowers were very small and succulent, grown in that ancient soil. I separated the flowerlets and dropped them in boiling water for just a few minutes. Then I drained them and put them in a wide shallow casserole, and covered them with heavy cream, and a thick sprinkling of freshly grated Gruyere, the nice rubbery kind that didn’t come from Switzerland at all, but from the Jura. It was called rape in the market, and was grated while you watched, in a soft cloudy pile, onto your piece of paper.

Fisher home in Aix en Provence, France

A few more quotes:

“Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.”

“Family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters.”

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures . . .”

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
The Art of Eating

MFK Fisher home in St. Helena, Calif.

Below is a listed of all her published books (from Wikipedia). I have not read nearly all of her work, but enough to know that she was a master with words and in the kitchen. The Gastronomical Me is a good book to begin with; The Art of Eating is also very good. Do yourself a favor and check them out:

Serve It Forth (1937)
Touch and Go (with Dillwyn Parrish under the pseudonym Victoria Berne)
Consider the Oyster (1941)
How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
The Gastronomical Me (1943)
Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)
Not Now but Now (1947)
An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
The Physiology of Taste [translator] (1949)
The Art of Eating (1954)
A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man    or Beast (1961) The Story of Wine in California (1962)
Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)
Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France (Time-Life Books 1968) [reprinted in 1969 as The Cooking of Provincial France]
With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)
Among Friends (1971)
A Considerable Town (1978)
Not a Station but a Place (1979)
As They Were  (1982)
Spirits of the Valley (1985)
Fine Preserving: M.F.K. Fisher's Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann's Cookbook (1986)
Dubious Honors (1988)
The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990)
Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)
To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs 1908-1929 (1992)
Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories 1933-1941 (1993)
Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations 1943-1991 (1995)
Aphorisms of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin from His Work, The Physiology of Taste (1998)
A Life in Letters (1998)
From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher (1999)
Two Kitchens in Provence (1999)
Home Cooking: An Excerpt from a Letter to Eleanor Friede, December, 1970 (2000)

You can watch a wonderful three minute You Tube video of MFK Fisher sharing her wisdom and the benefits of making bread at this link:


  1. I'm not familiar with any of the books but I know its interesting to you as you are such a wonderful and gourmet cook. I didn't get these genes about loving to cook but I do try to eat right "most" of the time. However, there are days, like we experienced on Tuesday with our fast food, that make us really try to eat right!!!

  2. I don't consider myself a gourmet cook at all! Just always on the lookout for new and interesting food and ways to prepare them. Being trapped into a situation where we had to eat fast food, thankfully doesn't come along very often. And a good thing that is. I think it's because our "systems" aren't use to it is why we both got sick. Next time, we'll just go hungry! I hate to carry a lunch bag with me when I'm out and about! Oh, and I imagine your first thought when you read the title of this post was that I must go around with MFK Fisher on my mind ALL the time, since it seems I'm ALWAYS hungry!


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