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Savor Summer: MFK Fisher

July 14, 2015

If Julia Child is the grande dame of cooking, then MFK Fisher is her counterpart in the land of food writers. There is no way we could possibly Savor Summer without mentioning her brilliance.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was born in Michigan in the early 20th century. Her personal life was fairly turbulent with a couple of marriages and two daughters that she raised largely on her own. She traveled extensively and bounced back and forth from France to California in between the two world wars.

Her first book, Serve it Forth, was released in 1937.  It was made up of a collection of short essays that Fisher wrote during her time in France. The second work, Consider the Oyster, came out in 1941, just as the United States was revving up for World War II. As this was again a collection of short stories, I figured that one or two of the stories would be about oysters and then Fisher would change topics. But no. Consider the Oyster really is all about oysters. She talks about oyster love, the difference between oyster stew and oyster soup, and how pearls fit into the picture. I never would have imagined that Fisher would find so much to say about oysters, but I found her essays captivating.

In 1942, she released her third volume, How to Cook a Wolf. Written during the heavily rationed war years, Fisher attempted to help American housewives make the most they could out of what little they had. Reading it now, a significant amount of years later, it’s hard for me to understand having to cook all your food at one time so as not to waste electricity for three separate meals. As I read these essays, I thought to myself, “What would my Grandma do?” Yup. That sounds about right. It is also enjoyable because the edition I read was revised in the 1950s, so even Fisher herself goes back and has to laugh at some of her suggestions. Hindsight and all that, I guess.

The library does not carry Fisher’s individual books, but what we do have is a collection of all five of her major works called The Art of EatingIt includes the three volumes I’ve already mentioned, as well as The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets. We also have a copy of her translation of great French food writer Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste. That one has been added to my To-Be-Read food pile. Summer Challenge points, here I come!

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that The Art of Eating is a large book. A tome even, if you will. The copy I have clocks in at 744 pages. But here’s the thing…if this intimidates you, check the book out, but pick your favorite book out of the five and only read that one (did I mention I liked the oyster one?). If you divide 744 by 5, each book is only about 150 pages. That’s totally doable, right?  Plus you might find some fun recipes to try. The most intriguing one I found consisted of spaghetti baked with honey and shaved almonds in a buttery dish.

Ok, I can see I have piqued your interest. Check out MFK Fisher and see what the American food life was like “back in the day.”

Happy exploring…

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.

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