Migration — Celebrating Mary Frances

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wish there were categories that combined writing and food. Or style and art.
Anyway, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher knew how to live. She has been a role model for years as she was someone who had an appreciation for elegant living, a love of good food, and the eloquence to express her feelings with unrivaled clarity.
The first image that stayed with me was her secret food. She carefully peeled a tangerine, laying the sections on newspaper over a hot radiator so they plumped up. After they have warmed all day, she put them in the snow on the window sill to cool. She said she couldn’t explain her love of this food, but she in fact captured the sensual pleasure exactly: “that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume.” That description appeared in Serve It Forth, which was first published in 1937 while M.F.K. Fisher was living in France.
My favorite of her works is How To Cook a Wolf, published in 1942 when food shortages and rationing deprived many of the basic staples. MFK’s wisdom may come in handy in these coming days. … The chapters proceed in logical order: “How to Be Sage Without Hemlock,” on the benefits of eating a balanced diet over the course of a day, not at every meal; “How to Catch the Wolf,” which contains no wolf but is rather a disquisition on the art of thrift. Among my favorite chapters are “How to Boil Water” (heat the water above 212 degrees until the bubbles explode on the surface but no longer) and “How Not to Boil an Egg,” which has the most decadent recipe for scrambled eggs: eight eggs, a half-pint of “rich” cream, salt and pepper. Optional ads are cheese and herbs. This recipe appears with an additional cup of cream in An Alphabet for Gourmets under “X” for Xanthippe, wife of Socrates also synonym for shrew, whose recipe would be a destroyed version of the same eggs.

Some brilliant person combined these three books, added Consider the Oyster and Gastronomical Me, and served them forth in the fabulous compendium The Art of Eating. Almost everything she describes sounds appealing, though I don’t think I’ll try her drink of choice: a sort of martini made of gin, dry vermouth, and Campari. Campari, yes, vermouth, maybe, gin, never.
After I’ve communed with The Art of Eating, I pay more attention to my words. I savor my tea, watching the steam curl up into the sunshine. I listen to the cat purring in my lap. And I say thank you, Mary Frances.


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