Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, M. F. K. Fisher and review of The Gastronomical Me


Remember when you have discovered a new to you author and her writing takes your breath away and you cannot stop until you devour every book she's written? 

I felt that way about M. F. K. Fisher decades ago when I discovered her. Last year I ordered her The Gastronomical Me published in 1943, fortunate to find a wartime copy instead of a reprint. 

Since today is her birthday, I would like to share this book with you in case it is new to you. With this autobiographical book you get travel, food and love.

As an armchair traveler I love books that let me see a country not as a tourist, and through Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher's pen you do, whether it is Switzerland, France, Mexico or California that she writes of.


"I heard Juanito singing almost as soon as I came to earth in Mexico.
I did not know it at first. I was like a sea-plant, with a thousand ears out on little stalks, but only to hear what I was listening for."




Food, naturally, is all through the book, and Fisher continues to be frustrated with America's meat and potatoes mentality at that time, and with the many heavy course meals of affluent America. Instead, she always chose a simple meal of something like salad, a casserole of cauliflower, bread, fruit, and wine.




"I was beginning to believe, timidly I admit, that no matter how much I respected my friends' gastronomic prejudices, I had at least
an equal right to indulge my own in my own kitchen.

My meals shake them from their routines,
not only of meat-potatoes-gravy, but of thought, of behavior...
perhaps next time they come I will blast their safe tidy
little lives with a big tureen of hot borscht and some garlic toast and salad,
instead of the 'fruit cocktail,' fish, meat, vegetable,
salad, dessert and coffee they tuck daintily away
seven times a week and expect me to provide for them."




America had vast areas of the country with mediocre taste when Fisher was writing. But how many of us today dare invite company to dinner and serve them borscht, toast and salad?




And where does love come into The Gastronomical Me? To borrow today's catchphrase: It's complicated. Fisher writes about her marriages but the following sums up her philosophy:

"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."




Those needs sometimes haunt all of us, don't they? 




I remember another thing that Fisher wrote in another book, something to the effect of her encouraging her reader to study their own hungers. Good advice, don't you think?

What are my hungers? Beyond fried potatoes and onions, that Is?




That's an ongoing thought process for me, but it is beginning to become clear to me that the answer lies somewhere in the realm of simplicity.




When Mary Frances moved into her Last House, she purposely chose simple food and a simpler life. In later years travel became rare. Instead of going abroad to see the world, the world came to her.

Where she usually had a bowl of soup for them, hot crusty bread, and a glass of wine, with a fruit dessert.

That sounds about right to me, how about you? Especially if the cook was...

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher




43 comments:

  1. How timely - I had posted a MFK Fisher meme on Facebook this morning and had Happy Birthday wishes written above the meme. One of my favorite food writers! I have several of her books, but not The Gastronomical Me. Also interesting that you were talking about the simplicity of her meals. I'm in one of my food and and cooking moods where I don't have a taste for anything in particular, nor do I feel like fussing in the kitchen. I made a bowl of pasta salad yesterday with a lot of veggies and that is satisfying enough for me. Or, for lunch today, I might add some chopped fresh mozzarella.

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    1. I love that you were thinking of her today, too, Melanie! And reading a chapter or two when I'm in a food-blah mood always inspires me to get cooking. She had such a respect for a simple meal like your pasta salad with lots of vegetables. Yours sounds much like mine except instead of adding cheese I add good sardines for our protein.

      So glad to find another MFK fan!

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  2. This sounds like a delightful book and not just talking about food, but travel and love as well. I like that Mary Frances chose simple food and simple life. She sure has her own style, and I liked the "I was beginning to believe" quote. These pictures are so interesting, Dewena. They told the story vividly. And oh my, that cake with the white icing drizzling all over it, Yummy. I must get back to reading!

    Happy fourth of July to you and family.

    love, ~Sheri

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    1. Thank you so much, Sheri! It was difficult to pin down just a few quotes as there was so much good in the book.

      That cake does happen to be delicious!

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  3. Thank you for introducing me to MFK Fisher. I wish my family would be more experimental. I had two boys and a husband who loved potatoes, beef and gravy. I remember times I tried to be adventurous and been laughed at for my attempts. It made me stick to comfort food for them. Now I wish I had more recipes that were healthy and delicious. I try to eat that way but having a salad for dinner just doesn't cut it with hubby. Salads to him are a side.

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    1. Peggy, it was my youngest son who has taught me -- by example - not only that I should eat lighter but that a meat and three just aren't necessary. When they would visit me and see me getting tired cooking a big meal, he said "Mom, we just fix one or two things and make a meal on that." I'm willing, but like you, my husband took some persuading!

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  4. That sounds like a fabulous book, one I would enjoy immensely, Dewena!

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    1. Thank you, Debbie! As wonderful a cook as you are, and vegetable gardener, you already cook the way she believed in.

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  5. Sounds like a great summer read. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Happy 4th.
    Kris

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    1. It is, Kris! All of hers are, but I know this summer is going to be a hardworking one for you, remodeling that sweet new cottage!

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  6. Oh, I like this woman! If she were here today, she'd have a large following on the Food Network! Funny, I mentioned Anne Morrow Lindbergh today and MFK Fisher sounds a lot like her, only with food instead of seashells! Love it. Thanks for the introduction!

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    1. Leslie Anne, I have a feeling she would shake her head at some of the stuff on the Food Network!

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  7. You just made me so hungry :) Time to get some dinner together..

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    1. I always get hungry reading her books, Deb!

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  8. I own many of Fisher's books, but haven't read even all of those. A few years back I was intrigued and nourished :-) by her writing and her voice and perspective - at the time it seemed that she gave me something of both my mother and my grandmother, though I think that must have been only because she was of a generation between their generations.

    What you say is true, about her skill at showing you new places from the point of view of someone living there, not as a tourist. I started and never finished a blog post about how she did that for me for France, and for her childhood in southern California. She also gave me the vision and liberty to prepare and serve simple meals of quality ingredients. I love how she often makes reference to using "good butter" or serving "good wine," hinting at the fundamental richness of those elements of a meal or recipe even before combining them with anything else.

    I lived just a few miles from her Last House, almost the whole time she was there, but didn't even know her name after her death, when I also had moved away. But maybe our paths crossed back then in the grocery store or post office!

    Her birthday I didn't know - I'm so glad it is today that I happened to read your blog! I am going to take one of her books off the shelf and read a while in her honor. Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Dewena!

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    1. I'm smiling so big! You've been there and know the effect she has on her reader. Please do finish that post. And I know that you are living the life she wrote about. Your garden amazes me.

      And to think that you probably were in the same stores at the same time, but you were a child then, surely!

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  9. living where I do I didn't have the courage or the creativity to follow MFK Fisher in my kitchen.
    though at a young age I remember reading one or two of her books.
    she's so right. especially where I live in America.
    we live in the land of chicken fried steak and cream gravy!
    her travel prose in her books always appealed to me more than her cooking in those early days.
    this is yet another wonderful post. the beautiful vintage treatment of your Dewena's Window photographs are what makes it special to me. XOXO♥

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    1. Thank you so much, my sweet friend! I'm glad you liked the pictures. I had fun doing that and it seemed to fit her story better like that.

      And oh my goodness, how this family used to love chicken fried steak and cream gravy! On mashed potatoes, of course. Why did you have to mention that, Tam? Now I'm craving it!

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  10. I meant to say, I didn't know about her until *after* her death.

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  11. I love her quote about food, security and love. We tend to think about years gone by as old fashioned, like we are the ones discovering new feelings, new relationships and connections in our modern world, like we are so evolved. Yet, these feeling and thoughts of love and relationships with others, with food and with ourselves are as old as time. Or at least 1943! 😉I need to look her up! Thanks!

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    1. Kim, it never ceases to amaze me when reading books from the 1900s and even 1800s that people basically felt the same things we do today. They worried about their kids' wild behavior, thought the country was falling apart, that their life was over because of some man leaving them, how they would pay the doctor....well, you get the gist. Some things are universal, aren't they?

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  12. Oh my....look at the food. Yummy. I need to read up on your author, never heard of her.

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    1. She deserves to continue to be read!

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  13. I had never heard of M.F.K. Fisher, Dewena, thank you so much for an inspiring and interesting introduction to the author, her work and her philosophy.

    I grew up on mostly traditional Greek cuisine, which is based on seasonal, local, and the freshest ingredients one can source to cook simple but satisfyingly scrumptious meals, and thus, I can wholeheartedly relate to Ms. Fisher's beliefs, and especially her ideas about how food, security and love are so closely intertwined.

    You cooked up some creative culinary photos to accompany the meaty main course of narration, and I feel like I've just got up from a table of delicious dining and intriguing conversation.

    Thank you for being such an entertaining hostess!

    xo
    Poppy



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    1. Happy 4th! Almost forgot!

      Poppy

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    2. Ah, she would have loved your Greek culture, food, and way of life! I don't remember if she ever visited there, maybe because she loved spending whatever time she could in France?

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  14. You've whet my appetite to find one of her books. She sounds like the Marie Kondo of cooking. I don't believe simple is the same thing as plain. I admire cooks who can prepare and serve a simple meal that knocks one's socks off. It's an art form I aspire to.

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    1. And her kitchens were most all very small, which I think a good cook doesn't mind at all.

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  15. I'm not familiar with MFK Fisher. Thank you for introducing me! Like so many others, I am on a quest for simplicity in my life. Especially in the kitchen;)

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    1. Simple and delicious and nourishing meals--sounds so easy, doesn't it? Let's throw in great conversation too!

      Then why is it all often so difficult?

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  16. She sounds like an interesting woman Dewena. One who has her priorities in order, not just in the kitchen but in life. Keep things simple, healthy and uncomplicated. Sounds just right to me.

    xxx

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    1. To me too, Doreen. And after spending 3 hours yesterday working on one dish I have a new commitment today to give up that craziness--I mean really!

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  17. It is all a focus and discipline of the mind and soul isn't it Dewena? We can complicate our lives as much as we like and mess them up quite well! I need a role model like this women in my life. I will look into this book. Thank you for sharing.
    Jemma

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  18. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing, I like her philosophy.
    Carla

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  19. Company may not appreciate borscht, toast and salad, but it would be a divine dinner for us. I love simple, healthy meals. Fortunately, so does Dennis. Although lately he's been ordering hamburgers and fries when we go out. Hmmmm. Maybe one of us is slipping. :)

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  20. I so enjoyed this post, Dewena. Both author and book are new to me and you make them sound nice and appealing. Going to look for them right now.
    Amalia
    xo

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  21. Wonderful post. I've read bits and snatches of her work, but not sure I have ever sat down with a whole book. I must do so. I think a lot of America is just as she wrote about it. Meat is the center of so many meals, and even though years ago we were told of the dangers of grilling and of bacon, both are back in a big, big way. There's a wonderful book I wrote about years ago that I bet you would love to pieces. https://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/02/joie-de-vivre-by-robert-arbor-katherine.html

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  22. MFK Fisher - I hadn't heard of her. It sounds like she had an interesting life. About food - when she was able, our mother always had meat, at least two vegetables and desert. Of course, she was southern cook and I didn't get that gene too well. :)

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  23. I will have to read her book. I just checked my library and it looks like there is a book called - a life in letters:correspondence by her also. Thank you for bringing her to my attention. I will check out both books.
    betsy

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  24. I love her already, Dewena. Yes, let's toss out the idea that we need fancy foods and complicated recipes for ourselves and guests (unless we truly find our creative outlet in cooking), I think she's writing about simple and satisfying comfort food in a truly genuine way.

    She is a 'new to me' author and I'll see what I can find. I also thank you for introducing me and guiding me to the works of Gladys Tabor.

    Jane xxxx

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  25. Lovely post, I will have to check out her book; always looking for new authors and titles. :-) I also find myself getting hungry after reading this post, lol ;-) I hope you have a lovely weekend

    Blessings,
    Jill

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  26. A very lovely post...what a beautiful style of writing Gladys has..A kind and serene style that draws you in with not only her words but their beauty. I don't think I've heard of her before and thank you for it.

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  27. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog tonight, and for your thoughtful comments. I'm so glad for them, Dewena.

    And now I come to find such a delightful post of your own, all about MFK Fisher. What a treat to have found that vintage copy of her book. Very special. Your post makes me want to run and find a copy of my own now.

    You mention loving books about travel, food, and love. I recommend a novel that sort of fits ... one of my absolute favourite stories of all time, it's The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It was magical from the first paragraph.

    Wishing you a wonderful rest of the day,
    Brenda xox

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