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Carrot Top

M.F.K Fisher

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Before me sits The Art of Eating. It's my third copy, the first fallen apart at the seams after much travel and life in some possibly strange places. . .the second given away as gift to a cook I once knew who could cook but who somehow could not taste, in some basic and important way within her mind.

"Five gastronomical works" in one volume. Serve It Forth; Consider the Oyster; How to Cook a Wolf; The Gastronomical Me; An Alphabet for Gourmets.

These individual works seem to hold different flavors for me, though each one is spun through with MFK's essence.

Which book of these would be your favorite, if you *had* to choose?

Why?

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"Five gastronomical works" in one volume. Serve It Forth; Consider the Oyster; How to Cook a Wolf; The Gastronomical Me; An Alphabet for Gourmets.

Which book of these would be your favorite, if you *had* to choose?

Why?

My copy of The Art of Eating sits, always, within arms reach here at my office.

If I *have* to choose, by dint of deciding to reply on this thread, I'll resort to making my choice based on stylistic elements rather than story line.

While I'll admit that I like the allegorical element of How to Cook a Wolf, An Alphabet for Gourmets would be my favorite because of its imaginative use of the shopworn alphabetized list format.

And, I believe all of us could benefit by re-reading I is for Innocence every now and then, lest we get a little too "full of ourselves", gastronomically speaking?

SB (Now, please don't ask which of the dogs I've had in my life is/was my "favorite") :rolleyes:

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Probably "The Gastronomical Me" because I'm fascinated with her descriptions of growing up in Whittier (near where I grew up) and spending her summers in Laguna Beach (near where I now live). There's just something about these stories that I find very warming and comforting, which must have to do with my childhood. "Among Friends" is one of my favorites, as well.

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I must say, after the lady seems to haunt this space like some benevolent ghostie or scent of lilies in an abandoned hall, I dashed out to get a copy of AOE if only to see what the fuss was about.

Of course, Fisher had me at the opening paragraph:

When a man is small, he loves and hates food with a ferocity which soon dims. At six years old his very bowels will heave when such a dish as creamed carrots or cold tapioca appears before him. ...He cannot eat; he says "To hell with it!"

This, my friends is life at the Mebane dinner table at its rueful best. I look forward to the rest of this book with great anticipation! If eGullet were to have an online book club, it could do no better than to start here, and I thank y'all for bringing it up! :smile:

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I must say, after the lady seems to haunt this space like some benevolent ghostie or scent of lilies in an abandoned hall, I dashed out to get a copy of AOE if only to see what the fuss was about.

Of course, Fisher had me at the opening paragraph:

You ain't read nuthin' yet! :wink:

MFK Fisher :wub: may have invented what we call "food writing", as opposed to writing about food.

SB (even that doesn't say nearly enough)

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I read MFK in my early twenties. I was astonished that someone else knew about the mandarin oranges on the radiator trick -- I thought I'd discovered it myself.

I think MFK is best read in youth, when you can be blown away by her prose. In middle age the actual content is terrifically painful,sad, and self-indulgent. Reading her various biographies show that she, like Elizabeth David, was a right bitch. I can't tell you how much that reeled me back.

MFK is indespensible reading. I've worn out two copies. But I have no desire to be manipulated by her again.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I think MFK is best read in youth, when you can be blown away by her prose.  In middle age the actual content is terrifically painful,sad,  and self-indulgent.  Reading her various biographies show that she, like Elizabeth David, was a right bitch.  I can't tell you how much that reeled me back.

MFK is indespensible reading.  I've worn out two copies. But I have no desire to be manipulated by her again.

My goodness, Maggie, thank you. I was certain I was the only one who felt that way and was hesitant to speak up. The Art Of Eating was read twice in my late teens, then set aside and has sat unopened for twenty years.

I prefer to do rather than read about, and so prefer to read cookbooks, rather than "food writing," but a few favorites are: Elizabeth David, Laurie Colwin, Richard Olney, Nigel Slater, and always the encouraging voice of Julia Child.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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MFK is indespensible reading.  I've worn out two copies. But I have no desire to be manipulated by her again.

My goodness, Maggie, thank you. I was certain I was the only one who felt that way and was hesitant to speak up. The Art Of Eating was read twice in my late teens, then set aside and has sat unopened for twenty years.

Interesting sentiments.

I imagine you use the word "manipulate" is the sense of either:

2 a : to manage or utilize skillfully b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage.

or

3 : to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose. - Merriam Webster OnLine

In which case, that could be the very reason I enjoy re-reading MFK Fisher on a regular basis.

SB :hmmm:

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I think MFK is best read in youth, when you can be blown away by her prose.  In middle age the actual content is terrifically painful,sad,  and self-indulgent.  Reading her various biographies show that she, like Elizabeth David, was a right bitch.  I can't tell you how much that reeled me back.

MFK is indespensible reading.  I've worn out two copies. But I have no desire to be manipulated by her again.

After having read her biographies, I felt the same way. I was disappointed, in *her*. Her life did not fit what I wanted it to. She personally reacted to things in ways that I would not have, and chose ways to do things that bothered me, no frightened me, deeply, and particularly in the area that hits home most most intently with me: How to Raise a Child.

But then of course, I am not her children's mother. . .she was. And who, really, knows how all these things finally manage to work themselves out "right" in the long run or not.

I haven't looked at her writing since then. But phrases continue to linger in my mind. Stories.

Stories and phrases.

And then recently, in thinking of "what is it that *I* want to write of - is it *really* food, or not?" I decided to take a look again at the genre in an overall sense - to review who was writing what. . .what forms were being used. . .what was it that the "foodwriters" who were successful and popular were actually doing.

I reviewed a lot of writing from all the sub-genres of foodwriting from various sources. Then went back and plunged through the Best American Foodwriting series which sits on my shelves next to the Best American Essays series and the Best American Short Stories series.

Finally, reluctantly, I picked up the big book of MFK. She is memory to me. Or rather, her stories and essays are. A lot of my own life was lifted into mind as I lifted that book (the one, Maggie, that you sent as prize for one of those contests several years ago, and it made me so happy and proud to open that package when it came in the mail!) The old copies of the book flashed into mind - the first one that startled me with her voice and stories, that came along with me on the path to being a chef, then executive chef in one of the most unusual venues that I'd ever thought of or lived within. . .that book stayed on my bookshelf in my office at Goldman Sachs till the woman cook whom I'd hired eight years earlier (who then was obsessed with making rather dreadful "cupcakes", of all things) decided that she was going to leave, was going to *not* be a cook anymore, for it did not fill her heart in ways that she thought it would. I always gave staff that left a book (a book is a living part of a person, if it is indeed read, used, loved) as gift and there was no other that would fit P. I didn't *want* to part with the book, really. I stared at it and felt selfish inside. This, was the most important book out of maybe 250 or so books on those shelves, next to my old Larousse. But I held it out to her, and I hope (I hopefully imagine) that some part of MFK, the way she felt and saw food, would move into P.'s heart and life.

The second copy went with me to live in Paris, where I read of MFK living in Paris. It stayed with me through other odd adventures that won't be forgotten, either.

But I am dreamweaving about MFK here.

To set aside the weaving of dreams - MFK's books, by themselves, carry a weight that goes beyond the woman. As any great literature does. How many great authors do we know of (or artists, or great creators in any other field) that in their lives have been utter as*holes?

Lots.

It hurt me closely, that MFK would have these (perceived, to me) failings. Did it hurt me more, attack my sense of righteousness in a more vital way, in that she was a woman - not a man - not a man where perhaps the world has learned to shake its head ruefully at various sorts of life actions that do *not* lead the ones around them that care for them to the usually accepted forms of daily happiness? (Gentle words for harsh thoughts, here.)

I looked through her words and stories. And found that, compared to the writings that I'd been reviewing elsewhere, they *still* glowed with something that was above and beyond. I'd like to know what recipe made her able to write like that. I don't have a clue. But I do know that her writing *and* her stories are very different, very individual, to any of the other writers I'd been reviewing. Her writing also would be quite at home in the other series collections on my shelves - either the essays *or* the short stories, depending on the piece. I can't say that I found that transcendance or flexibility in any but perhaps a very rare few other writers/pieces in the foodwriting series.

If we were to discard the art of the world (or even the fine meals) based on what we knew of the person that created it, I wonder what would be left, in a world where these rather glorious moments of dining upon things that ardently move one in shocking and unexpected ways are so very few.

She is not what I thought she was, when I first read her. She is certainly not who she was.

But I'll still bite, and will still glow deeply with many sorts of pleasures at her words.


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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I am no more forgiving of authors that are utter pricks in real life. They get a pass if their prose captivates me into forgetting it. M.F.K's does not.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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It hurt me closely, that MFK would have these (perceived, to me) failings. Did it hurt me more, attack my sense of righteousness in a more vital way, in that she was a woman - not a man - not a man where perhaps the world has learned to shake its head ruefully at various sorts of life actions that do *not* lead the ones around them that care for them to the usually accepted forms of daily happiness? (Gentle words for harsh thoughts, here.)

I was going to ask if any of you think there's a difference in the way men and women react to MFKF's writing, but I guess that at least partially answers my question?

She is not what I thought she was, when I first read her. She is certainly not who she was.

But I'll still bite, and will still glow deeply with many sorts of pleasures at her words.

Doesn't this make her writing all the more powerful though?

SB (Shakespeare may very well have been a real jerk?)

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I am no more forgiving of authors that are utter pricks in real life.  They get a pass if their prose captivates me into forgetting it.  M.F.K's does not.

Fair enough, Heather.

I'm curious whose prose does captivate you in that way, (if anyone's), within the genre of "foodwriting"?

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It hurt me closely, that MFK would have these (perceived, to me) failings. Did it hurt me more, attack my sense of righteousness in a more vital way, in that she was a woman - not a man - not a man where perhaps the world has learned to shake its head ruefully at various sorts of life actions that do *not* lead the ones around them that care for them to the usually accepted forms of daily happiness? (Gentle words for harsh thoughts, here.)

I was going to ask if any of you think there's a difference in the way men and women react to MFKF's writing, but I guess that at least partially answers my question?

She is not what I thought she was, when I first read her. She is certainly not who she was.

But I'll still bite, and will still glow deeply with many sorts of pleasures at her words.

Doesn't this make her writing all the more powerful though?

SB (Shakespeare may very well have been a real jerk?)

I don't think that my own reaction to her writing based on what I said could answer your first question all that well, SB. My own thoughts count for only one female person. We vary a great deal in how and who we are. :biggrin:

As to your second question, personally I *try* to do a disconnect from what I know of a writer or artist and how they lived their lives - and their work. That's a philosophic decision. So I can't add more points on "for her writing" based on this.

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[i don't think that my own reaction to her writing based on what I said could answer your first question all that well, SB. My own thoughts count for only one female person. We vary a great deal in how and who we are.  :biggrin:

In a general sense, there are writers who, either by chance or design, appeal more to women than men, and vice versa.

In the small sampling we have here thus far, I perceive a more negative take on MFKF's work by female respondents when her biographical information is taken into account?

In addition, my Mother, as a New Yorker subscriber for over fifty years, has been familiar with MFKF's work a lot longer than most most of us, and she declined to even read her biography.

My Sister, on the other hand, with a degree in Philosophy and a career in the food industry, was only slightly disturbed by reading Poet of the Appetites. If anything, she admitted to a rather begrudging respect for the manner in which MFKF lived her life.

SB ( was somewhat disappointed, but easily distracted by "Poet....")

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In the small sampling we have here thus far, I perceive a more negative take on MFKF's work by female respondents when her biographical information is taken into account?

SB ( was somewhat disappointed, but easily distracted by "Poet....")

Well. . .the small sampling we have so far is mostly female overall. :biggrin: I guess the male respondants are out hunting bears for breakfast or checking out the new colognes being advertised in the shiny-covered magazines on their coffeetables. . . :rolleyes:

Yes. . ."poet" is romantic and therefore at any distance at all, a distracting word and thought. :wink:

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My Sister, on the other hand, with a degree in Philosophy and a career in the food industry, was only slightly disturbed by reading Poet of the Appetites.  If anything, she admitted to a rather begrudging respect for the manner in which MFKF lived her life.

If I think as a "woman", intellectually, SB, I can find more than a grudging respect for the manner in which she lived her life. Much more.

If I think as a child, feelingly, of being a child of a woman who lived like this, I react. Those are my own demons. *

Aiming for the "objective". Who knows if one can ever really reach it. :wink:

(And as I said before, who am I to project what I think. Her children may have had the most wonderful experience in growing up in the ways they did! )


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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In the small sampling we have here thus far, I perceive a more negative take on MFKF's work by female respondents when her biographical information is taken into account?

SB ( was somewhat disappointed, but easily distracted by "Poet....")

Well. . .the small sampling we have so far is mostly female overall. :biggrin: I guess the male respondants are out hunting bears for breakfast or checking out the new colognes being advertised in the shiny-covered magazines on their coffeetables. . . :rolleyes:

Maybe reaction to the somewhat disturbing aspects of MFKF's life has less to do with gender than with parenting experience?

SB (wondering ....

{originally written without benefit of having read the prior post}


Edited by srhcb (log)

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I don't know. How one reacts to her could be any number of things, including just plain personal taste.

I'm curious what your mother said of her writings, though. . .

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It hurt me closely, that MFK would have these (perceived, to me) failings. Did it hurt me more, attack my sense of righteousness in a more vital way, in that she was a woman - not a man - not a man where perhaps the world has learned to shake its head ruefully at various sorts of life actions that do *not* lead the ones around them that care for them to the usually accepted forms of daily happiness? (Gentle words for harsh thoughts, here.)

I was going to ask if any of you think there's a difference in the way men and women react to MFKF's writing, but I guess that at least partially answers my question?

She is not what I thought she was, when I first read her. She is certainly not who she was.

But I'll still bite, and will still glow deeply with many sorts of pleasures at her words.

Doesn't this make her writing all the more powerful though?

SB (Shakespeare may very well have been a real jerk?)

Well, I must say the mind spins at all this revelatory discussion of the woman's faults, but I have to set most of it aside to read the book first or else I won't enjoy what's on the page. I had the same problem with Miles Davis, Styron and several other lesser mortals that also happened to be genius in their craft.

And Shakespeare, whose works I minored in a million years ago, was a flaming misogynistic bastard.............with a neat turn of phrase, so wot ya gonna do?

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And actually, jess, your thought on a "book club" is interesting. I've never participated in such a thing before, but had decided to re-read The Art of Eating anyway.

As I go through it, perhaps I'll post some notes about the experience. It would be lovely if you would like to do that, too. :smile:


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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A little clarification might be necessary re my heretical post:

1) I think MFK is a terrific writer and almost required reading for both eaters and writers.

2) I read with enjoyment the works of much greater scumbags than Mary Frances ever was.

3)But said scumbags haven't spent most of their writing lives on an extended autobiography which borders on hagiography. I worshipped Fisher as a young woman, and that's where the "manipulation" comes in -- it's hard when a personal hero is tarnished.

OK, I'll pull out my copy and read along;maybe I'll have changed my mind.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Ya, I have long known that it is lucky I read M.F.K.F. long ago. A big part of her interest for me, a real twofer, was that she was also a Southern Californian, and Whittier, where she grew up, and which is portrayed in some of her writing, was a close and familiar place for me. I happily read the biographies coming along much later, and whatever discrepancies don't bother me, as I don't consider it her responsibility, hers or any other writer's, to tell absolute "truth" on the page. It is particularly interesting to me, in fact, what writers change about their own stories, when they are ostensibly telling their own stories.

Some of my other favorite food-world people are widely criticized for being not so nice--an accusation that is often the product of the near- or not-great attempting to bask in the reflected light of the subject. I had a class once with a person who had sung with a nowheresvillle band at Woodstock, and she was forever going on about how Janis Joplin was not a nice person. Ya, but what really stuck in her craw was that Janis was JANIS.

Of course, I do have extremely high tolerance, if not affinity, for strong personalities, and will every time choose a brilliant egotist over a dissembling self-effacer. (Even--or especially--in men, provided they are also good looking: See Ivan.) I know this is not a universally-shared sentiment, however.

Other figures important to me, Richard Olney, Elizabeth David, Madeleine Kamman--SO many people seem to hate their living guts, in some ways it's a wonder they have or had careers at all.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram

 

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Oh my! Read the book 20 yrs ago, have two copies, havent read it since. Loved the book (AoE) hence the two copies; one to read and one to loan. I remember loving the food and stories to do with food, but can only recall two stories specifically - when her ?uncle? made her select her own menu and it was revelatory, and when she got upset about a young frenchwoman's being 'overstimulated' and chewed out the woman's lover. The first made me think harder about food & deliberate choices. The second made me think MFKF was a little too involved in running other people's lives.

Sign me up for the book club, because clearly it is time to reread. (Fortuitous timing too, as the book just came out of 12 yrs storage).


Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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