For some inexplicable reason, the brilliant writing of M.F.K.Fisher was out of print, or hard to obtain for a while. Her prose is possibly some of the best writing from the 20th Century, so the difficulty in getting her books was rather puzzling. If you read anyone who writes about cuisine, they always refer to M.F.K. Fisher as some kind of luminary. In "The Art of Eating", there is every opportunity to examine why her writing is held in such high esteem.
This book is a compilation of her most famous works "Consider the Oyster," "Serve It Forth," "How to Cook a Wolf," "The Gastronomical Me" and "An Alphabet for Gourmets." Each is quite different. "How to Cook a Wolf" is about cooking in times of want, in this case, World War II, but the book really becomes semi-autobiographical and talks about her young days in Dijon, where she was the wife of a student at the University.
If you haven't read M.F.K. Fisher, this is probably the best book to start with--it combines memoir with culinary musings; advice on scrambled eggs with her own ideas about health and nutrition. If you then can't get enough of Fisher, I recommend, "The Measure of Her Powers" which is much more autobiographical and utterly fascinating.
I actually read Fisher more for her memoirs. Her fascination with food and cooking is to me about life and art,--the French view of food not as something merely to fill the belly, but as an art form and a craft.
on June 5, 2002
Once upon a time I worked for a chef who absolutely adored MFK Fisher (this was one of her only redeeming qualities) and although I love food and wine, I had never heard of her before, but I love to read and I figured that I would pick up a few of her books and this one (actually a compilation of 5 of her books)is the first that I read, and it just changed my life, it is such a beautiful book that describes food and love and life so artfully you cannot help but feeling happy when you read it. She speaks a lot of France, and about her life experiences mingled with all sorts of facts and trivia and research about food. It is lovingly written. For those of you who love books about food and the art of food, this is for you. For those of you who think that you don't like books about food, this is also for you. Check it out.
on February 19, 2001
There are two types of cookbooks: those that you consult in order to learn how to prepare a specific dish (squid in its ink, for example) and those that you read when you are not in the kitchen and then allow to settle in your brain for a little while, and from which you decide, in time, to prepare something special. "The Joy of Cooking" is of the first type, the "Art of Eating" of the second kind.
There are two types of cookbook authors: those who did not follow a drive to become apothecaries and instead wound up in a kitchen. Now they issue a prescriptive formulary of carefully controlled measures, procedures, times, weights, and ingredients (no substitutions, please) in precise, neat, humorless texts: recipes by edict, if you will; and those who under other circumstances would have become poets or novelists, but instead wound up in the kitchen, from whence they issue lyrical prose as well as exquisite dishes. Their recipes are often vague, permissive, infuriating, but tolerant of errors. There are many who fit the first category and few (MFK Fisher among them) the second.
There are two ways of comparing cookbooks: by following recipes for highly complex dishes (beef Wellington, say) and tasting the results, or by following extremely simple recipes from each book and making gustatory comparisons (scrambled eggs, for instance). Scrambled eggs, according to general culinary wisdom, requires that eggs be beaten together "until the white and yolks are completely combined" (Joy of Cooking) or to be whisked briskly (Fanny Farmer).
Ms. Fisher starts by addressing the state of mind of the cook before embarking in the scrambling of the eggs: "This concotion" she comments "is obviously a placid one, never to be attempted by a nervous, harried [person], one anxious to slap something on the table and get it over with...I love this recipe, for its very gentleness, and for the demands it makes upon one's patience, and the homage it deserves from its slow tasting."
I have used her recipe many times, and my guests become awestruck by the results. I cook the eggs even slower than she suggests (it takes me at least 45 minutes or even a little longer, when she recommends 30 minutes). You and your guests will never want to eat beaten scrambled eggs, ever again, after tasting MFK Fisher's version of this dish.
If you ever cook, do read this book.
on August 25, 1997
Looking for some food for thought? How about some thoughts on food? M.F.K. Fisher's compendium of essays in the "Art of Eating" is sure to keep you entertained for months, and provide you with party tidbits for even longer.
I read this book over the course of three months, an essay or two at a time. It's not just about food, but about the people who love to eat good food, to make it, to grow it, to harvest it, to travel in search of it. It's about some wonderful places in the world, some now long gone, or spoiled, and some still well worth a visit.
You'll find that you remember some of M.F.K. Fisher's stories long after you've put the book down. You'll tell these stories to others and win smiles and laughter. You'll haul the book out and read aloud from it. Your friends will ask to borrow your copy.
You will tell them to get their own.
on April 2, 1997
"The Art of Eating" is actually an omnibus edition of five works by MFK Fischer, originally published separately. These are "Consider the Oyster," "Serve It Forth," "How to Cook a Wolf," "The Gastronomical Me" and "An Alphabet for Gourmets." The book succeeds marvelously on different levels: first, Fischer was an exceedingly knowledgable and experienced cook and eater. As such, her essays are good reads just for the wealth of information they contain on all facets of cookery and dining. Second, and more importantly, she was a woman of enormous humanity; a quality that informs each of the works in this volume. Her ability to crystalize in words the underlying cultural and emotional associations of food, cooking and the dining experience is probably unmatched by any other food writer since. Again and again, she manages quite deftly to use simple anecdotes from her life to illustrate the deep attachments we all have with the food we eat and how we eat it. Her delivery of these insights is seldom heavy-handed; often, she manages to delight the reader by use of unexpected but well-grounded conclusions. One would need to explore the culinary writings of poets and novelists to find her equal on the subject.
There are drawbacks to the work, however. By gathering five different books into a single volume, a certain amount of repetition of some of her material becomes apparent. This is, of course, more the fault of the editor than of Fischer herself. No, Fischer's faults lie perhaps in a certain over-emphasis on the "sensitivity" of herself and her loved ones as contrasted with the rest of us Ya-hoos, and that she wrote before the emergence of American regional cuisine as a force in cookery, so that she sometimes denigrates things we feel more kindly toward today.
In all, though, The Art of Eating is a book that no serious cook or diner can afford to do without
on December 7, 2004
I found this book in a stack of books on sale outside of a Harvard Square book shop, selling for $1.00 in hardcover when I was a poor student. I think that I bought it mainly because it was a thick fat book and the paper quality was was so good. A few hours later I opened it to peruse while sitting in Hamburger Cottage and have never looked at food, human appetites, memories, and other hungers the same. Fisher is now a cult figure but, back then, was barely still in print. Just try reading only a few pages of her writing. If you're a poor student, read the chapter about how to keep the wolf from the door, written during the Great Depression in America people had to work hard to keep their spirits up and did it...even in style.
on May 29, 2004
M. F. K. Fisher is quite probably the person who singlehandedly created her field in the English-speaking world: the art of writing about good food, while simultaneously writing about the art of living.
This book, "The Art of Eating," is actually five of her best books issued within one set of covers. My copy is getting dog-eared because I have gone back to it so many times. Fisher writes very well indeed, and her love of life shines through many pages. This is not "just a book about food," any more than "Babette's Feast" is just "a movie about food." The pages overflow with memorable characters -- unforgettable characters!
As for the debate about "Eat To Live" versus "Live To Eat" -- which strikes me as an utterly phony debate built on words not life: Fisher simply observes that we all have to eat. As Brillat-Savarin pointed out, the universe is completely boring without its living creatures, and everything that lives must eat. You may choose to drop some protein powder in a blender with an egg and some milk, gulp that down and call it breakfast: others would carefully poach that egg and happily eat it with toast and cafe au lait. Fisher's main argument would be that intelligent people should know how to turn the inevitable time of eating into a time of pleasure, not choking down barbecue with standard-issue American bread and Dr. Pepper.
And this point of view, to enjoy the pleasures of the world without simply lapsing into hedonism -- to understand the glorious rapture of peas freshly harvested, and instantly cooked, served with fresh farm butter and salt -- informs all the rest of her life, including her two marriages (to Al and to Chexbres). The marriage to Chexbres turned out to be the love of her life, and then suddenly everything went terribly wrong -- at the same time the Nazis were taking over Germany, Chexbres came down with a terminal illness. After living through that hell, Fisher awoke to discover that she was alone.
She dealt with it. She described it, unforgettably. And in these stories of real life, lived on the edge, the volume sold as "The Art of Eating" truly becomes something that could be called "The Art of Living."
This is simply one of the best books I have ever read in my life.
on August 21, 1999
I don't dare try to compete with Ms Fisher's ability to spin stories about food and travel and life - no one can match her. This book had me fooling with oysters, taught me to always take the back roads in Europe and to never judge a restaurant by it's facade. That it is sublime to eat alone, that I can doctor my airline food. That food is more then nourishment of body, it is nourishment of soul. I kept a well worn copy with my cookbooks for divine inspiration
on July 21, 2005
Even in paperback this is a thick and heavy book, which is a compilation of several of MKF Fisher's individual works offering different aspects of her thoughts on food in terms of origin, recipes, culinary preparation, and history. In addition, it divulges her own observations on the whole dining experience that we as humans go through in terms of customs, etiquette, ambience, socializing and so forth. But what makes this book stellar is the eloquent, imaginative, and sometimes even haunting style of Ms. Fisher's writing. She expresses her own thoughts and oftentimes outspoken opinions, mixing them with historical facts, tempting recipes, and home-cooked tales. With such a satisfying horn of plenty within the confines of two book covers, it is easy to understand why she still reigns as the queen of prose inspired by food and dining. I wish I had her ability to master in writing such joi de vivre and enthusiasm for food, eating, and drinking, which after all are such basic elements to our very existence.
The section I enjoyed most of all was "The Gastronomical Me", a biography-cum-travelogue in which she poignantly narrates her experiences by rendering them so lifelike that you can smell the smells and taste the tastes. She includes food episodes of her early years in California while growing up and later attending boarding school; in Dijon, France where the kitchens in restaurants and her apartments beckon you to partake of the offerings; in Switzerland where you visually can grasp the mountains and streams along train-rides she describes through the Alps to Italy; and finally in a small Mexican town, where she surpasses even the writing prowess demonstrated in her previous stories, by telling the most poignant tales.
An interesting sidelight is that this book not only covers food. You gather early on that she is far from a teetotaler since alcoholic drinks and drinking at mealtimes too are frequent topics, from sipping wines and champagnes and glasses of Pernod on ocean liners to mixing water with bourbon, which she keeps in a flask during a long, propeller-driven, airplane flight to Mexico.
The other sections I liked were the beginning (Serve It Forth) and Consider the Oyster. It amazed me that one person could write a whole expose covering around a hundred pages about only the oyster: the various types, methods of preparations, and culinary history. Plus she gives her own personal memories and anecdotes too. You name it, she said it about oysters--recipes included.
I did not care as much for How to Cook a Wolf, as I could not relate to either the off-color humor or to some of the topics she presented. (Sorry, but sweetbreads, halves of calf heads, and brains were not appetizing subjects.) Also, I gave up finishing the book. I started to read "An Alphabet for Gourmets", the last section, but got as far as "D" and couldn't force myself to read through the rest of the alphabet. It seems to me by the time in her life when she wrote this section she had become rather cynical and bitter, to the extent that everything she wrote sounded condescending. This section was such a let-down, a depressant to me after coming off the high of "The Gastronomical Me". Although I exaggerate, she seemed to repeatedly state something to the effect that she preferred to dine alone on crackers and milk rather than face gourmet meals with uncultivated people (with untrained palettes) who were unsavvy as to the proper way food should be eaten in the first place and incapable of appreciating what they shoved in their faces in the second. Anyway, other readers may disagree with me, but this last section lacks the consistency, and more important, the vibrancy and pep of her flowing, off-the-wall style that grows on you in the other sections.
Although I was a little disheartened at the end, her brilliance that shone through in the other sections more than outweighed the few negatives. I can recommend this book to everyone, especially to people who are interested in food as a literary subject in its own right instead of something that we simply cook and eat. Of course, foodies and cooks alike should appreciate it. And though it does have some very good recipes as added bonuses, this should not be considered a cookbook; instead, this book's function is to serve up delicious tidbits for our minds and imaginations to savor and enjoy.
on December 21, 2001
This book is not a cookbook (though it does contain some great recipes). And it isn't really just a memoir. Rather, it is 5 books by one of the greatest writers about food collected in one volume. Whether you choose to read the essays over a period of time, or stuff yourself silly by reading as much as possible in one go, if you are the type who loves to read about food, you are in for a treat.
Fisher covers great meals she has had and great meals she plans to have; she covers cooking from the highly expensive levels of decadence to true home economy (yes, you can live off sludge); she explores eating both as a social pastime and as an intimate, individual pleasure.
If like me some of your favourite books have earned that title due to the authors ability to write about the meals it contains, you are sure to salviate at this tome. A wonderful read for all foodies...