Saturday 16 December 2017

Food news: The Gastronomical Me


M.F.K. Fisher, author of The Gastronomical Me and How to Cook a Wolf.
M.F.K. Fisher, author of The Gastronomical Me and How to Cook a Wolf.

Katy McGuinness

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, better known as MFK Fisher (pictured), was probably the best American food writer that ever lived. Certainly among the most prolific, she published 27 books of food, travel and memoir, and a novel, The Theoretical Foot.

A new edition of one of her most well-known works, The Gastronomical Me (Daunt Books, £9.99), originally published in 1943 in the US, traces the development of the writer's appetite, from when she left America for France in 1929 as a new bride at the age of 21.

She writes about her childhood in the US, and then about the new way of eating, drinking and living that she discovered in Europe.

The Gastronomical Me evolves through a series of meals - seductive, educational, diplomatic - shared with an assortment of eccentric characters, set against a backdrop of mounting pre-war tensions and in settings as diverse as a bedsit above a patisserie, a Swiss farm and a cruise-liner.

In her introduction to this new edition, food writer Bee Wilson writes: "The problem with most food writing is that it is too much about ingredients and not enough about appetite. Every time I return to MFK Fisher… I am struck that she tells you all the vital stuff that other food writers leave out. Her books are full of private cravings.

"Many writers give you a fine description of dinner, but forget to tell you what it meant to the people at the table. Not Fisher. Meals for her are not just about what was served, but who ate it and how it made them feel. Her dinners are about disappointments, the passing of time and the thrill of laughing uncontrollably over gin and toast and caviar with a secret lover. She can be so bracingly personal that other food writing seems euphemistic by comparison. When she writes of hunger, as she famously explains at the start of this book, she is 'really writing about love, and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it, and the hunger for it… and it is all one."

"Wise, witty and unpretentious," is how Jane Grigson described Fisher's writing; her others admirers include Simon Schama, John Updike and WH Auden.

If you enjoy the writing of Nigel Slater and Elizabeth David, this is a volume to bring on holiday, when you have time to appreciate its languorous, sensual elegance.

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