Written / Cooking On High

© Janet Fries

© somebody
M.F.K. Fisher

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher had to earn a living. She did it by writing about food and food experiences. She did it in such a magical way, that her work goes well beyond it's initial intent. Or maybe that was the game plan all along.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

Almost every person has something secret he likes to eat.

...It was then that I discovered little dried sections of tangerine. My pleasure in them is subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable. I can only write how they are prepared.

In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.

Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales of l'intérieure. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those white pulpy strings that hold tangerines into their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.

Take yesterday's paper (when we were in Strasbourg L'Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course - it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.

After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but -

On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.

All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk. Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension's chic tearoom. A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o'clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.

The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is 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. I cannot tell.

There must be someone, though, who understands what I mean. Probably everyone does, because of his own secret eatings.

Serve It Forth

Scandalous! Can you honestly tell me that that's just about a tangerine? I'm only half serious, because to me it's about attention to the moment and a ton of other stuff.

An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.

Consider the Oyster
Love and Death Among the Molluscs

Clifton Fadiman, wrote this in the introduction to The Art of Eating, a collection of Fisher's work:

Here then is a witty, well-furnished mind roving over the field of food, relating it to the larger human experience of which dining, while a miracle, is still but a part. Yet I would not have you think Mrs. Fisher always or only the philosopher. As the index to this book demonstrates, she is as practical as she is inspiring. She never loses sight of the fact that we struggle to gastronomy's altitudes only through the foothills of pots and pans and kitchen stoves and meats and vegetables and many tastings and humiliating failures.

But we don't need some old white dude to tell us that she was a groovin' chick (though we appreciate his taste and keen insight and as I'm a white chick - I'll just shut it).

One more for the road:

The most successful bachelor dinner I was ever plied with, or perhaps it would have been more genteel to say served, was also thoroughly horrible.

Everything was carried out, as well as in, by a real expert, a man then married for the fifth time who had interspersed his connubial adventures with rich periods of technical celibacy. The cocktails were delicately suited to my own tastes rather than his, and I sipped a glass of Tio Pepe, properly chilled. The table, set in a candle-lit patio, was laid in the best sense of the word, "nicely", with silver and china and Swedish glass which I had long admired. The wine was a last bottle of Chianti, " ' stra vecchio."

We ate thin strips of veal that had been dipped in an artful mixture of grated parmigiano and crumbs, with one of the bachelor's favorite tricks to accompany it, buttered thin noodles gratinés with extra-thin and almond-brown toasted noodles on top. There was a green salad.

The night was full of stars, and so seemed my eager host's brown eyes, and the whole thing was ghastly for two reasons: he had forgotten to take the weather into his menu planning, so that we were faced with a rich, hot, basically heavy meal on one of the worst summer nights in local history, and I was at the queasiest possible moment of pregnancy.

Of course the main mistake was in his trying to entertain a woman in that condition as if she were still seduceable and/or he still a bachelor: we had already been married several months.

An Alphabet for Gourmets
B is for Bachelors
-- MFK Fisher

Here are a couple of links:

NYT Articles by Fisher and some reviews:

This site (sponsored by by Les Dames d'Escoffier International, no less...) has a biographical page to give you the basics:

© somebody

These photos are stolen from
A Welcoming Life: The MFK Fisher Scrapbook,
compiled by Dominique Gioia.

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