“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love.”
That was the sentence that first grabbed me, years ago, when I first read author M.F.K. Fisher’s tome, “The Art of Eating” which is a compilation of five of her most famous books. Titles like, “How to Cook a Wolf” which was published in 1942, when everyone was struggling with wartime food shortages, and “Consider the Oyster” are indicative of her tongue-in-cheek style. Indeed, one of the chapters in “How to Cook a Wolf” is “How To Be Cheerful Through Starving”.
Reading her, I always laughed out loud. While all her books contain recipes, it’s her approach to the sensual fabric of life I most enjoy. In fact, while she’s known for food, and made ‘the art of eating’ a focus of her life, eating and creating wonderful food seemed simply the vehicles for writing about men, women and relationships. What she really writes about is philosophy, and the rich juice that makes up our beautiful and tragic lives.
As our 19th Greatest Dead Angleno, M.F.K. Fisher spent many of her formative years in LA or the surrounding area. Mary Francis (M.F.K.was her pen name) wasn’t a native Angleno. She was born in Michigan, but when she was two, her father, a newspaper man, moved the family out to Whittier, California.
Back then Whittier was a farm like town, mainly full of Quakers. Now it’s a roaring suburb of Los Angeles. A delightful portion of one of her books talks about the summers her family spent in Laguna Beach, back when it was just a collection of shacks on the beach with no electricity of running water. The sea provided everything they needed.
She went to University of California in 1929 and met her first husband. Shortly thereafter, the two went to Dijon, France, where she was introduced to food as gastronomy and eating the French way; wine, cheese and pastries. When she returned to Los Angeles in 1932, she was forever changed.
She became inspired to write her first book, “Serve It Forth” after spending time in the LA Public Library and running across an Elizabethan cookbook which was a collection of essays. “Serve It Forth” used that style as a template, being a wonderful collection of essays about her own cooking, meals, people and life.
When she died in 1992, I felt like an old friend was gone. I always fantasized about meeting her, up on her California ranch on a vineyard in Northern California… but it never happened.
M.F.K. Fisher was a wild woman…. she had a myriad of husbands and lovers and when she had her first daughter in 1943, she refused to name the father. It was her business and nobody else’s. Not many women with that much spunk and backbone in those days. She bucked tradition and did what she wanted, with whom she wanted and she’s a Los Angeles inspiration in my book.
Get her books. Read them and run right out to the Farmer’s Market in Hollywood so you can cook a divine meal for the ones you love.