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Memory and Taste
I have been happily making my way through MFK Fisher’s tome The Art of Eating and came across a small and delightful essay in Serve It Forth called “The Pale Yellow Glove”, which are anecdotal musings about memories ensconced with food. In it, she mentions that people are often loth to divulge stories of pure unadulterated gastronomic pleasure and only two or three times has she been successful in harvesting these stories. This I do not understand. Maybe it was the era she was living in, but in this day and age, with the immediacy of Twitter, every time I look at my feed there is someone talking about something amazing they had at some amazing restaurant. Even so, she rightly believes that “[o]nce in the life of every human, whether he be brute or trembling daffodil, comes a moment of complete gastronomic satisfaction.” For me, the many occurrences of gastronomic satisfaction, circumstantial and unforgettable, but impossible to recreate without transporting myself back in time. I now see this as the beginnings of my own food obsession.
I always had a fascination with taste, even as a child, when our palates are rudimentary and untrusting. At the age of 8, I used to take dried pasta from our larder, pour hot water over it to soften it, then I would chew it. It had a faint nutty taste and I genuinely liked it; in fact writing about it now I can distinctly remember the flavour (though I have no desire to recreate it, you’ll be happy to hear). Or when I used to take bitter chocolate and dip it in sugar. If I grew tired of it, I’d leave it to dry out in a cup under my bed for my health-obsessed mother to discover several days later, much to her horror.
These are not things I remember with the same golden memory as, say, the time I first tried grilled portobello mushrooms at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party in Napa. For the first time, surrounded by my family, the sunshine and the grape vines, I had the realisation that a fungus could take on the guise of sirloin and it totally blew my mind. But this memory is nothing without the clinking of glasses, my aunt’s laugh and the surrounding California countryside.
Memory and food are clearly emotional. Think of the silent meals with soon-to-be ex-lovers, the distressing green vegetables your mothers made you eat before you were allowed to get down from the table to go play, or even the late night kebabs which we remember with headachey shame. We feel the meal; we remember it because we are emotionally tied to it. Well, maybe not the kebab as we normally don’t remember it and are only reminded that it existed by the discovery of its remains the next morning.
MFK Fisher was a devoted follower of Brillat-Savarin and his writings are often intertwined with anecdotal musings about meals he had and the circumstances around them, so I am not surprised this little chapter made it in to Serve It Forth. However, in my experience, much of today’s food writing and blogging is more about making things and telling people how to do it. Or, taking photos of food on one’s dining experiences and talking about what it tasted like. To me, this is a waste. How do these writers feel about what they were making and why did they choose to blog about it? Why do these bloggers choose to take a photo of their meal instead of describing how it made them feel to eat what they did, where they did? Perhaps that is not what the masses like.
These ‘souvenirs of eating’ should be relished and remembered, if only for our own pleasure. Just as Keats did a letter to his friend from 1819, quoted in Fisher’s essay. “Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine - good God how fine. It went down soft pulpy, slushy, oozy - all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry. I shall certainly breed.”
Now there’s a memory in the making, surely.
“More often than not people who see me on trains and in ships or in restaurants, feel a kind of resentment of me since I taught myself to enjoy being alone. Women are puzzled, which they hate to be, and jealous of the way I am served, with such agreeable courtesy, and of what I am eating and drinking, which is almost never the sort of thing they order for themselves. And the men are puzzled too, in a more personal way. I anger them as males.”—M.F.K. Fisher
Book Review: The Art of Eating
I finished this five-course meal last night and it took me two months to do it. Well worth it because I have a feeling that the flavors will remain with me for some time. This book is about eating, but it’s about so much more as M.F.K. Fisher herself admits on numerous occasions. To her, to write about food is to write about every kind of human hunger, from love to death to…everything. Food is the foundation of everything as far as she is concerned.
By the end of this book, I found myself wondering if I would like M.F.K. as a person. Which is a weird thing for me to start wondering and I admit…I mostly only do this with female writers. Maybe because girls can be…catty? jealous? mean? insecure? Suffice it to say that females have their own strange dynamic and from reading this I got the sense that M.F.K. would be a very intimidating woman indeed. The kind that could steal your boyfriend* (in ‘R is for Romance’ in the Alphabet for Gourmets, the detail and thoughtfulness with which she describes how she would seduce or unseduce the object of her affection is moving, humorous, and intimidating), the kind who is aloof and mysterious and interesting and draws people to her seemingly without trying. I imagine her to be someone voracious, sensitive, and selfish—basically irresistible.
Great. This review has somehow morphed into a psychological study of myself. Not what I intended. But perhaps it’s because The Art of Eating is so unabashedly, unapologetically about M.F.K. Fisher. Her interests, her hungers, her appetites, her carefully edited and artfully served world. And thank goodness. Had it been any other way I’m not sure I would have felt as satiated by the end of the meal.
*In fact, I ended up googling, so interested in her did this book make me, and discovered that she had in fact stolen her second husband from another woman
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight… [Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”—M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
EAT YOUR HEART OUT: 3 FOOD MAGAZINES WE ♥
We love a good food magazine, and there are so many now, we feel it’s time to round up a few of our favorites.
David Chang, of Momofuku fame, launched Lucky Peach a year ago, and won our hearts over when he described it as “sort of an M.C. Escher painting” to The New York Times. Unless I forgot how to use iTunes, Chang’s iPad app never did come out. Although we were looking forward to an interactive bowl of ramen, we’ll settle with this food-cum-art magazine.
The Art of Eating
Full disclosure. We’ve never actually read this magazine. But we’re going to go out on a limb and say that the all-positive reviews are probably not far off from the truth. (Then again, we didn’t think My Week With Marilyn would be a flop, huh?) But back to eating. The Wall Street Journal called TAoE “arguably America’s most erudite and prestigious food publication…there are recipes, letters, a wine review, restaurant reviews, book reviews plus, according to the subject, addresses for exceptional open-air markets, individual growers and craftsmen, bakers, cheese makers, wineries, olive-oil mills, charcutiers, chocolatiers, or restaurants (from haute cuisine to very simple).” We’ll give it a read and, if we think otherwise, we’ll let you know. Or you tell us!
This magazine looks how it reads; it doesn’t take itself too seriously (it’s subtitled Adventures in Food and Form), but asks a relevant question. Food is here to serve us, but could we be here to serve food? Reversing the roles and giving up control is an eye-opening exercise. After all, it is we who are dependent on food, and not food that is dependent on us.”
- Lauren Taylor