Cooking

M.F.K. F.T.W.

A lesson from M.F.K. Fisher, renewed and revisited

When we first heard the conceit of Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal ($25), we were flummoxed.

The book is built on the bones of M.F.K Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf ($11), a wartime chronicle about cooking (and enjoying) even the most meagerly outfitted meals, which was published in 1942. Fisher's prose in Wolf still holds up as intimate and often hilarious--but more than her other books, Wolf is a period piece, riddled with instructions meant for the time.

Why, then, would a young cook with access to a surfeit of ingredients choose a book about their absence as her inspiration?

Well, both books have little to do with ingredients. Instead, each focuses on processes--the dependable, simple ways to treat what you have, whether it's a handful or a walk-in-fridge-ful.

As we read through Adler's essays, we were reminded of foundations (boiling water, roasting vegetables) that constituted our first lessons in the kitchen; reminded, because we've overlooked many of them for complicated recipes and pedagogical pursuits of flavor.

How to Cook a Wolf, we realized, also served as a reminder for its time. Fisher recalls how, when listening to the women of her generation talk about the economies of war, her grandmother snipped; "I never knew before that using common sense in the kitchen was only stylish in emergencies!"

What Fisher's audience needed rations to rediscover, Adler is offering us under comparatively less despondent circumstances: the lesson of intuition--that we can feed ourselves more and better with less than we think.

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