The Gastronomical Me

Over the past few months I’ve been reading The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher off and on. It’s a great memoir about food, travel, and life in Europe in the lead up to World War II, but I also had to be in the right mood for it, so I slowly made my way through the book. It was originally published in 1943 and Mary, the woman who’s life we are experiencing, lived quite the life during the 1920s and 1930s. She traveled, she bucked trends, she fell in love twice, and she ate a lot of amazing food.

But what I really loved about this book was the way in which she described the food and all that was happening in and around the meals, which so often influence how we remember the things we eat. Some of my favorite food memories involve people I love and laughter and conversation, which makes the memory of the food being fantastic even stronger. It is no different in this book.

I read a paper version, so there are only a few highlights below.

We ate well, too. It was the first real day-to-day meal-after-meal cooking I’d ever done, and was only a little less complicated than performing an appendectomy on a life-raft, but after I got used to hauling water and putting together three courses on a table the size of a bandana and lighting the portable oven without blowing myself clear into the living room in stead of only halfway, it was fun. (p. 100)

That early spring I met a young servant in northern Burgundy who was almost fanatical about food, like a medieval woman possessed by the devil. Her obsession engulfed even my appreciation of the dishes she served, until I grew uncomfortable. (p. 139)

Several times during the evening he took Chexbres or me aside and asked who our cook was. He refused, quite candidly and politely, to believe that I had made the stew, just as he refused to accept my recipe for it; he was convinced that in our pride we were hiding a famous chef somewhere in the cellars. It was a little embarrassing, but funny, to think of our being able to afford a hidden cook at all, and then to be accused of guarding him so jealously that we even faked recipes for him.