Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"I WAS REALLY VERY HUNGRY"

If you're in the market for good reading about good food, I recommend without reservation As They Were, a compilation of essays by MFK Fisher. Basically, this woman is a golden god when it comes to gastronomical writing. It's not merely that the writing itself is a pleasure -- it is, completely -- but also the subjects. Raised in the first quarter of the last century, Mary Frances ate some kind of wonderful meals and did us all a big favor by writing about them. I almost unconditionally love reading about contemporary eating, but what's great about these essays is how they reveal how people USED to eat, and I find it fascinating.

In one essay titled "Young Hunger" she describes the restless wanting that regularly inflicts teenage stomachs. I'm a late bloomer, so I remain prone to this youthful avarice, but her essay reminded me of how physically starved I felt between the ages of 12 and 19. Mary Frances did, too, and she describes a "lunch" that she takes with her godparents that leaves her frustrated and hungry to the verge of tears.

I will now describe this "lunch" for you, because it boggles my greedy, 21st century mind:

A cup of attenuated chicken broth
A salted cracker
Half a piece of toast
A waffle with melted butter and a dab of honey.

NO WONDER people were smaller back then! NO WONDER the fashions of the day emphasized women's delicate waists: they HAD them.

I mean, COME ON! That lunch is not even the equivalent of an appetizer on one of today's menus! An APPETIZER: the thing we eat BEFORE we eat!

Hey George Romero: want to really see something scary and shocking -- check out what counts as "lunch" 80 years ago! I felt empathic hunger pangs as I read, and luckily I had the wherewithal to do something about them...no broth necessary.

6 Comments:

Blogger garin said...

have you checked out the "super best friends"yet??? big fans of you!!!

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The nerd in me can't help myself.

New Yorker writer John McPhee has three pieces I can think of that primarily deal with what you put in your mouth. Giving Good Weight is a collection of essays. The eponymic first one talks about greenmarkets in 1970s NY (food doesn't just grow on trees-oh wait it does, but it still needs to get down off those trees and into fish-stinky Chinatown markets). Don't be fooled by this essay it isn't really about food. The last essay in the book 'Brigade de Cuisine' is. It's about a chef who wishing to remain anonymous is referred to simply as "Otto." Apparantly Otto had the best unheard of resturant in the NY region back in the day. McPhee details how Otto goes about designing and cooking a new menu made up of the freshest ingredients every night (a good 30 years before the Tasting Rooms of the world). It is the only piece of McPhee's I've never finished. Others love it.

For those of you who've endured this far the other two pieces are treats worthy of having to read these rambling procrastinating paragraphs. The first is in a book called "A Roomful of Hovings." The essay is called "The Forager." It's about Euell Gibbons a man who supposedly makes delicious meals out of things like dandelions and tree bark (sound familiar?). An incredible section is dedicated to how Gibbons developed his ability to figure out which of nature's wonders were edible while he and his family were starving on a failed farm in the southwest.

The other McPhee food piece of note is in his latest book "The Founding Fish." The book itself is mostly about shad fishing, but there is an appendix with recipes for shad and shad roe. The descriptions of shad roe with bacon (the most overrated food of all time) made this vegetarian strongly reconsider said controversial paranthetical statement.

That's all.

-Justice McCourt

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