Today would have been M.F.K. Fisher's 104th birthday, an occasion she may have celebrated, as she liked to do, over the course of several days — today, tomorrow, the next day and all the way up to Bastille Day on July 14. She spent a good portion of her life in France, but grew up in Whittier and lived around L.A. for a few years. In fact, it was at the Los Angeles Public Library where she stumbled upon an Elizabethan cookbook; inspired, she went home and tried her hand at writing culinary essays. And the rest, they might say, is pre-food blogging history.
Food was her subject, but it wasn't her limit. She wrote, for example, How to Cook a Wolf, a wartime cookbook that teaches you less about cooking an actual wolf and more about appreciating the economy in what you have, no matter how small or foie-less. And Consider the Oyster, an ode to the oyster that inspired David Foster Wallace, among others. But we especially like An Alphabet for Gourmets, which uses the alphabet to structure 26 wonderful essays about dining, eating and everything in between, plus one final chapter on the elements of the perfect dinner.
Thus you have “A is for dining alone” (“There are few people alive with whom I care to pray, sleep, dance, sing or share my bread and wine”), G for Gluttony (“It is a curious fact that no man likes to call himself a glutton, and yet each of us has in him a trace of gluttony, potential or actual”), L for Literature (Virginia Woolf “wrote perhaps better than anyone in the Western world about the feeling of being a little drunk”) and so on until Z(akuski).
And so, if you were to celebrate Fisher's birthday over the next few days, you could start by reading An Alphabet for Gourmets. With slightly less than two weeks to read 27 short chapters, you'd only need to read about three a day to finish by Bastille Day. Afterward, you could go out for a nice meal alone. Or visit your local library to check out another M.F.K. Fisher classic. And maybe an Elizabethan cookbook.
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