Introduced by Ruth Reichl
The food memoir that inspired a new way of thinking about what we eat and how we live. Illustrated with 12 pages of black and white photos chronicling the author’s remarkable life.
In 1929, M. F. K. Fisher, young and newly married, left her home in California and sailed with her husband to Dijon, at the time hailed as ‘the gastronomic capital of the world’. In The Gastronomical Me she charts her culinary coming of age and maps all the significant moments of her life – relationships formed and broken, homes made and moved on from – against meals she has enjoyed and wine she has drunk. Hers is a truly distinctive voice, and this chronicle of her passionate embrace of a whole new way of eating, drinking and celebrating the senses marked Fisher’s emergence as a new kind of food writer – one for which food is a metaphor for living.
In a series of short, engaging essays, Fisher describes her childhood, school and college days; the ‘sea change’ she underwent during her first trip to France; her first marriage to Al Fisher and their life in Dijon; and her later relationship with Dillwyn Parrish, the love of her life – known in this book only as Chexbres. Starting with an account of the first supper she and her sister ate alone with her father (‘warm round peach pie’ with ‘cool yellow cream’), Fisher also shares with her readers her first taste of oysters at a school Christmas feast; memories of Ora, her childhood cook and early hero who one day calmly went home and chopped her own mother to pieces with her favourite kitchen knife; her first, revelatory meals in Dijon (‘terrines of pâté ten years old’, ‘hot leek soup with white wine and snippets of salt pork’ and ‘snails, the best in the world’); and the gradual formation of her own approach to eating and cookery.
‘I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose’
These vivid and often witty snapshots are filled with sensuous detail, not just of the meals Fisher cooked, ate and enjoyed, but the remarkable people she encountered and came to be fond of. Fisher understood well the link between taste, scent and memory, and uses it to entrancing effect. The first real food memoir, The Gastronomical Me went on to influence the wider literary world as well as food writing, and, like a good meal, it is best when shared with others.
Chef and food writer Ruth Reichl, who corresponded with Fisher over many years, has provided a heartfelt and illuminating introduction. In it she writes of the inspirational power of Fisher’s life and work, and how she was ‘the first to write about food as a way of understanding the world’. The 12 pages of plates are divided into three sections, reflecting the three periods of Fisher’s life that are the focus of this book: her childhood in California, her ‘gastronomical awakening’ in Dijon, and the happy but brief years spent with Parrish.
‘There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars and love?’
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was born on 3 July, 1908 in Albion, Michigan, and grew up in Whittier, California. She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, where she met her first husband, Alfred Fisher. They were married in 1929 and moved to Dijon, France, where Al was studying for his doctorate. Dijon at the time was known as the gastronomical capital of the world, and Mary Frances later described this period as the ‘shaking and making years of my life.’ The couple returned to California in 1932; Al started teaching at Occidental College and Mary Frances began writing essays on gastronomy. Her first book, Serve It Forth, was published in 1937, and in the same year she separated from Al and went to Vevey, Switzerland, to live with artist Dillwyn Parrish, whom she married in 1938. They returned to California when war broke out in Europe, and shortly afterwards Parrish was diagnosed with Buerger’s disease; he died in 1941. In 1944 she married the publisher Donald Friede, and in later years moved between Provence and California, where she died in 1992. The author of 15 books and hundreds of stories and essays, she is today remembered as a pre-eminent American food writer.
Ruth Reichl is the author of the best-selling food memoirs Tender at the Bone (1998), Comfort Me with Apples (2001) and Garlic and Sapphires (2005). She has worked as a restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and was the editor of Gourmet magazine from 1999–2009. She has received seven James Beard Awards, both for her food writing and her work as executive producer of the television program Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. Her most recent works are Delicious! (2014) and My Kitchen Year (2015).
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