19 June 2010

Weekend Cooking: Review: Two Short Pieces by M. F. K. Fisher

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


You may recall that I found A Stew or a Story in New York City a few weeks ago. Because the book is a collection of M. F. K. Fisher's works (collected by Joan Reardon), it isn't necessary to read it in a linear fashion or all in one go. Periodically, I'll share my thoughts about articles and essays from this volume.

First up is a piece titled "Through a Glass Darkly," which was written for the Atlantic Monthly in 1944. The article is about how the California wine industry was being affected by the war, and Fisher laments that the war came so soon after Prohibition was lifted. In this short piece, here's one thing I learned: Some vineyards in California were close to 65 years old and producing decent wine before growers plowed under their vines at the start of Prohibition. After the repeal, some vintners opted for quick profits by buying cheaper vines and rushing wine to sale. I see in retrospect that this was one of the reasons California wines developed such a bad reputation.

Fisher mostly focuses on how the vineyards were suffering from the effects of the war. Much of what she wrote was new to me. I won't go into details, so you'll have something to discover if you decide to read the article yourself.

Second is "Ode to the Olive," published in Travel and Leisure in 1976. In this article, we learn of M. F. K.'s first taste of an olive and her love affair with the fruit. She was especially fond of pure virgin oil, "made from ripe, dark olives, . . . which have never fallen from the tree" (215). She mourns that fact that she cannot buy the wonderful olives she knew in Europe (it was the late 1970s, after all):
For me, olives and their oil are more essential than many other things I may want, like a vintage Rolls-Royce (not really), or an aluminum ladder so that I can mend my roof myself (217).
Best of all, she describes a heavenly but simple meal prepared for her by a friend in France. The main dish was half of a fresh pan bagnat that had been "bathed in olive oil and covered with available delicacies" (217). I leave it you to discover the rest.

I will share more stories as I get to them.

A Stew or a Story at Powell's
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Rikki 6/19/10, 6:09 AM  

The ode to the olive sounds really interesting and delicious at the same time. Even nowadays it is not so easy to find excellent olive oil and it is not the 1970s anymore.

Julie P. 6/19/10, 8:39 AM  

I'll have a post for you tomorrow. I've been MIA on Weekend Cooking for a few weeks.

bermudaonion 6/19/10, 8:50 AM  

Ode to the Olive sounds like my kind of essay - all my friends and family know of my love of olives!

Sandy Nawrot 6/19/10, 9:43 AM  

Ahhhh! Wine and Olive Oil, two of my favorite things!

Margot 6/19/10, 10:02 AM  

This sounds like an excellent book of essays. I'm so glad you are going to share them with us a little at a time.

I learned a couple of new things here that I want to know more about. One is the California wine industry. I've been in Sonoma county looking at all these vineyards but I haven't been thinking about their history. Now I'm on a new quest.

Molly 6/19/10, 10:10 AM  

I am hoping to find the time to read some food essays over the next several weeks. MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Ruth Reichl are at the top of my list!

Margaret - BooksPlease 6/19/10, 12:04 PM  

I just love olives - perfect with a glass of red wine - better even if you're in Italy or Greece.

Diann @ The Thrifty Groove 6/19/10, 12:15 PM  

I think we should have a book reading of "Ode to the olive" in the middle of an olive grove in Italy. I will get the wine! :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sherrie 6/19/10, 12:41 PM  

Hi Beth,
Sounds like a good book. I'll have to check this one out. Have a great day!

Just Books

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 6/19/10, 2:37 PM  

The timing of the highlight on the 'olive' essay is perfect - with your new Spotlight on Harper Perennial :) Their olive logo is so whimsical!

Tina 6/19/10, 4:46 PM  

I so love stores that feature olive bars. That's even more essential than wine to me. I must check this one out.

Heather 6/19/10, 8:01 PM  

Pancakes are a biggie at my house. We'll eat them for any meal and leftovers sit on the stove and we eat them cold or toasted. Was it you Beth who mentioned that during BEA you had lemon Ricotta pancakes? After reading that I had to find a recipe and make them for my family. They were heavenly.

caite 6/19/10, 8:50 PM  

that 'Ode to the Olive' ties in very well with the book I discussed this week. he has a very high opinion of the olive and their oil as well.

Beth 6/19/10, 10:39 PM  

these sound fantastic!

Anonymous,  6/20/10, 11:40 AM  

I never realized that the wineries plowed under their vines during Prohibition. I always associate Prohibition with hard liquor.

Heather 6/20/10, 4:06 PM  

I think I'd love to read that whole collection, but especially Ode to the Olive. Through a Glass Darkly sounds fascinating too; I just love stories like that.

Valerie 6/21/10, 3:57 PM  

I remember you mentioning snagging this book -- it is one of the few M.F.K. Fisher books I don't own! I'm wondering now, though, if any of these essays appear in any of her other collections? Hmmm. I still want it, even if that is the case.

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