12/22/2009

How to write like a cook

Many people who like to cook may not also like to write, but if you love both cooking and writing, there is a good chance that you are a fan of M.F.K. Fisher. I am a fan. When I first read Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf, I was totally charmed by her stylish prose and the way she wrote about food and cooking. The book was written during the Second World War when food was rationed. Although it is not a cook book (or not an ordinary cook book), it does contain many recipes. There is, however, no recipe for cooking a wolf, for the wolf is just a metaphor for hard times when food is scarce.

W. H. Auden once said of Fisher, "I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose." (Well, E. B. White was still alive!) And John Updike called her "poet of the appetites". If you have never read Fisher, here's a sample of her prose:

Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken. Until then, you would think its secrets are its own, hidden behind the impassive beautiful curvings of its shell, white or brown or speckled. It emerges full-formed, almost painlessly from the hen. It lies without thought in the straw, and unless there is a thunderstorm or a sharp rise in temperature it stays fresh enough to please the human palate for several days. ("How Not to Boil an Egg")

In the revised edition of the book she added the following notes between 'painlessly' and 'from the hen':

The egg may not be bothered, but nine years and two daughters after writing this I wonder somewhat more about the hen. I wrote, perhaps, too glibly.

Her book The Art of Eating is a great buy; it is actually a collection of five of her most well-known books, including How to Cook a Wolf, for the price of one book.

I have just known that there is a restaurant in Seattle called How to Cook a Wolf, which was named after the Fisher book.

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