“Nothing seems particularly grim
if your head is clear
and your teeth are clean
and your bowels function properly.”
The problem is how to characterize How to Cook a Wolf.
~ It is a cookbook, but one with only 75 recipes added like seasoning to the prose. Along the way you will learn how to cook fish, eggs, fritattas, polenta, gravy, bread and War Cake.
~ It is a book on frugality.
~ It is a survival book including a basic recipe for a gruel/sludge that will keep you alive.
~ It is sort of a social history, illuminating life at home during the second world war.
~ It is a dialog between the author and herself. She wrote the book in 1942 and revised it in 1954. The original is kept intact and revisions added in [brackets]. This is one of the most entertaining features. As any writer knows, reading your work at a later date can make you alternately wince or nod your head. Fisher, an opinionated writer, tends to argue with herself, retract a statement or two; but she admits at the end of one chapter that she is pleased with what she wrote.
~ It is a book worth reading for its delightful prose. W. H. Auden wrote about M.F.K. Fisher “I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose.” Here’s what I want you to do: click on the link above, click on the picture of the book “Click to Look Inside” and read the table of contents. I don’t know any other book with better chapter titles.
If you are curious about the wolf in the title, it comes from the ditty by C.P.S. Gilman: There’s a whining at the threshold. There’s a scratching at the floor. To work! To work! In Heaven’s name! The wolf is at the door!
Here’s some morsels of Fisher’s writing to further tempt you:
I have always felt that I should prefer
too little of the best
to plenty of the inferior kind. p. 18
[As an older and wiser frittata cook
I almost always, these richer days,
add a scant cup of good dry Parmesan cheese
to the eggs when I mix them.
Often I add rich cream too.
How easy it is to stray from austerity!] p.61
I believe more firmly than ever in fresh raw milk,
freshly ground whole grains of cereal,
and vegetables grown in organically cultured soil.
If I must eat meats I want them carved from beasts
nurtured on the plants from that same kind of soil. p. 71
The doubtful triumphs of science over human hunger
are perhaps less dreadful to the English than to us,
for in spite of our national appetite for pink gelatine puddings,
we have never been as thoroughly under the yoke
of Bird’s Custard Sauce as our allies. p.152
In the old days, before Stuka and blitz became part of
even childish chitchat, every practical guide to cookery
urged you to keep a well-filled emergency shelf
in your kitchen or pantry.
Emergency is another word
that has changed its inner shape;
when Marion Harland and Fanny Farmer used it
they meant unexpected guests.
You may, too, in an ironical way,
but you hope to God
they are the kind who will never come. p.187