Monday, July 19, 2010

In M.F.K. Fisher's Kitchens

Town of Tomorrow - Houses - In... Digital ID: 1684867. New York Public Library
(Town of Tomorrow, New York World's Fair Collection)

This past May marked my thirteenth year living in New York City. In those thirteen years I've lived in five apartments, all in Brooklyn, each more beautiful than the previous (I guess that's progress...), but not without quirks, annoyances, frustrations.

One seemingly perfect apartment (Built-in bookshelves! My friend as upstairs--and only--neighbor!) was right above an unfinished basement where my landlord liked to spend his nights hanging out and raking the dirt floor, or so it seemed. There was no floor underlay beneath the old wood planks and I would often wake in the middle of the night to the sound of John Montone's 1010 WINS broadcast in my ear, while the dark apartment -- eerily lit from below with light escaping through gaps in the floorboards -- filled with the smell of his cigarette smoke. And the kitchen wasn't too hot, either.

I thought a lot about my former apartments, and particularly their kitchens, while reading Joan Reardon's M.F.K. Fisher among the pots and pans, a lovely and engrossing portrait of the prolific food essayist as seen through the kitchens of her various homes and rented apartments. From Michigan and California to France, Switzerland and Mexico, Fisher's varied and often unusual kitchens provided her with solace and a room of her own in times of extreme joy and unrelenting sorrow.  Recipes are included at the end of every chapter, each one more evocative and enticing than the next.

In chapter four, "At Le Paquis," Reardon does a wonderful job of linking Fisher's somewhat idyllic, if fraught, homespun country life in Switzerland (with husband Alfred and lover Dillwyn Parrish) with mouthwatering recipes featuring fresh vegetables from their own garden and the nearby market, such as Vevay Market Mushrooms and Petits Pois à la Française. After Dillwyn's slow and painful decline and death in chapter five, "At Bareacreas," Mary Frances is finally able to awaken her appetite with simple Mexican dishes cooked in her brother and sister's apartment in Chapala, Mexico.

So while the loose floorboards, John Montone, and a scrappy kitchen didn't stop me from cooking my favorite dishes in my former apartment, it's no match for the joy of cooking I experience in my current abode: a galley kitchen--big enough for several friends to help out--with ample storage, a full size fridge, and a small window that allows a light breeze to bring in the good smells and drown out all the bad.

Town of Tomorrow - Houses - In... Digital ID: 1684869. New York Public Library
(Town of Tomorrow, New York World's Fair Collection)


Knitting Out Loud said...

Thank you for calling my attention to this book. I adore MFK Fisher. What fun to visit her kitchens.

Something I read once referred to the "heart of the house". It is usually the kitchen, but fun to think about where the heart of your house is.

The Rowdy Chowgirl said...

I haven't read nearly enough MFK Fisher. This one is going on my library list!