Thursday, July 28, 2016

On the Coffee Table: The Gastronomical Me

Title: The Gastronomical Me
Author: M.F.K. Fisher
via Goodreads
The Gastronomical Me is the fourth book of five in Fisher's The Art of Eating collection.  My reviews of the first three books are here, here and here.  This installment is pure memoir, a summary of her life to that point (1943, age 35): her childhood in California, a brief college stint in Illinois, European adventures with two separate husbands and a stay in Mexico after the second one died.  Always, the memories are punctuated by food.

As discussed in my previous posts on her work, Fisher writes of eating and preparing food as a sensuous, spiritual endeavor.  Experiences like eating her first oyster or learning how to cook in each new kitchen are not incidental.  They matter, deeply.  In reading her work, I am always reminded of my own comparable experiences.  This time, it was my daughter's first ice cream.  Her favorite is vanilla, which always seemed like a dull choice in my pre-parenting life.  But I know why vanilla is her love.  The first taste of ice cream she ever had was her mother's homemade vanilla.  If you, dear reader, have never had homemade vanilla ice cream, you've never truly eaten ice cream at all.  I completely understand why she would want to return to the magic of the original experience.  Fisher's writing contains stories such as this in nearly every paragraph.

Several of the chapters recount sea voyages made in moving back and forth between Europe and the States.  Ocean liners don't feature in intercontinental travel so prominently these days but it was a meaningful part of the adventure for Fisher, one trip on an Italian freighter lasting several months.  She also wrote about the difficulties of traveling alone as a woman.  She enjoyed it but generally found that others, particularly men, didn't know quite how to deal with her.  She developed an I-don't-require-your-company attitude that mostly kept them off her case.

We don't get all of the juicy details of her life, rather a shame considering how forthcoming she is about the gastronomical ones.  We get no dirt on the divorce from her first husband, nor the most gruesome details from the death of her second.  In fact, she doesn't even refer to the second by his real name, Dillwyn Parrish.  She calls him Chexbres, a Swiss name in honor of the life they shared in Switzerland.  But in both cases, she manages to convey the emotional journey, particularly the pain of loss.

Fisher continues to delight me.  I have one more to go in the collection: An Alphabet for Gourmets.  I'm looking forward to it.


  1. The old transatlantic passages featured great food because the chefs could get the best food available at each port and then plan accordingly (this is from a book about transatlantic passage).

    1. And then there was a captain's dinner, a huge feast planned for near the end of the voyage.

      The Italian freighter was an interesting case. Mussolini had decreed that Italian ships could only carry Italian goods so the food had to fully stocked and meals carefully planned from the outset.

  2. Very interesting, I've never heard of the author, but an odd book like that would appeal to me. Food is tied to our memories, as are smells of different things. I would have like to have been on one of those transatlantic voyages (cept for the Titanic or the Lusitania)...