My, how time flies. Remember this post? Probably not and that's okay. I am almost too embarrassed to mention it since I wrote it at the end of 2012. Maybe we could almost call it 2013 and then it wouldn't seem as though so much time has passed. I am always so full of plans, aren't I?
Since this year is supposed to be all about reading from my own shelves and this piles of lovely little Penguins happens to be sitting out and in my daily line of sight, I was thinking maybe it was time to revamp my plans to read through the Penguin Great Food series of books. What initially prompted it all was reading Agnes Jekyll's A Little Dinner Before the Play, which is a series of columns she wrote for The Times in the 1920s. I really liked it and knew I had to have the whole set, which I then set about acquiring. And they have been sitting, waiting and staring at me ever since.
They are slender little volumes, gorgeously designed--usually selections from larger, longer works, so just the perfect length for a taste--literally and figuratively. A taste of each author's writing and an (imagined) taste of various cuisines from different cultures and at different periods in history. All in all a perfect sampling of writing for a perfect little reading project.
It sounded good at the time and it still sounds pretty good now. I think my error was trying to put them in some sort of order and then read them in said order. I was stuck on the first book--just wasn't quite what I wanted at the moment and so it languished, was set aside and sort of forgotten. But I have decided to give it another go. This time, however, I will choose the books on whim and desire--who cares which order. And I have started with an author I hugely admire--M.F.K. Fisher.
I read and loved her Gastronomical Me. She is not only a most impressive author, but a woman of culture and panache. And while my own palate is pretty unstudied and unsophisticated, I can still love her writing and the things she writes about. I might not be tempted by all the dishes she writes about, but I certainly can appreciate how she writes about them. Maybe I will even read more of her work this year (because after I read her I had to have as much of her other writing as I could get my hands on . . . you know how that goes). But I am starting with the Penguin book, Love in a Dish and Other Pieces, which is a series of culinary essays.
I've read the first essay and am into the second. In it she writes about traveling by train with her uncle from California to Chicago in 1927. I think she must have surely been influenced a little by him. He was a seasoned train traveler and knew how to navigate the system, especially the dining car. When presented with the choice of dishes, she responds with an "I don't really care" and is gently castigated. He tells her she should never reply in such a manner since it is stupid, which she is not.
"It implies that the intentions of your host are basically wasted on you. So make up your mind, before you open your mouth. Let him believe, even if it is a lie, that you would infinitely prefer the exotic wild asparagus to the banal mushrooms, or vice versa. Let him feel that it matter to you . . . and even that he does!"
"'All this', my uncle added gently, 'may someday teach you about the art of seduction, as well as the more important art of knowing yourself'."
The other bit of wisdom from her uncle Evan--"The only test of a good breakfast place is its baked apple". I wonder if you can use that test still these days?!
Other books in the series (and in no particular order to be read):
**The Well Kept Kitchen by Gervase Markham
**The Joys of Excess by Samuel Pepys (based on Pepys' diaries)
**Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving by Hannah Glasse
**Recipes from the White Hart Inn by William Verrall
**The Pleasures of the Table by Brillat-Savarin
**The Elegant Economist by Eliza Acton
**The Chef at War by Alexis Soyer
**The Campaign for Domestic Happiness by Isabella Beeton
**From Absinthe to Zest by Alexandre Dumas
**Notes from Madras by Colonel Wyvern
**Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding by Dr. A.W. Chase
**A Dissertation Upon Roasting a Pig and Other Essays by Charles Lamb
**Exciting Food for Southern Types by Pellegrino Artusi
**A Little Dinner Before the Play by Agnes Jekyll
**Love in a Dish and Other Pieces by M.F.K. Fisher
**A Taste of the Sun by Elizabeth David
**Murder in the Kitchen by Alice B. Toklas
**A Middle Eastern Feast by Claudia Roden
**Eating with the Pilgrims and Other Pieces by Calvin Trillin (essays appearing mostly in The New Yorker)
**Recipes & Lessons from A Delicious Cooking Revolution by Alice Water