As part of my research for my book, The Secret Chef, I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the various palazzos of Rome. I want to understand everything I can about...
Or at least that's what she says about herself. "I don't think I'm a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life." And yet her view on life was very much driven by taste and pleasure and food:
It was then that I discovered little dried sections of tangerine. My pleasure in them is subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable. I can only write how they are prepared.
In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al...
...After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but -
On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready...
...The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.
There must be someone, though, who understands what I mean. Probably everyone does, because of his own secret eatings.
M.F.K. Fisher is one of my writing heroes. I think she's the number one influence on my decision to write my novels about chefs. Food is such a universal topic, it is sustenance, it is conviviality, it is even power.
I came across this video interview of the famous writer, which contains a zillion little soundbites from M.F.K. Fisher, not just on food but also about writing and publishing. I love when she talks about how she goes to London to meet her new publishers and they were shocked to find out she was a woman. Her publisher hated her because of it. She tells a wonderful story about how she refuses to let him sit next to her on a train. Her advice on writing in this interview is truly wonderful.
I think I need to re-read The Art of Eating again soon. When I'm writing my novels I don't want to read too much fiction that is set in those timeframes because I don't want to be unduly influenced, but M.F.K.'s writing is the perfect accompaniment to my stories. Her descriptions of flavor, taste, and the nuances of food are unparalleled.