This passage may contain everything I loved about M.F.K. Fishers memoir, The Gastronomical Me.
The first time, on our way to Germany, we had sat downstairs while our meal was being made. There were big soft leather chairs, and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thing uniformly golden ones that come out of waxed bags here at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.
They were so good that I ate them with the kind of slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I drank two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.
She’s travelling to Germany in the 1930’s. She’s managed special seating while she waits for her table, what sounds like very cozy, comfortable seating, something an insider would know how to get. She has a remarkable ability to enjoy food and to remember just how she enjoyed it, even an ordinary food, something “better” people would scoff at. I’m reminded of how Julia Child once praised McDonald’s french fries before they stopped cooking them in beef tallow. She enjoys her chips with too much port wine, not caring if she shares the experience with others or not.
I understand. I wish I was there. Imagine eating “casually” salted potato chips when potato chips were a new experience.
The Gastronomical Me covers roughly the first half of M.F.K. Fisher’s life, from late childhood in the nineteen teens to midlife just before the second world war. Ms. Fisher grew up in Southern California at a time when the drive from Los Angeles to San Diego took all day and required packing a wonderful picnic lunch which she and her family enjoyed on the side of the road while her father tried to repair their car.
Her memoir is about her life and the lives of the people she meets, family, friends, lovers and lots of waiters. Waiters are better than people, a friend of hers remarks. There are emotional payoffs from reading The Gastronomical Me. No one who lived in Europe throughout the 1930’s wrote a memoir without “emotional payoffs” but the main pleasure from reading The Gastronomical Me is the food. Not just the food but the experience of eating the food.
The food is terrific, I just may try frying up some potato chips “in real butter” this weekend and I’ve plenty of port wine down in the basement to go with it, but Ms. Fisher understands that the experience around the food counts nearly as much as the food itself does, at least in the telling. Would we enjoy the chips and port wine if we weren’t sitting in a comfortable leather chair downstairs waiting for our table?
The setting, the circumstances, the company, the service, the food. Ms. Fisher sees her life this way; each part of the experience together make up the memory, the memoir.
I’m clearly gushing over this book. I loved it. I want more. Thankfully, M.F.K. Fisher left behind a large body of work, writing about life and about food.
It’s been delicious so far.