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M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans: Celebrating Her Kitchens

Joan Reardon
Foreword by Amanda Hesser
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans
    Book Description:

    From her very first book,Serve It Forth,M.F.K. Fisher wrote about her ideal kitchen. In her subsequent publications, she revisited the many kitchens she had known and the foods she savored in them to express her ideas about the art of eating.M.F.K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans,interspersed with recipes and richly illustrated with original watercolors, is a retrospective of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher's life as it unfolded in those homey settings-from Fisher's childhood in Whittier, California, to the kitchens of Dijon, where she developed her taste for French foods and wines; from the idyllic kitchen at Le Paquis to the isolation of her home in Hemet, California; and finally to her last days in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. M.F.K. Fisher was a solitary cook who interpreted the scenario of a meal in her own way, andM.F.K. Fisher among the Pots and Pansprovides a deeply personal glimpse of a woman who continues to mystify even as she commands our attention.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93477-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Amanda Hesser

    Of all the lush food descriptions in M.F.K. Fisher’s writing, the one that remains most vivid in my mind is that of the tangerines that Fisher once roasted on her radiator and then chilled on the windowsill in her pension in Strasbourg.

    “Peel them gently,” she instructed.

    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...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    M.F.K. Fisher liked holidays, anniversaries, and, especially, birthdays. She frequently celebrated her own birthday from July 3 through July 14, Bastille Day, the day her grandmother and namesake had been born. During her childhood and school years, a special cake, menu, or event usually marked her actual birthday, the third of July. Traditional Independence Day fireworks followed the day after, and she liked to think of them as another special gift. As an adult, Mary Frances received imaginative birthday presents from her three husbands—a sonnet from Al, a painting from Dillwyn, an antique pin from Donald—and thoughtful gifts...

  5. I Whittier and Laguna Beach, 1908–1922
    (pp. 9-32)

    Born in Albion, Michigan, on July 3, 1908, Mary Frances Kennedy was nurtured on the collective wisdom ofThe Settlement Cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, The Miriam Cookbook, and the “tried and true” recipes gathered and handed down to Edith Holbrook Kennedy by her mother. The transition from liquids to solids, cereals to fruit and vegetable purees, eggs to patties was well charted in those new-to-nutrition days and no doubt initiated the first stages of Mary Frances’s developing palate. Of course, it is impossible to know what Edith served to her dynamic husband, Rex, when they took up housekeeping in...

  6. II At Boarding School, 1923–1928
    (pp. 33-41)

    Attending schools away from Whittier provided more important opportunities for Mary Frances to develop an unprejudiced palate and an appreciation of the complexities involved in assuaging human hunger. As a boarder for a year at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, she found the dining room to be a continual source of wonderment. There, a corps of young Filipino waiters served the giggly girls, offering them savory soups and presenting dishes ornamented with carved radishes, sculpted carrots, and intricately cut celery sticks. What Mary Frances and her fellow students devoured in the private school, whose purpose she always said was...

  7. III From Dijon to Eagle Rock, 1929–1936
    (pp. 42-63)

    Married, almost twenty-one, and an émigrée from a small California town, Mary Frances, now Madame Fisher, came of age in France, where she discovered the differences between the ever-changing American palate and the French palate, which had been cultivated by tradition and the glories of Burgundy’s wine. Her first introduction to French food occurred on the boat train from Cherbourg to Paris, and Mary Frances often spoke of it as her “most memorable meal.” A porter served crusty bread, a salad of just-picked tiny lettuces, Petits Suisses cheese, robust apples, country red wine, and strong bitter coffee. “I picked up...

  8. IV At Le Paquis, 1936–1939
    (pp. 64-76)

    Prior to the Fishers’ arrival in Vevey, Switzerland, Dillwyn had rented an apartment on the town square to accommodate the three of them until they could take up residence at Le Paquis the following year. For Al, the time living on the shores of Lake Geneva was a reminder of his earlier years abroad, and Mary Frances quickly got caught up in the excitement of the project to create an ideal place where she and Al could write, and where Dillwyn could paint. They purchased necessities—a car, kitchen utensils, foodstuffs, and wine—enjoyed the town’s cafés and markets, ate...

  9. V At Bareacres, 1939–1949
    (pp. 77-98)

    Two buildings dominated the untillable hillside that Mary Frances and Dillwyn called Bareacres—a pine-board cabin that had once been owned by an outlaw Indian trader and a traditional Navaho adobe built for the woman who had followed him to Hemet Valley. When Dillwyn and Mary Frances purchased the property, both buildings were stripped and empty. No trace remained of the “squaw man” or Navaho woman except a bullet hole in the south window of the main house that was a reminder that he had been murdered, but their sad legend lived on in the valley.

    Located a thousand feet...

  10. VI California and Provence, 1949–1961
    (pp. 99-123)

    After moving the children with their toys and pets into the Ranch in November 1949, Mary Frances tried to attend to the house, which had been neglected during Edith’s prolonged illness the last few years. She spruced up the interior by painting and wallpapering, sewing new curtains, making a playroom for her daughters in the master bedroom, and creating an office in her bedroom. She made some necessary changes in the kitchen by installing a children’s table so Kennedy and Anne could gather there while she cooked. She also made an effort to prepare Rex’s favorite dishes and invite his...

  11. VII In St. Helena, 1961–1970
    (pp. 124-135)

    In July 1961, Mary Frances, Anne, and Kennedy left Aix-en-Provence for the short trip to Marseille and the longer journey to San Francisco and St. Helena. The summer was more than half over, and planning for the next phase of her daughters’ education was uppermost in Mary Frances’s mind. While in Aix, Anne had contacted Donald Friede to request information about acting schools in New York, and he had made preliminary arrangements for classes and housing for her. With two more years of high school to complete, Kennedy was destined to remain at home with her mother and attend the...

  12. VIII Last House, 1971–1980
    (pp. 136-150)

    When her friend David Bouverie offered to build Mary Frances a house on his ranch, which was two miles from Glen Ellen in the Valley of the Moon, she felt uneasy about giving up the house on Oak Avenue with its nine beds, spacious kitchen, and good neighbors, but the beauty, security, and privacy provided by five hundred acres of meadows, streams, and foothills were tempting. And she did look forward to the wonderful blend of solitude and camaraderie she expected to find at the Bouverie Ranch. In her letters to her family she described the prospect of living in...

  13. IX The Lodestar, 1981–1992
    (pp. 151-162)

    The reprinting of Mary Frances’s earlier books, which North Point Press undertook in 1981, greatly expanded her readership beyond the loyal cult of devotees who had followed her every word. And Alfred P. Knopf published two new books,As They Werein 1982 andSister Agein 1983, that collected pieces that had been written over the previous thirty years. Reviewers and food journalists began to describe her as “the doyenne of modern gastronomic writing” or a “living national treasure,” and they never failed to quote W. H. Auden, who called Mary Frances the “best prose writer in America.” Editors...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 163-168)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-170)