- Scott Phillips
Three authors wrote notable books on eating in lean times: MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Patience Gray. Fisher and David wrote during and just after the war, respectively. Gray wrote about places where food was scarce at certain times of the year. They all offer sage advice and write well.
MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf was published in 1942. She writes of the strictures of wartime on American diets and eating well when food was rationed. She speaks of, metaphorically, cooking the wolf that appears at our doors during lean times. Recipes, usable today,are included. Her wry humor is revealed in her chapter titles: "How to be cheerful though starving" and "How to have a sleek pelt" are two standouts. A fascinating look at doing without but still eating well.
Elizabeth David, bored with rationed foodstuffs in England years after the war, went to the continent to seek decent ingredients. David wrote down the recipes and techniques required to use these ingredients, unavailable to her at home . The recipes are the strength of her writing: concise and clear, they are straightforward and yield marvelous results. The library has several of her works.
After reading the other two authors,Patience Gray's unique memoir, Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, is a Zen smack. Welcome to Stone and Bronze Age food ways, where "the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons."
Gray came to write this book when she and her companion The Sculptor (Norman Mommens), seeking marble, lived in the places of the title. Because they lived with not amongst Tuscans, Catalonians, etc., they showed her what was available to eat in their rough countryside. These people read landscapes, not books. They showed Gray the good weeds, mushrooms, and shellfish, mostly. She was, after all, still an outsider. Gray includes many recipes amongst her flinty prose. There is even a recipe for fox. Pig ("winter saviour of mankind") recipes abound, and, being the countryside, 'everything but the squeal' is used. Gray recognized how 'doing without' increases the value of what one has; it is the basic idea of this unique book.