She was one of the most accomplished American essay writers of the twentieth century. We are not talking restaurant reviews or recipes: her delightful books are a mix of travel, memoirs, and meals.
I recently read The Gastronomical Me, published in 1943. This collection of autobiographical essays begins in 1912 with her first conscious culinary experience: at the age of four she delighted in “the grayish pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam.” She writes humorously about learning to cook: her sister politely tries to eat “Hindu Eggs,” but the curry sauce is so hot that tears run down her face after a few spoonfuls. As a college freshman in Illinois in 1927, Fisher devours dorm food, but is especially fond of TheCoffee and WaffleShop, where she and her cousin Nan devour four waffles or a five-course meal for 40 cents after exams. She describes delicious meals in France, Germany, and Switzerland in the 1930s, two marriages and bizarre kitchen arrangements in European apartments, the gourmet cooking of impecunious landladies who haggle over almost-spoiled food at the market, learning how to eat alone on several ship voyages, the beginning of the war, and widowhood. The book ends in Mexico in 1941, with the story of a transgender mariachi singer who has fallen in love with her married brother, who exults in his power over Juanito. Even the delicious enchiladas with delicate herbs cannot make up for the desolation she witnesses.
But I especially like Fisher on potato chips. She and her first husband Al ate their first European potato chips in Strasbourg. Her description of the chips is tantalizing.
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 a dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that come out of wax packages 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 orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.
And here is a link to a recipe in The New York Times for” MFK Fisher’s potato chips,” devised by Craig Claiborne.I have not yet tried it, but maybe this weekend!