A Little Dinner Before The Play

As someone who doesn’t eat meat and doesn’t spend a lot of time preparing elaborate meals, I still found this slim volume of chatter plus recipes engaging reading. It reminded me tremendously of M.F.K. Fisher’s work, lyrical writing describing mouth-watering meals to someone who will never make them (nor care to eat all those beef-chicken-egg-veal-laden dishes). These kitchen essays were first published in a collected volume in 1922.

There’s lots of odd mixtures, something that foodies with a historical bent will slurp up gratefully. She suggests mixing salad with whipped cream, for example. There’s also some fairly Herculean effort required, which is all smoothed over by her silky words making it seem so easy! “Clarify 1 lb. butter. When cold beat to a cream, ad 12 oz. sugar, 1 lb. potato flour (sieved), 4 whole eggs and the yolks of 2, the zest of 1 lemon. Beat the whole mass for 1 hour, when it should form bubbles.” Right. An hour of beating something by hand. These were the days when electric appliances were absent from the kitchen.

I did find the only vegan recipe in the book, which gave me some ideas. Her potato salad boils waxy potatoes in their skins, then peeled while warm, cut thickly, and pour 1 TB vinegar with 2 TB stock gradually over the potatoes so they can absorb it. Then add oil, salt, pepper, and a small finely-chopped onion, let stand for an hour.

A sample morsel of her engaging prose:

Breakfast is the most difficult meal of the day, whether from its social or its culinary aspect. Many of us feel like that man who, meeting a bore, said, ‘If you have got anything to say to me I wish you would kindly say it to somebody else.’ Our reluctant consciousness, but newly returned from a dream world, shrinks from all but the gentlest contacts. ‘Praise me not to much,’ as Odysseus said to Diomed, ‘neither find fault with me at all,’ and the greetings of melancholics and dissatisfied individuals can, like the cry of the curlew in Miss Barlow’s Irish idyll, set our whole mental landscape into a minor key for the rest of the day.