How to Cook a Wolf quotes

It’s never happened to me before that a book about food makes me laugh out loud, but it happened to me, more than once, reading MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. I found this book on the Guardian’s list of "100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time" and borrowed it from the library on account of its title. As an extra layer of entertainment, the author has gone back on the version originally published in 1944 and made comments in parenthesis and brackets about what she wrote, agreeing sometimes, or disagreeing other times. Here is a collection of quotes about;

Obvious things:
And any kitchen-idiot would know enough to core the apples. (p 21)

Soup:
The natural progression from boiling water to boiling water with something in it can hardly be avoided, and in most cases is heartily to be wished for. As a steady diet, plain water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot or two and maybe a bit of meager bone on feast-days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavour of the hot liquid.
Soup, in other words, is good. (p 28)

Strange soup customs:
A great deal of misinformation has been quoted for several centuries about the delicious soup that sits for years at the back of every good French stove. It is supposed to be like old-fashioned yeast, always renewing itself and yet always stemming from the original “starter”, so that a chicken bone thrown in last Easter may long since have disappeared but will still lend its aromatic aura to the present brew.
I do not like this fiction, and prefer not to believe it. I think soup-pots should be made fresh now and then, like people’s minds at the New Year. They should be emptied and scrubbed and started over again, with clean water, a few peppercorns, whatever little scraps are left from yesterday, and then today’s bones and lettuce leaves and cold toast and such. Set at the back of the stove and left to summer, with an occasional stir from the cook, they can make a fine clear stock for sauces as well as a heartening broth. (p 30)

The best soup:
Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in any kind of business huggermuggery, is minestrone. (p 38)

The proliferation of mediocre cookbooks:
Its inevitable progress from a pot with a watery bone in it to potage à la Reine and Crème Vichyssoise is for anyone to read in forty thousand cookbooks, most of them bad. [By now there must be fifty thousand, most of them still bad, or at least dull. It is safe to wager that in the past eight years not more than eight really important cookbooks have been published in America… and that, of those, not more than one is essential. (At first I wrote: “Not one.”)] (p 29)

About consulting other cookbooks:
I can make amazingly bad fried eggs, and in spite of what people tell me about this method and that, I continue to make amazingly bad fried eggs: tough, with edges like some kind of dirty starched lace, and a taste part sulphur and part singed newspaper. The best way to find a trustworthy method, I think, is to ask almost anyone but me. Or look in a cookbook. Or experiment. (p 57)

I suggest that anyone who acknowledges the value of good cookery in a life deliberately full of love, happiness and health (that is, anyone who cares about human dignity!) read several other books and from them and this one and most of all from himself produce his own decision. (p 124)

Animal parts:
One way to horrify at least eight out of ten Anglo-Saxons is to suggest their eating anything but the actual red fibrous meat of a beast. A heart or a kidney or even a sweetbread is anathema. It is too bad, since there are so many nutritious and entertaining ways to prepare the various livers and lights. They can become gastronomic pleasures instead of dogged voodoo, so that when you eat a stuffed baked bull’s heart, or a grilled lamb’s brain or a “mountain oyster,” you  need not choke them down with the nauseated resolve to be braver or wiser or more potent, but with plain delight. [I believe this more firmly than ever, but am years wearier in my fight: Now, when I want to eat what English butchers call “offal,” I wait until everyone has gone to the Mid-South Peoria Muezzins’ Jamboree and Ham-bake, and then make myself a dainty dish.] (p 101)

Why is it worse, in the end, to see an animal’s head cooked and prepared for out pleasure than a thigh or a tail or a rib? If we are going to live on other inhabitants of this world we must not bind ourselves with illogical prejudices, but savor to the fullest the beasts we have killed.
People who feel that a lamb’s cheek is gross and vulgar when a chop is not are like the medieval philosophers who argued about such hairsplitting problems as how many angels could dance on the point of a pin. If you have these prejudices, ask yourself if they are not built on what you may have been taught when you were young and unthinking, and then if you can, teach yourself to enjoy some of the parts of an animal that are not commonly prepared. (p 103)

Appreciating meat:
But for all of us, no matter what our tastes, life would be simpler and the wolf would howl less loudly if we could adjust our minds to admit, even if we never quite believed it, that a tender sizzling rare grilled tenderloin was a luxury instead of a necessity. (p 110)

Food memories:
War cake can be made in muffin-tins, and baked more quickly, but in a loaf it stays fresh longer. It is very good with a glass of milk, I remember. (I am sure that I could live happily forever without tasting it again. There are many things like that: you recall with astonishment and a kind of admiration some of the things eaten with sensual delight at eight or eighteen, that would be a gastronomical auto da fé for you at twenty-eight, or fifty. But that does not mean that you were wrong so long ago. War Cake says nothing to me now, but I know that it is an honest cake, and one loved by hungry children. And I’m not ashamed of having loved it… merely a little puzzled, and thankful that I am no longer eight.) (p 155)

Unpleasant kitchen smells:
Indeed, it can be said that fumes linger, period. They lurk in cupboards. They drift subtly through closed doors, not matter what cunning draft you may enforce, at risk of double pneumonia, through the kitchenette. They hang in the curtains, and fall out at you two nights later like overripe shreds of dead ghost.
There is not much to do about it; you either like fried onion or hot cabbage salad enough to endure them, or you eat lettuce or green peas instead. (p 172)

Miscellany

  • I’m a stay at home mom for the moment, and in this condition some things ring especially true. The beginning of Heidi Julavits The Folded Clock for one.

“Once, a day was long. It was bright and then it wasn’t, meals happened, and school happened, and sports practice, maybe, happened, and two days from this day there would be a test, or an English paper would be due, or there would be a party for which I’d been waiting, it would seem, for years. Days were ages. Love bloomed and died in a day. Rages flared and were forgotten and replaced by new rages, also forgotten. Within a day there were discernable hours, and clocks with hands that ticked out each new minute. I would think, Will this day never end? By nightfall, I’d feel like a war had been fought. I was wounded; sleep was not enough to heal me. Days would linger in my nerves, aftershocks registered on the electrical plain. Days made a physical impact. Days could hurt.”

  • I bought Deb Perelman’s latest cookbook. I have re-read this paragraph from the introduction numerous times, awed by her ability to capture what cooking can mean:

“I like the way that when you make something new and awesome, the first thing you want to do is tell another friend about it so they can make it, too. I like the way following a recipe to the letter can feel like handing the reins over after a long day of having to make all the decisions, but also that pulling off a good meal when you least expected is the fastest way to feel triumphant, even if your day left you short of opportunities to. I like the way that when you sublimate your wanderlust in a dish – a cacio e pepe addiction you picked up in Rome or a Thai-ish salad with crispy shallots, lime, and fish sauce – it becomes a gateway, or an escape hatch, to so much more than dinner. I like the way that when you cook at home, you don’t actually have to compromise a thing; you get to make exactly what you want, exactly the way you want it, and then you get to invite all your favorite people over to pass the dish around. I like the way a great meal makes grouchy people ungrouchy or turns a thankless day filled with thankless stuff into a hilarious one.”

  • Recently I’ve been puzzling over why some people don’t enjoy self-help subjects as much as I do. A friend helped me understand that self-knowledge can be painful. In an episode of Hidden Brain, the podcast host Shankar Vedantam, highlights and explains one experiment’s conclusion:

“Think of the deep irony (…); the folks who care the most about ethics might be most willing to turn a blind eye to unethical business practices because they know, if they found out about those practices, they would feel obliged to do something about it.” (This is 19 minutes into the podcast.)

So, say a person is raised with a strong moral code. Self-knowledge might be painful because of a preference for ambivalence.

“Clarity” writes Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before, “requires us to acknowledge what we’re doing.”

Or, it might be painful because we cling to an identity. When the author gave up a habit she had of not owning a purse,

“being ‘the kind of woman who doesn’t own a purse’” the relinquishing “caused me a pang, even though it was such a tiny part of my identity.”

Understanding ourselves can also be painful because it forces us to confront our feelings of wanting to fit in by noticing how we are different. If a person has fragile self-esteem, this can be especially hard.

(About this, Gretchen Rubin writes, “surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found that the more matter-of-fact I am about my habits, the more readily people accept them – and me.”)

However, avoiding self-knowledge can lead to self-deception. If I can recognize how it can be painful, I can learn to see the ways in which I deceive myself and I can be more understanding of myself and of others. In this respect, I appreciated this School of Life video.