June 23, 2008

The late M.F.K. Fisher, godmother of modern American food writing, was born 100 years ago next month. Mark the centennial by reaching into your bookshelves, dusting off one of the old classics—maybe How to Cook a Wolf or An Alphabet for Gourmets—and rereading favorite passages to remind yourself of why she still matters.

Fisher wrote about food, even dishes she absolutely loved, in straightforward, unsentimental prose. She celebrated the pure pleasure of eating well without gushing or waxing poetic. While she’s not my favorite food writer, she embodies all that I value in the genre. I advise the freelance writers I work with at Cooking Light to turn in pieces that are informative and entertaining (ideally in that order). But above all, I want stories that make readers hungry. If a reader is familiar with the food in the story, she should crave it. If it’s new to her, she should become motivated (obsessed, really) enough to buy the ingredients and give it a whirl. Fisher’s writing amply meets all of these criteria.

I reread Consider the Oyster this weekend. It whetted my appetite for a plate of juicy oysters on the half shell. Even better, her “R is for Oyster” chapter fully agrees with me that avoiding oysters in months that don’t contain the letter R is for worry warts and oyster farmers who have an (understandable) interest in keeping breeding patterns undisturbed. And so I bought a dozen Beau Soleil bivalves plucked from the brisk, briny waters of New Brunswick, Canada. I like them with a squeeze of lemon and exactly one (1) drop of Tabasco on each. Fisher, a purist, would slap me for this adulteration. Which would be an honor.

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