Tag Archives: Dijon

Food and France: A Love Story in Books

Culture Travel Tuesday

by Jessica Voigts

Destination: France

Books: Several about food–read on.

Dessert Plate at Mariage Freres
Dessert Plate at Mariage Freres tea room, Paris

France. What’s the first thing you think of? If you’re anything like me, it’s all about the food. I dream of luscious cheeses, mouthwatering chocolates, special meals, and of course ANYTHING I can get at a boulangerie. Blame it on Molly Wizenberg, Alexander Lobrano, Patricia Wells, and David Lebovitz. Whenever I read books on food and France, the Proustian moment pops up (as expected). Continue reading Food and France: A Love Story in Books

M.F.K. Fisher, the Ultimate Foodie, in France

PAIN d´ÉPICE aux AMANDESFrance on Friday

Destination: France

Books: As They Were and Long Ago In France by M. F. K. Fisher

I could list many more books by Fisher above, but these two just happen to be on hand at the moment.

One summer a long time ago we were spending some lazy time on the beach in California and I wandered down a little street in some lovely seaside town and stumbled upon a wonderful book store. Not knowing then that I would be writing about it now, I did not bother to write down its name, but it was one of those wonderful multi-roomed cottages filled with a jumble of books and a pretty little garden of unruly zinnias and roses  in front and out back.

There I discovered a shelf of books about food and living in France and in California,  by a writer I had never heard of before. I bought two or three of the books for reading on the beach and Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher (1908-1992) became one of my favorite writers.  I love food. I love to prepare it, to eat it, and to read about it. So does Fisher, but her sense of food is so much more educated and refined than mine will ever be that I will never stop learning from her.

Not only that, but her writing is inspiring, as well.  As They Were  (1985) contains a collection of essays and articles that she published throughout her career, and she tied them together with introductions telling a bit about her life. I love them all, but one stands out. In, “I Was Really Very Hungry,” she is walking in northern Burgundy, and stops in mid day at the country restaurant of a famous chef, empty except for the serving woman. “…who was frighteningly fanatical about food, like a medieval woman possessed by the devil.”

Course after course comes out, lovingly described by the waitress as it is served, until

‘You may feel you have eaten too much.’ (the waitress said)  I nodded idiotic agreement. ‘But this pastry is like feathers…it is like snow. It is in fact good for you, a digestive! And why?’….’Because Monsieur Paul did not even open the flour bin until he saw you coming!'”

In all of her work, she draws characters with precise recall of dialogue and with sharp observation and apt metaphor. It helps to understand how she developed such skill  to read about her beginnings as an expert on food and writing.

In Long Ago In France: The Years In Dijon (1991), Fisher was young. It was 1929 and she was 21, newly married, and studying to be an artist. While her husband attended graduate school in Dijon, she went to art classes.  But always she kept a journal and she learned by observing and experimenting not only to speak French, but to appreciate wine and good food.

After a year in a boarding house, she and her husband moved into their own apartment. There she began to learn to cook and shop for food. “butter here, sausage there, bananas some place again, and rice and sugar and coffee in still other places.”

“We ate well, too.  It was the first real day-to-day meal-after-meal cooking I had ever done, and it was only a little less complicated than performing an appendectomy on a life raft…it was fun.”

She decided writing was effortless and fun compared to painting, and published her first book on food, Serve It Forth, in 1937. Besides the book on Dijon, she wrote about living in Province– Arles, Avignon, and Marseille both before and after  World War II. And if you are traveling on the coast of California, Fisher can paint pictures of that land for you as well.