April 27, 2015 Book SIG
Note: Book SIG Co-coordinators Mary Margaret Sinnema and Linda Carucci will be passing on the leadership torch to Pam Elder and Frankie Whitman, starting with the coordination of the next Book SIG meeting on Monday, July 20, locations TBA. If you would like to host a regional Book SIG meeting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The book selection for July will be announced soon on the SFPFS Facebook page.
On Monday evening, April 27, three groups of SFPFS members met concurrently in Oakland, Belmont, and San Francisco to discuss the vast writings of MFK Fisher. Each group was fortunate to welcome a special guest who had known Mary Frances, the prolific and prickly author who passed away at 83 at her home in Glen Ellen, CA in 1992.
Antonia Allegra was the guest presenter at Linda Carucci’s home in Oakland. Jeannette Ferrary, who wrote a book about her friendship with Mary Frances, opened her Belmont home to host the South Bay group. And retired editor of Sunset magazine Jerry DiVecchio discussed her longtime friendship with Mary Frances at the San Francisco gathering. With thanks to Dianne Jacob, Erica Peters, and Mary Margaret Sinnema, respectively, here are the reports of each gathering. For a poignant and insightful Youtube video of Mary Frances, click on the link in Erica’s report.
SFPFS Book SIG, East Bay
Report prepared by Dianne Jacob and Linda Carucci
Linda Carucci hosted the East Bay gathering of the Book SIG, featuring guest speaker Antonia (Toni) Allegra. Our members brought wine and dishes to share: Grilled sirloin steak with MFKF’s steak sauce (Pam Elder); Provencal chicken with farro pasta (Frankie Whitman, inspired by Fisher’s memoir about Provence); wine and chicharrones (Linda), the latter paying homage to a story by MFKF about the first cooked food consumed by humans in China. There was also chicken with rosemary and butter (Lili Rollins); two asparagus sides (Victoria Greene and Dianne Jacob); Potato Gratin Dauphinoise (Jolee Hoyt), fresh-picked salad with MFKF’s caper vinaigrette (Alison Negrin); strawberry-rhubarb tart (Suzy Farnworth); and almond shortbread (Jennie Schacht).
Antonia brought a bowl of clementines to pay tribute to the writing in Borderland from “Serve it Forth,” an evocative story that takes place in a Strasbourg hotel room during WWII, in which she describes her distinctive manner of savoring the glories of a simple tangerine. After painstakingly peeling the fruit, she’d place the segments on the radiator until their membranes dried out just so. And then, just before popping them into her—or her husband Al’s—mouth, she’d tuck them into a drift of snow outside the windowsill.
As we all feasted at a long dining room table, watching the sun go down and the fog roll in over San Francisco, we savored tangerines (sans radiator or snow) and had a lively discussion about MFKF’s books and rather prickly personality.
Toni said she met “Mary Frances” in the last five years of her life and often visited her in her home in Glen Ellen. Fisher died in 1992. Toni brought various books by the author, a sexy photograph of her by Man Ray (as well as a photo taken much later in her life), her walking stick, and a framed letter that Fisher had typed to her. Toni remembered Fisher as a strong personality and feminist, who wrote for a living and never thought of herself as a food writer. Fisher was born a good writer, Toni believes, and kept retelling her story in many memoirs. She was also capable of writing straight cookbooks, such as “The Cooking of France,” which she wrote for Time-Life Books. She decided to call herself by her initials instead of her first name because she wanted to be published in the New Yorker, and thought it would be easier if she was perceived to be a man. Her bookshelf contained many books by Elizabeth David, which may have accounted for her narrative recipe style. Several in our group felt rather uninspired after reading the simplistic recipes contained in the various Fisher works that we read.
Once installed in Glen Ellen, Fisher drank Glen Ellen White, the “local juice,” as she called it, often putting aside the fine wines brought by friends and guests who seemed to arrive frequently in a pilgrimage to her house. Among these were SIG participants Alison Negrin and Pam Elder. Fisher was very proud of her distinctive, art-filled bathroom, and sometimes took—or directed—her guests into it, where she enjoyed visiting with them. Both Toni and Pam noted that Fisher was remarkable for her ability to speak in fully formed paragraphs, in a matter-of-fact manner.
Toni read aloud the moving introduction in “Here Let us Feast: A Book of Banquets,” as well as passages from Borderland from “Serve it Forth.”
At the end of the discussion, participants suggested books to read for our next gathering which is scheduled to take place on Monday, July 20. Among the suggested books were:
– Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg
– The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jabar
– Best Food Writing of 2014
– Orange Blossoms & Rosewater (a Lebanese cookbook/memoir) by Maureen Abood
There was some consensus that even though our Book SIG does not read cookbooks as a general rule, after having delved into the canon of work—and the life—of MFK Fisher, it would be a welcome shift for our summertime gathering to read the newly released Abood cookbook and have each participant prepare a recipe from the book for our potluck discussion. Keep your eye on the SFPFS Facebook page to find out which book we’ll read next.
SFPFS Book SIG, South Bay
Report prepared by Erica Peters
We had a great discussion at this SIG gathering, thanks to our generous host and friend of MFK Fisher, Jeannette Ferrary. Our group was split between people who knew a lot about MFK Fisher and enjoyed sharing their favorite aspects of her writing, and other people who hadn’t known much about her before, and felt that they learned to appreciate her writing.
Early on one person ventured that Fisher seemed a bit of a curmudgeon, and Jeannette cheerfully agreed that the author could be quite irascible, especially towards anyone who treated her as “just a food writer” rather than a “real writer.” People then shared from what they had read, from The Gastronomical Me, Consider the Oyster, Serve it Forth, An Alphabet for Gourmets, the collection, A Stew or a Story, and her annotation of Brillat-Savarin, as well as the authors Joan Reardon, Luke Barr, and our own Jeannette Ferrary, writing about Fisher.
There was not much overlap in what we had chosen to read, but we all got a sense of her distinctive approach and how she used a sensual, earthy style to explore the quirky side of life and love. At many stages we stopped to read each other our favorite snippets of her writing, and then while we ate dinner, we watched an excerpt from an entrancing documentary called “M.F.K. Fisher: Writer With a Bite” — it’s available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2i2lGJsiow. Perhaps the highlight of our evening was when Jeannette quoted Fisher painting a vivid word-picture of an impossibly ghastly bouillabaisse tureen Fisher had somehow purchased in Provence one Christmas, and then we actually got to admire the tureen itself, a gift to Jeannette from Fisher’s family after the author’s death.
SFPFS Book SIG, San Francisco
Report prepared by Mary Margaret Sinnema
Gathered for the San Francisco location of the April Book Club SIG, were Jen Nurse, Chris Bonomo (host), Susan Patton-Fox, Lorraine Witte, Linda Anusasananan, Kathy Lassen-Hahne, Rene Matthew, Mary Margaret Sinnema and our esteemed guest Jerry Di Vecchio, friend of MFK Fisher’s.
In Chris’s beautiful home, we feasted and discussed the life of MFK Fisher and her writing. Much of our discussion was about her life and career – thanks to Jerry’s generosity of sharing several personal stories, which were so enlightening and encouraging to us all to read more of her work.
Some highlights of our discussion included the following:
• She was a writer of the senses, and included rich imagery which could put you right there in the moment.
• She was a complicated woman – competitive, flirtatious, acidic, quiet, intriguing, forthright and proper.
• She loved to misdirect in her writing.
• She was a beautiful woman.
• She was hard on herself as a writer, but was naturally gifted from the beginning.
• She had a difficult relationship with her mother and her daughter.
• She wrote to make a living, and if she were working today, would likely partake in blogging, because she was relevant and hard working.
We all enjoyed MFK Fisher’s humor and discussed her notions of a perfect dinner party, the ideal kitchen, and a good meal. We were impressed by the volume and breadth of her writing, and how today it sounds as contemporary as it did then. Interestingly, she was not an exceptional cook, but knew good food, and appreciated the simplicity of good food. A 1990 Bill Moyers interview with her was recommended, wherein “The celebrated essayist and memoirist speaks frankly about growing old, the aesthetics of eating, and living well.” (available on Amazon)
(photo of Jerry DiVecchio in 5/25 email from Mm re SF)
(photos from Linda of East Bay SIG, 5/26 email)