Women’s History Month, Part 12: M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992). Photograph from book jacket of Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)
M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992). Photograph from book jacket of Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)

This week, we’re circling back to an influential woman of the 20th century: M. F. K. (that’s Mary Frances Kennedy, all spelled out) Fisher. Fisher was born in Michigan in 1908, but grew up in California. Although she would return there to live several times over the course of her life, it was France that seemed to influence her most. Between 1928 and 1932, she and her first husband lived in Dijon. From 1936 to 1939, she lived in Vevey and Bern, Switzerland. For a short year in 1954-1955, she took her two daughters to live in Aix, France, before returning to California. Her final lengthy time living abroad was between 1959 and 1961, again in Switzerland and France, though she would take additional trips to France in the 1970s. She designed and built a house in Glen Ellen, California, in 1971. She named it “Last House,” and it did become her last permanent resident, until the time of her death in 1992.

Fisher had a prolific writing career that included a large number of books, essays, and reviews related to food and food history. During the 1940s alone, she completed six books that blended history, food, and food culture designed for a wide audience. (Her personality and wit jump off of many pages!) However, food wasn’t her only genre. She wrote autobiographical works, novels, and essays, too. Between 1942 and 1944, she was even a writer for Paramount Studios!

We are happy to have five of her books among our collection. One of the things I adore are her book covers. They range from simple drawings to collages of image, but they are always something eye-catching and intriguing.

Bibliography (Titles in bold are among our holdings at Special Collections):

  • Serve it Forth (1937)
  • “The Flaw” (1939) (essay)
  • Consider the Oyster (1941)
  • How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
  • The Gastronomical Me (1943)
  • Here Let Us Feast: A Book of Banquets (1946)
  • Not Now But Now (1947)
  • An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Transcendal Gastronomy (1949) (Fisher translated this new edition)
  • The Art of Eating (1954) (includes the text of Serve It Forth, Consider The Oyster, How To Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets)
  • A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man & Beast (1961)
  • The Story of Wine in California (1962)
  • Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)
  • The Cooking of Provincial France (1968)
  • With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)
  • Among Friends (1970)
  • A Considerable Town (1978)
  • Not a Station but a Place (1979)
  • As They Were (1982)
  • Two Towns in Provence (1983)
  • Sister Age (1984)
  • Spirits of the Valley (1985)
  • The Standing and the Waiting (1985)
  • Fine Preserving: M. F. K. Fisher’s Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann’s Cookbook (1986)
  • Dubious Honors (1988)
  • Answer in the Affirmative & The Oldest Living Man (1989)
  • The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990)
  • Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)
  • To Begin Again: Stories and Memories, 1908-1929 (1992)
  • Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories, 1933-1941 (1993)
  • Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations, 1943-1991 (1995)
  • From the Journals of M. F. K. Fisher (1999)
  • A Stew or a Story: An Assortment of Short Works by M. F. K. Fisher (2006)

A few titles about Fisher:

  • Conversations with M. F. K. Fisher (1992)
  • A Welcoming Life: The M. F. K. Fisher Scrapbook (1997)
  • A Life in Letters: Correspondence, 1929-1991 (1998)
  • Measure of Her Powers : An M. F. K. Fisher Reader (1999)

The majority of these titles came from a wonderful bibliography of Fisher that is available online. In some cases, it includes brief descriptions of titles. The M. F. K. Fisher Foundation website also include tributes and biographical information–it’s worth a look!

I hope you have enjoyed reading our third year of Women’s History Month profiles as much as I have enjoyed writing them. But, of course, every week is an excuse for me to learn new tidbits from culinary history and to share stories with our audience! We’ll be back next week, perhaps with a little less seriousness and a little more frivolity. Until then, eat well!

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