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!

Women’s History Month Profile, Part 6: Lily Haxworth Wallace

Our second profile for Women’s History Month is Lily Haxworth Wallace. Unfortunately, biographical information on Wallace is limited. (A bit surprising, considering both how prolific she was and her connection to at least one major company, but some people remain a mystery!) We know she was born in England and that she trained at the National Training School of Cookery in London, before moving to the United States around 1900. She quickly became connected to the Rumford Company and over the course of her career, authored, edited, and compiled pamphlets and cookbooks sponsored by and featuring Rumford products, as well as a number of general cookbooks.

We have nearly 30 of her publications in our collection here at Virginia Tech, published between 1908 and 1950. Along with the many editions of The Rumford Cook BookThe Rumford Complete Cook Book, and The Revised Rumford Cook Book, we also have:

  • The Modern Cook Book and Household Recipes, 1912, edited and revised by Wallace
  • Rumford Home Recipes, 1913 with Fannie Farmer and Mildred Maddocks
  • Recipes for Biscuits, Muffins, Rolls, etc., between 1920 and 1940
  • Rumford Fruit Recipes, 1927
  • Rumford Common Sense Cook Book, c.1930s
  • The Women’s World Cook Book, c.1931
  • The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book, c.1943
  • The American Family Cook Book, 1950
  • Our Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-022) also contains a number of items by Wallace relating to the Rumford Company

Five editions of The Rumford Cook Book (1908, 1918, 1925, 1926, and 1927) are available online through Virginia Tech. You can find other editions of Wallace’s books and pamphlets online through a variety of resources, too. As you can see from some of our examples above, some of them contain wonderful full color covers and illustrations. Wallace successfully aligned herself with a company in a way that both helped her make a name for herself, while not allowing it to limit her to publishing certain kinds of books and recipes.

Women’s History Month Profiles, Part 2: Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915)

Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Massachusetts in 1857. After suffering a stroke at the age of 16, she took up cooking during her recovery in her parents’ home. In 1887, she began studying at the Boston Cooking School. She studied there until 1889, then worked as the assistant director and later, the principal after 1891. In 1902, she left the Boston Cooking School and opened her own institution, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. Over the course of her professional career as educator, lecturer, and author, she wrote six books (which appeared in multiple editions) and edited or contributed to many more. Her lectures were published in newspapers around the country and she taught nurses, dietitians, and students at Harvard Medical School. 

The slide show below includes scans and images from copies of Farmer’s publications in Special Collections. These include a modern reprint of her 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (which went through more than 30 editions), Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (first published in 1904 and represented here by a 1911 edition), a first edition of What to Have for Dinner: Containing Menus with Recipes for their Preparation, a meal planning calendar for 1916, a children’s cookbook derived from Farmer’s work, and a product pamphlet she helped create. 

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We have more than 15 of Fannie Farmer’s publications in the Special Collections, many of them editions of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which is still reproduced today. You can see a list here. The University Libraries circulating collection contains another 11 eleven titles, including some electronic editions. A list of those titles is available here.

Next week, we’ll feature a pair of authors (mother and daughter) who wrote recipes, household management guides for housewives, books for servants, cookbooks for a budget, a guide for a “new” kitchen technology, and even a little bit of literature!

Until then, remember two of Miss Farmer’s useful lessons: Keep your measurements level and “Food is cooked to develop new flavors, and make it more palatable and digestible.” Be creative and find some new flavors!