How To Cook A Wolf

January 28, 2012

This summer I read a book that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years, “How to Cook a Wolf” by M.F.K. Fisher. I have seven of Fisher’s books and haven’t read any of them. There are a lot of books on my shelf that I haven’t read, but why do I have so many by this author?

Mostly I’ve read magazine articles about Fisher. Her writing, classified as food literature, travel and memoir, are three of my favorite reading topics. She has written 27 books including a major translation, “The Physiology of Taste” by Brillat-Savarin. Most of her writing revolves around eating which she called “one of the arts of life.”

Choosing “How to Cook a Wolf” on that summer’s afternoon was a random choice. And what a delightful surprise it was. This book, written in 1942 was an amazing journey into the past. Fisher, born in 1908 lived through the ‘great depression’ as a young woman and by the age of 34, when she published this book some critics considered her to be one of the better prose writers in the United States.

This book doesn’t talk about cooking a wolf, but is a play on the saying ‘the wolf at the door’. The depression was over but the USA was in the middle of WWII. Everyone back then was rationing, scrimping and “making do” with whatever they could to help out in the war effort.

In this book Fisher deals with everything from the new bride learning to boil water during those meager times to comforting sorrow with food. She illuminates her chapters with wonderful stories of real life people. She tells tales of her grandmother, a woman who had always been frugal, and war or no war Fisher’s grandma always made do with whatever was at hand. Fisher takes the reader to meet a woman who gave occasional suppers with fare foraged from the local countryside.

She suggestions how to feed pets with a limited food supply. In the chapter titled ‘How to Be Cheerful Though Starving,’ she suggests “eating slowly: the food seems to be more plentiful, probably because it lasts longer.”

The book contains many recipes and helpful hints on making the skimpy meat ration stretch. She gives advice and information on preserving vegetables and fruits and even what to do with coffee grounds. She tells the reader “well steeped and dried coffee grounds make an excellent stuffing for pincushions. They are economical and keep the needles and pins from wasteful rust, and will not pack down.”

I put the book back on the shelf with a deeper and more profound understanding of that era. I was born a year after this book was published and remember stories my mother told of how she managed through those times. Dad was in the military service and she was left to fend for herself, still in her late teens with a new baby to take care of. She said she’d open a can of vegetable soup, feed me the vegetables and then when I had my fill she drank the broth. Until the day mom passed away she always preferred a light soup to a heavy stew. I suppose she just got into the habit and like Fisher’s grandmother continued to make do with what was at hand.

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3 Responses to How To Cook A Wolf

  1. thelma straw on January 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I enjoyed this piece. Fisher was a delightful writer – I went through a period when I read many of her books and loved to try experimenting with wonderful new recipes! My best tale on my cooking was when I was a little girl and lived in Burlington, N.C. Like most young kids I loved to make cookies. One day, I made a batch – and we waited and waited but they never did rise. They also smelled a bit odd – so we didn’t eat them. Later we discovered I’d used a can of flour in the pantry that was used to make wallpaper paste!!!
    Thelma Straw

  2. Petra Patitucci on February 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I will try to write something about your posting here, but please, forgive my poor English.
    I saw your buddy icon on Phil Vogler´s flickr stream and I clicked on it. Don´t ask me why.
    Well, I am not a writer or anything, but I love the way you describe everything, just like here, about Fisher´s book. It sounds beautiful and makes me want to read more.
    This, is delightful:
    “In this book Fisher deals with everything from the new bride learning to boil water during those meager times to comforting sorrow with food. She illuminates her chapters with wonderful stories of real life people. She tells tales of her grandmother, a woman who had always been frugal, and war or no war Fisher’s grandma always made do with whatever was at hand. Fisher takes the reader to meet a woman who gave occasional suppers with fare foraged from the local countryside.”
    Thank you!
    Petra

  3. Chloe C on July 7, 2013 at 2:49 am

    “How to be cheerful though starving.”
    That line is crying out to be some kind of a graphic.
    Thanks for sharing about this author!

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