04 December 2009

Fisher and Chickpeas

I was taught at an early age that one should never ever write in books, or dog-ear their pages. In college, I wrote in books of necessity, especially for English classes. But after I stopped reading for a grade, I stopped writing in books again.

Until recently.

I don’t like to write on the pages, because it’s too hard to get back to what piqued my interest unless I also dog-ear the page, and that I just can’t do. Instead, I write on the back end papers, and include the page number. My notes are decidedly cryptic, like the following from the back of the M.F.K. Fisher anthology that I just finished:

p. 203 Railroad (sat upon sandwich)
p. 213 Matzoh
223 Tomato Soup
229 Regional
298 “In Nice, Snacking in the Flower Market”
311 Sugar shaker “little star-shaped holes”

A Stew or a Story is a mish mosh of short pieces that Fisher did for various magazines. It was compiled a couple of years ago, not by her, some fifteen years after her death. As such, it’s of uneven quality, not like the uniformly sparkling and acerbic work released during her lifetime. I was finding it quite a slog for a while - as you can see, the first note I made was about page 203.

But matzoh, spread with butter and spices, and warmed through in the oven? That sounds divine. So does the “Railroad”, a picnic dish of her devising – in which one removes all of the insides of a loaf of French bread, leaving nothing but crust, spreads the crust with butter, layers it with ham, wraps it in a dishcloth, and invites a guest to sit on it 15 minutes before serving. A pressed sandwich!

Tomato soup proves to be her comfort food, when served just so in a particular little jug, with a dash of cinnamon. She waxes rhapsodic about local eating, a locavore well before the term was coined. She buys a sugar shaker for her father, at an antique shop in London – I read her description of the “top with a dainty finial…star-shaped holes…unscrewed neatly for refilling” and wondered in recognition – I’ve seen sugar shakers and not known that that’s what they were.

The moment that sold me on the book, though, was when I came across a 1986 New York Times Magazine piece called “In Nice, Snacking in the Flower Market”. Somewhere in my house, I am quite sure that I have that very piece ripped out of that very issue of the magazine. I know I ripped it out; I think I still have it; I know I never tried to make socca. It’s a sign. I will now try to find some chickpea flour. MFK Fisher wants me to.

And I think she’d approve of my small cryptic notes on the end papers of her book.


Bron said...

Love Fisher and love sugar shakers. I grew up using those gorgeous vessels with the finials - at least when we were in London. Dumping sugar all over cornflakes is an honor with one of those.

My mom has a great one - request a viewing at your next visit. :)

Mayberry said...

That ham sandwich sounds like a FINE idea. I want one.

Lady M said...

I make book notes on post-its, leaving their tabs sticking out for easy finding. If I re-read too often, they go fluttering away though.

Strawberry said...

Interesting. I have a different approach to books---if they aren't old old, I always dog ear. I love them until they are well-worn. Thing is, I like to read books all over the place (during lunch or in the bath), and it stresses me out to worry about their condition. I usually don't borrow, either. Love the description of the pressed sandwich ;-).

Bibliomama said...

I would prefer writing to dog-earing (I think Strawberry's position is defensible, and I did it when I was younger, but now dog-eared pages distress me for some reason). I stick in post-its too, then make notes at the end, but they do fall out, and then I end up flipping through looking for the part I wanted to make notes on until I've practically reread the book. And it's quaint, but I'm not sure I could eat sat-upon food. Although my kids would think it was hilarious.

YourFireAnt said...

I think I might've bought a sugar shaker this summer at a yard sale. The guy whose sale it was [of his Aunt Rita's effects] didn't really know what it was, so I asked him to make up something. He then said it was for containing poison, from the days when people routinely kept e.g., arsenic around for various uses.

I'll photograph it tonight and send it to you.


p.s. I write in books with impunity, library books included, but only to correct the typos and grammar.