With Bold Knife and Fork

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Having Christmased to rib-squeaking capacity on capon and chestnuts, Stilton and sweetmeats, I eased cautiously into the New Year, installed in a (large) chair by the fire to feast further, but less fatteningly, on the remarkable writings of M. F. K. Fisher.

M. F. K. Fisher (or ‘M.F.’ as she was called by her friends) has only recently become a new and exciting presence in my life, despite her having lived from 1908 to 1992 and published the first of her 26 books, Serve It Forth, as long ago as 1937. She was then one of the relatively few women to attempt a type of social reform in cooking and eating by writing – loudly and coherently – about it.

Her approach was considered exemplary, and the absence of a feminine name (always initials only) led people – even the British publisher of her first volume – to assume that these books must have been by a man: no female could possibly have written with such style.

That I had managed to live for so many years in my food-orientated world without consciously encountering her initials – or at least without them stirring any sort of interest – is more a sad reflection of my own ignorance and lack of adventurousness than anything else, because her work has been in print for most of the past twenty years. Much contemporary food-writing is about all-swinging, all-prancing celebrities featured in gory technicolour, and it is possible to overlook books that do not have a picture and recipe per page or the ubiquitous sticker proclaiming the author to be this or that of-the-year. Quite suddenly, however, and for little reason other than my passion for oysters and the slim insouciance of the book in which I was being asked to ‘consider’ them (Consider the Oyster, 1941), I was abruptly and totally hooked.

M. F. K. Fisher’s books were published in both the United States and Britain, but her journalistic writing was for the New Yorker in the 1960s, at a time when she real

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About the contributor

Jane Lunzer Gifford attempts to justify a tendency to eat (lots) on the grounds of research. She has written about and photographed many kilos of food in both Britain and Japan. Her latest book Food on the Move is due to be published in April.

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