Serving up an offhand assortment of quirky tidbits about food
M.F.K. Fisher published How to Cook a Wolf in 1942. World War II was at full stinking throttle and food shortages and rationing were at their worst.
Ive seen the book in more than one home, not necessarily because the owners are fat foodies. More that they are genuine or wannabe artists or writers or other creative sorts. How to Cook a Wolf has become, or maybe it always was, emblematic of a kind of bohemianism, often one sprung fully formed from a visit to the Left Bank or the self-conscious scene of New Yorks Tribeca district, or a summer art course or two in Aix-en-Provence (where M.F. Mary Frances once lived).
The owners usually mumble something equal parts dismissal and pride when I remark upon the book. But I dont think many of them have ever read it. Im also pretty sure they mistake it for something uniquely continental, as in a very old, quaint French cookbook describing how to cook a renard (fox) or make an orange and honey cake from a 14th century recipe. But How to Cook a Wolf has nothing to do with cooking wolves.
M.F.K. Fisher wrote it, or rather dictated it, in three days to her sister who typed it, shortly after Dillwyn, the love of her life, died (nothing to do with the war). She later admitted that at the time she was strangled by grief and a strange depression, and couldnt believe she pulled it off. (Though she wrote 20-plus books, she was never a "popular" writer. Still, How to Cook a Wolf was one of her finest, and helped cement her reputation as a wonderfully literary food writer gastronomical writer, her agents would say).
The wolf Mary Frances cooks is the wolf at your door, pressing to get in. He can take any number of forms: hunger, emotional starvation, the chronic anxiety that makes blue veins pop out on your neck in the mirror but the source of which you cant pin down.
With food rationing and hungry children and husbands to feed, most war-time housewives felt the wolfs breath in their faces. Not only were they duty-bound as keepers of their familys moral and nutritional well-being, this was also an era when it was proper to serve complicated meals that were ridiculously tedious to prepare and clean up:
Breakfast (this I recall from my own home economics class):
Half a grapefruit
Hot or cold cereal
Poached eggs and sausage or bacon
Buttered toast with jam