Saturday, September 28, 2019


A Fine Dream

M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992), The Cooking of Provincial France (New York: Time-Life Books, 1969), p. 177:
There is a dream in many American hearts, almost as romantic as the one about the French soup kettle brewing away at the back of the old kitchen range, but much less lethal and more attainable. It conjures up a little restaurant on the Left Bank, or on a balcony overlooking St. Tropez, and it centers around some crusty bread, a piece or two of cheese, some fresh fruit in a basket, and a bottle or pitcher or carafe of wine.

It is a fine dream. Unfortunately most of us prefer to keep it sacrosanct, safely over there in Paris or the south of France. Yet we can have some good crusty bread if we want it badly enough to seek it out. There is wonderful cheese available in every part of our country, some made right there in the locality, some brought in, as honest as any Camembert that ever came from Normandy.

There is fine fruit the year around, thanks to ever-improving methods for shipping and storing products. In the old days, it was the millionaires who ate grapes for Christmas. Now they are not only available but delicious, then and most of the year, in every part of this vast country, except perhaps on a mountainside in Montana or in a snowbound Vermont village. And there are other seasonal floods of fruits across this vast country: cherries and strawberries ripe for the table, cool but not too cold; then the peaches and apricots and plums of summer, so rich and beautiful in a basket; grapes of course, of every color and from every part of America, tart or heavy with sweetness to savor at the end of a meal. Afterwards will come, as in every other land, the ripe apples of autumn and winter, small and crisp from a state like Vermont, or large and bland and pungent from Washington. They are, no matter how shaped or flavored, superb with cheeses at the end of any kind of meal, especially a simple one. And their rival, in America as in France, is the pear, which comes to its perfection at the year's end and which can be, when it is in that state, perfection indeed.

And as for the wine, we have it. It can be found, and it can be good. It will not be the same as the wines in Paris or St. Tropez, of course, and it may have suffered not only by comparison but by different treatment in traveling, storing, even serving. But it can be good. (Sometimes red wines do not like altitude—but to compensate, whites come to life in an astounding way, and a California Riesling served by a stream in the High Sierras will have the zing and sparkle of a Zizerser in Switzerland.)

There is good red port being made in America now, and the English custom of serving a glass of it with a sharp or fruity cheese is pleasant, especially if there is time to sit and talk, over the last bites of a meal, no matter how simple it may have been. This is a custom especially well suited to our habit of dining at night, instead of at noon, since port itself seems meant for nighttime enjoyment, a rich, reassuring thing to go to bed on.

Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818), Still Lift with Round Bottle

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