50 Women Game Changers in Food: MFK Fisher (Week 5)

In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making it’s way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

MFK Fisher (Mary Frances Katherine Fisher) is number five on this list, and she was a food writer. And a damned good one. She didn’t believe that food existed just to provide our bodies what it needed, she believed that food is a type of art, and this is incredibly clear in her writing.

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Mary was a completely fascinating woman. While reading about her, I lost track of the number of times she moved between California and France. She was married three times. She left her first husband. The man she left him for committed suicide, due to the pain he was in after a leg amputation, and her third husband left her, triggering a nervous breakdown. While her life was probably exciting and interesting, to me it seemed sad. She didn’t feel welcome in France, since she felt they looked down on her because she was an American, yet she and her husbands often felt suffocated in the various small, Californian towns they lived in. Her final home was on a ranch in California. A friend who owned the property built her a home, and she bounced back and forth between there and France for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1992.

Not all of the women on this list are chefs with hundreds of recipes to choose from, so I knew some weeks would be harder than others. This was one of those weeks. I ordered a copy of her book, The Art of Eating, and read through it looking for something I wanted to make. To be honest, very few of the recipes she included sounded appealing. Part of what makes her especially interesting is that she wrote about enjoying food during times when so many were going hungry. The Art of Eating is a collection of five of her books, and the most interesting of them, How to Cook a Wolf, is a collection of essays specifically about dining pleasurably during difficult times (this was published in 1942, at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II). Honestly, some of the recipes in this sound pretty terrible. In one chapter, she gives you a recipe for sludge (that’s what she calls it…). It’s a mixture of root vegetables, grain cereal and meat, put through a food mill. It has a dull, light gray color & you can eat it hot or cold, but “if you can afford a little fat & electricity”, it’s best if you fry it up like scrapple (or livermush). If that doesn’t sound unappealing enough, she also returns to this recipe in a later chapter, saying that it makes a very good dog food. No thank you. There was also a recipe for tomato soup cake, which intrigued me, but I couldn’t bring myself to make it.

Some of the recipes sounded weird and or gross, and others just had me raising my eyebrows. At the very beginning, she mentions how young wives were trying to find ways to bake without using eggs or white sugar, but then she includes a recipe for a frittata, which takes 9 eggs, and scrambled eggs, which is 8 eggs and a pint of heavy cream. I’m not sure those dishes are very economical. Regardless of how economical it was for the time, that’s what I made for this week: her zucchini frittata.

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I have a difficult time enjoying eggs. I can not stomach runny yolks, so that leave me with scrambled eggs & omelettes, although my omelettes typically aren’t very pretty, so I don’t make them often. And scrambled eggs are just kind of boring. I do like frittatas, since they’re usually loaded with all kinds of yummy things. Like an omelette, just less messy. This one was full of zucchini, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs. It was good, but it was a little onion heavy. Next time, I’d probably just use half an onion (I’ve made this change in the recipe below). I imagine this would be even better in the summer, when you get farmers market tomatoes and zucchini, instead of the less flavorful grocery store variety you have access to this time of year. Regardless, it made a simple and delicious dinner one night. I had planned chicken, but my chicken didn’t get thawed out in time, so I went with this, serving the frittata with arugula, dressed with Tessemae’s soy ginger dressing, fruit and sausage.

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MFK Fisher’s Zucchini Frittata
(Recipe adapted from How to Cook a Wolf)

Ingredients:

  • 9 large eggs; beaten
  • 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 large zucchini; thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato; chopped
  • 1/2 an onion; roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic; minced
  • 1 t. of fresh thyme
  • 2 T. of olive oil
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, oven safe skillet over medium heat. When oil is warm, add the onion and the zucchini and saute until soft. Add the garlic and the tomatoes in, and continue to cook for an additional minute or two. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetables cool for about ten minutes.
  2. Place the skillet back on the burner, and turn heat to medium-low. Spray the sides with nonstick spray. Mix the cheese into the eggs, and pour the mixture over the vegetables.
  3. Preheat the broiler to low and move rack to the top third of your oven. . Once the frittata starts pulling from the sides, and only the middle is still runny, put under the broiler (keep an eye on it) for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cut into slices & serve immediately.

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