Paula Deen hasn’t got a thing on Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher

Man, I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting that excerpt from Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me. But it would be worthless to write about her if I didn’t.

This is how I know I’m an English major. I came across her story in my Art of Reading Non-Fiction class, and I’m not going to forget her anytime soon. And man, as much as I hate to do this.. but read up! There are some people out there that need to be known. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of them.

Her story carries the kind of mystique that can’t help but inspire. Strikingly independent and beautiful, this woman is larger than life. And her writings on the art of eating and cooking are straight legendary. She was extremely prolific, putting out more than 20 books and along with a collection of journals, some posthumously published. Singlehandedly she changed the face of California cuisine, living the rest of her life out in Wine Country.

Born in July 1908, she grew up in California, one of four, and her father a journalist- predating her writing prowess. She studied at the University of California where she met her first husband, Alfred Young Fisher (which you’ll see she has kept his name until her death in 1992). The earlier days of her marriage took place in France, spending time at the University of Dijon, then a focal point for the arts and cuisine.

They returned to California in 1932, largely unprepared for the effects of the Great Depression. Turning to odd jobs, the couple pushed through, until fate worked it’s way into her life when she left her husband for another, Dillwyn “Tommy” Parrish. Parrish, a writer, illustrator, and painter – another true artist. Their marriage was extremely short-lived, lasting only three years from 1938 to 1941. But it was intensely passionate. Again, I can only imagine how those nights went, dominated by art and a lot of, I mean a lot, of passion. And again, fate came into her life and took away her husband. Contracting Buerger’s Disease, necessitating the amputation of his leg, Parrish was left defeated- his paintings towards the end of his life being ruled by visions of angels and demons. Faced with the prospect of losing more of his body, Parrish shot himself in the countryside near their cabin in the San Jacinto Mountains, leaving his wife.

His death sent Fisher into a terrible depression- pushing her to write more and more. I like to think her dedication to writing as a legacy to Parrish, who helped her to write and publish her first collection of stories in Serve it Forth (1937). Since then is history. She is survived by two daughters, Anna (who Fisher has refused to identify the father) and Mary (a child she had in a short marriage with David Friede). She raised them both as a single mother.

I’ll leave this with another couple of excerpts:

“It might be good if you could go to them, quietly, and say, “Please sir, stop a minute and listen to me. Can you imagine eating bananas and Limburger cheese together? You have never thought about it? Then think. Taste them separately in your mind, the banana, the Limburger. Taste them together. Ah! Is it horrible? The now about mutton chops with shrimp sauce? And try herring soup with strawberry jam, or chocolate with red wine.

Some of those ten million men would listen. Some of them would eat with their minds for the first time. You would be a missionary, bringing flavour and light to the taste-blind.

And that is a destiny is not too despicable.” – from Serve it Forth (1937)

“But anyone in the world, with intelligence and spirit and the knowledge that it must be done, can live with her inspired oblivion to the ugliness of poverty. It is not that she wandered at night hunting for leaves and berries; it is that she cared enough to invite her friends to share them with her, and could serve them, to herself alone or to a dozen guests, with the sureness that she was right. 

Sue had neither health nor companionship to comfort her and warm her, but she nourished herself and many other people for many years, with the quiet assumption [this is very important] that man’s need for food is not a grim obsession, repulsive, disturbing, but a dignified and even enjoyable function. Her nourishment was of more than the flesh, not because of its strangeness, but because of her own calm. [And this, too, is very important.] –How To Cook A Wolf (1942)

Man, who is Anthony Bourdain? Just a dude who puts meat where underwear should be.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Paula Deen hasn’t got a thing on Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher

  1. I read this whole twitter thread and loved every minute of it, the SJP/camel tweet being my favorite.

  2. GT

    I don’t know if you saw my face as you two were gong over this in class, but I was crying with laughter. Props for sitting through the whole thing. I vote you guys watch and live tweet How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days next.

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