Many feel that at the center of the juncture of food and writing sits a woman whose name was MFK Fisher (Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher). In many ways Fisher broke the mold of female authors writing about food in the early years of the twentieth century. Instead of writing solely about food in the realm of cooking and the kitchen, Fisher wove seemingly personal stories of love and loss and war with those of food and taste and hunger.
The human need and desire for food is deep and universal. Food is a part of nearly all life experiences, and so many of our life stories can be told around the food we consume, make, crave, and share. But writing about life through the lens of food is not easy – it’s personal, requiring vulnerability and transparency, as little or as much as we can muster. As an author, Fisher is neither vulnerable nor transparent in every moment. Yet her words and her stories are personal, full of emotion said and unsaid.
I first heard Fisher’s name several years ago, but did not have the opportunity to read a piece of her work until this summer. I was introduced to Fisher through her autobiographical work, The Gastronomical Me. One of the more famous excerpts in food writing is Fisher’s Foreword in this book. At once unassuming, unabashed, and unparalleled, Fisher wrote:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft. The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one. I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness. There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we’ll be no less full of human dignity. There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?
It seemed that something as simple and fulfilling as homemade cinnamon applesauce could be the perfect accompaniment to MFK Fisher. It might sound silly to deem applesauce unassuming and unabashed, but I’d argue it could be so. This applesauce brings you back to, say, being eight years old. A hint of cinnamon, a touch of sweet. The sweetness comes straight from the apples themselves—pure and simple.
4 lbs. apples (any assortment will work)
1 cup apple cider (or water)
1 cinnamon stick
Ground cinnamon to taste
1. Peel, core, and slice the apples in eighths.
2. Put the apple slices, cider, and cinnamon stick in a large stockpot.
3. Put the pot over high heat until the cider begins to boil.
4. Reduce heat to low, stir the apples, cover the pot, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the apples are soft.
5. Check the apples occasionally and add more cider (or water) if necessary.
6. Turn off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick, uncover the pot, and allow the apples to cool for 5-10 minutes.
7. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend the apples to the consistency you like. Do this carefully since the apples are thick and there is not much liquid in the pot. You can also do this step with a potato masher, though it may take a bit more time.
8. Taste the applesauce, and if you want more spice add some ground cinnamon. You can also try adding ground nutmeg or allspice, depending on your flavor preference. At this point, it’s really up to you!
9. Store the applesauce in airtight containers in the refrigerator. It should keep up to several weeks.