Culinary Vagaries (or, why you need a lid on the pot)

My lovely parents gave me "The Supper of the Lamb" by Robert Farrar Capon for Christmas this year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I read it within 24 hours of opening the package, and the chapter on knives has a permanent place in my heart.

In fact, I loved it so much that I resolved to implement what I could from the book as soon as I returned to school. I got a chicken, pre-cooked as a concession to my busy schedule, and took all the meat off the bones. That done, I turned to the recipe for white stock, one of the basic things Father Capon says one must always have on hand. I carefully put a bay leaf, the chicken bones, some carrots and onion, and a little bit of salt and pepper in a quart of water. The pot went over the heat, with the lid on. But there I made a fatal error -- I did not smack the ill-fitting lid down tightly before I went out to the table to study my greek homework. And half an hour later, my roommate walked into the kitchen and asked "Was somebody cooking something?" The kitchen was filled with smoke, and my slowly blackening saucepan contained the charred bones of my stock. It was completely beyond rescue. Ah, well, such is the life of an elf.

Still, my enthusiasm for the book remains undiminished. Yes, Father Capon does marvelous things with an onion (oh, you will never again read "peel and chop an onion" without a brief moment of silence). He makes you long for stock, bread, lettuce, roasts, wine and butter. But the following are my favorite quotes.

I love the first because it is so anti-feminist. Part of the joy of reading Father Capon is his refusal to see managing a home as something women must settle for; femininity is glorious and exalted, a mystery of power in weakness and skill instead of force:

Properly edged and skillfully used, a cleaver will prepare whole meals without the assistance of another knife. But it does more. It bolsters your ego as a cook. Parting chickens with aplomb, you begin to believe you really might make it. And so does everyone else. A woman with cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman. She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power, as misterss of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with -- and in which she defines the trifles. A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. Unsuspected majesties await him. . . .
You will also be provided with an instant rejoinder to anyone who presumes to lecture you on housewifery as an abject capitulation to the feminine mystique. Simply let him see you presiding over your kitchen with steel in one hand and butcher knife in the other. Execute six well-drawn strokes and his words will turn to ashes in his mouth. He was ready for a maladjusted prisoner of the pantry; you have showed him instead one of the priestly archetypes of the race. Mystique indeed! He has hardly scratched the surface.
On dieting:

A calorie is not a thing; it is a measurement. In itself, it does not exist. . . . Only things, you see, are capable of being eaten or burned, loved or loathed; no one ever yet got his teething into a calorie. . . . How sad then, to see real beings -- Harry and all his fellow calorie counters -- living their lives in abject terror of things that do not even go bump in the night. What a crime, not only against hospitality, but against being to hear him turn down homemade noodles in favor of idols and abstractions -- to watch himself prefer nothing to something. . . . Food does not exist merely for the sake of its nutritional value. To see it so is only to knuckle under still further to the desubstantialization of man, to regard not what things are, but what they mean to us -- to become, in short, solemn idolaters spiritualizing what should be loved as matter. A man's daily meal ought to be an exultation over the smack of desirability which lies at the roots of creation. To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world, and, by just that much, to set the secular free.

From the end of the book:

Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers, give our selves to music, painting, chemistry, or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course, but out of more that that, too. Half of earth's gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself--and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.


Ruth said...

You have successfully made me want to read this book. It sounds perfectly fantastic.

Fraser said...

I picked this book up last year when Gabe left it lying around and four hours later I had read the whole thing... Whoops.