(Happy not-belated birthday to our nephew Landon – 8 years old today, wow! We love you!)
July 3rd 2012 would have been M.F.K. Fisher’s 104th birthday. Like so many people who like to write, and especially those of us who like to write about food, I count her as a hero and an inspiration. It was in her books that I first saw clearly how food laces its way through the stories we tell – and how those stories, though ostensibly about food, are really about so much more.
When I started working on this blog, many of my dear friends and pretty much my entire extended family had a very … enthusiastic response. Emails and phone calls poured in, offering recipes, ideas, encouragement and excitement. I am so thankful for that. (Thanks guys!)
One email was a total shock: Aunt Linda (who is not actually my aunt at all, but is the best friend of my Aunt Marty) is an avid – AVID! – cookbook collector. She sent me a long note about food writing that said in part: My all-time favorite has to be M.F.K. Fisher. I started collecting her first editions back in 1975 … I just loved her. I collected many books from Marian Gore, [a] vintage cookbook seller in the 1970’s ( try her persimmon pudding). She made an introduction to M.F.K. Fisher for me and it was the start of a very nice friendship that lasted until her death in 1992. … George and I first visited her in 1981 in Sonoma and saw her every year thereafter.
WHAT?! How had I not known this?! I fired off a string of nosy questions about M.F.K, and Linda was gracious enough to answer. She also sent me some photos of her personal correspondence with M.F.K. and of books M.F.K. gave to her. I figured that some of you out there might find this as fascinating as I do – so I have included an excerpt down below from all my emails with Aunt Linda, along with some of her photos.
Happy birthday M.F.K. Fisher – and thank you so much Aunt Linda for sharing your stories about her with me, and with the readers here too.
(And at the very bottom – a recipe for frosting and a little birthday cake – happy birthday Landon – and happy belated birthday to M.F.K. Fisher, and to the United States, too).
Her home was in Glen Ellen and built on the ranch of a friend. It was quite secluded, on a long road off the highway. It was small yet very cozy, decorated in a California Spanish style with dark wood, painted ceramic tiles, a big stone fireplace [and] books covering every wall and surface….stacks of books. She had this fabulous red bathroom with a claw foot bathtub right in the center of the room – surrounded by books.
The only being [we ever saw there] other than herself was her Siamese cat, Charlie. … On each visit she served tea (Earl Grey) and toast with butter and marmalade and jams.
(FYI Hannah… Bar-le-Duc preserves were made at one time from the white variety of currants, and the tiny seeds were removed by hand using a quill, a technique invented in the 14th century. This naturally made it very expensive. Today, both red and white currants are used, and most producers do not remove the seeds by hand anymore).
I do think of her when drinking my Earl Grey, and when making the kumquat preserves we talked about or the sunbaked-strawberry preserves that I made and gave to her.
(and decorated for U.S.A.)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mascarpone cheese until it is light and fluffy. Remove from the bowl (it’s okay if there is a little left on the edges – no need to wash). Whip the heavy cream in the bowl until it is soft and thick but peaks are not yet close to forming. Add the whipped cheese and sugar, and whip all together. In a minute or so it should come together smoothly and then thicken and start to hold little peaks.
Remove bowl from mixer, and using a whisk mix in the cardamom. Gently whisk the cream until it is thick enough to hold up to being put on a cake – but don’t overwhisk it, or the cream will break and the whole thing will get a grainy texture. I find it easiest to make this cream using pasteurized whipping cream (not unpasteurized, which whips more quickly and easily into butter).
Spread over cake, decorate with berries, and serve!
* Note: I made the above-mentioned changes to Deb’s recipe. I also cut my sheet into three smaller cakes: I cut it not-quite in half on the long side, and then cut the larger side in two pieces – this gave me three more or less flag-shaped pieces to decorate. We gave the two smaller ones (which I decorated) to the neighbors, and ate the larger one (which Jacob decorated, on his own) for dessert. With three adults and two kids we had a couple big pieces left over, which kept just fine overnight in the fridge.