“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, about love, the way others do?. . . 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. . . “
This week will mark the 21st anniversary of the death of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher who died in her cottage home in Sonoma California on June 22nd, 1992.
Fisher is considered to be one of the greatest food writers of all time. She has been called a culinary giant, a pioneer of food and memoir writing, and a pre-eminent American food writer.
When she died, the Los Angeles Times said of her, “M. F. K. Fisher [was] the peripatetic author whose crystalline prose and keen observations raised food writing to the high art of literature.” The Chicago Tribune said, poetically, “Her voice was deep, knowing and hovered somewhere near the soul.”
Fisher had two daughters that she parented for the most part single-handedly, despite her three marriages. She travelled widely and wrote 27 books. She was known for being sensuous, charming, and witty. She wrote eloquently about food and love and longing. A few of my favourite topics. I love this about her.
I was reminded recently of MFK Fisher when my mother and I were invited to have afternoon tea at the home of two of my mother’s dearest friends. Her friends live off-grid in a house they built themselves from stones they gathered on their own property. Both their beautiful home and their extensive gardens are works of art. For a couple of exquisite hours, we sat in the garden in the sunshine eating MFK Fisher’s Tomato Soup Cake and drinking tea and coffee from china cups whilst amongst other things, we paid homage to Fisher.
If you haven’t tried Tomato Soup Cake – don’t let the tomato soup put you off. It tastes like a cross between a fruit cake and a spice cake. The recipe came from Fisher’s 1941 book, How To Cook a Wolf. (For the record – the wolf refers to the metaphoric wolf at the door.) The recipe, which uses no eggs and minimal butter or shortening, was devised to circumnavigate war-time shortages and rationing.
“This is a pleasant cake, which keeps well and puzzles people who ask what kind it is. It can be made in a moderate oven while you are cooking other things, which is always sensible and makes you feel rather noble, in itself a small but valuable pleasure.” MFK Fisher
This is MFK Fisher’s original recipe – my adaptations are included in bold. The cake, minus the icing, is easily made vegan by using vegan margarine.
Tomato Soup Cake
- 3 tablespoons butter or shortening or margarine
- 1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup sugar and 1 tbsp molasses)
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1 can tomato soup
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg, ginger, cloves mixed (I just used 1 tsp ground ginger)
- 1 1/2 cups raisins, nuts, chopped figs, what you will (I used 1 & 1/2 cup of combined raisins, chopped dates and chopped crystallized ginger)
Cream butter, add the sugar (and molasses), and blend thoroughly. Add the soda to the soup, (there is great chemical reaction here) stirring well, and add this alternately to the first mixture with the flour and spices sifted together. Add fruit, stir well, and bake in a pan or loaf-tin at 325 degrees F. (I used three mini loaf pans and cooked them for about 40 minutes.) Ice when cool.
Icing – if you feel like it….
- 1 cup cream cheese
- 1/4 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp rum (or vanilla – but I used rum)
Beat the icing ingredients together and spread over cooled cake.