How To Cook A Wolf
There is something inherently comforting about economic dinning, more colloquially known as “Broke Food” to both my college roomie and I. These homemade hodgepodges are created as skillfully as they are desperately and call for particular praise. They are the foods that have kept many a penniless sustained in times of hardship. Some empty fridge throwback favorites include:
the sugar bread sandwich of our poverty stricken youth—
the overcooked bowl of white rice and ketchup, who made a repeated debut in the early months of your first apartment—
and who can forget, the hero of hollowed stomachs, the sodium sultan—Ramen.
Now, the conditions under which a struggle meal is birthed generally stem from a place of curious creation. Finding balance between frugality, satiation, and nutritional composition, takes great skill, the kind of skill one could only develop in times of need. Truly it is a time and space ripe for gastro-innovation.
MFK Fisher’s How To Cook A Wolf, serves as both an inspirational budgetary cookbook for working wartime wives, and one hell of a clapback to those relishing in their culinary ineptness. This text, first published in 1942, is one that must be entered with an air of understanding, as some of the material’s unintentionally dated frameworks are inherent to the time period. At times they reflect an antiquated (yet still wildly prolific) philosophy surrounding a woman’s familial positionality and responsibility in the home. A provider’s bible, Wolf was written with the notion that it’s primary consumer was both fierce and feminine because Wolf is not for little lady chefs who need their luxuries. Fisher provides the recipe for maximizing space, seasoning and scraps while simultaneously throwing well-versed quips of shade at the elite, who at the time, turned their nose up at a commoners thought of dishes sharing oven space.
Fisher connects with her audience immediately by introducing, or rather re-introducing us, to our internal wolves. Innately, the physical Wolf lives deep in the gut but, is arguably just as active and present immaterially; without a doubt it is the protagonist of this timely piece. By characterizing our hunger with these anthropomorphic features, Fisher directly relates the clawing famine presented by wartime trials, to the hunting arsenals hidden in our own kitchen. With over twenty cleverly titled chapters, our authoress provides council on How to Lure, Catch, Keep and ultimately Carve The Wolf, all while maintaining a bottom line.
The 40’s were a time of overworked men, under appreciated women, and gas rations. Loosely translated, the equation meant many hungry mouths being met with little energy and even littler means. At the time of Wolf’s publication, efforts to financially support American troops came down the pipeline in the form of energy allowances. More directly, it came in the form of a gas allowances monitoring everything from oven temps to speed limits above 35 mph. What this meant for the average American family was much larger than self-imposed cut backs on pleasure purchases. Now, government imposed cut backs on necessities such as agricultural crops deemed too expensive to maintain would be in order. With ingredient variation, availability, and preparation methods dwindling in the shadows of an elusive American victory, Fisher empathetically speaks to the decaying culinary creativity and moral of the home kitchen in 1942.
Though the palate of the elite felt little to no rock during the unsavory trappings of war, certain foods became vital during these times for the working class. Emphasis was placed on low cost harvests, long shelf lives, and “stretchable” menu items. Fisher demonstrates the importance of starches like potatoes and rice, highlighting their versatility throughout her selected recipes. Meals are referenced by their historical groundings, nutriment and all with consideration for next week’s casserole. From sweet desserts to garden soups, hearty pottage and full entrée plates, Fisher gives rise to new meaning for some of our most basic and plentiful vegetation, showing us how to improve the old and innovate the new. So, next time your wallet feels as empty as your stomach, grab a copy of this hunger hunters bible and apron up: the Wolf is at the door.
“And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves. Then Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars as well as hot, cannot harm us.”