Thursday, September 21, 2006

question for the book hungry

Alright those who eat and read and cook, does anyone know where the following thought comes from? Roughly,

"At least she no longer is always asking how the soup is made . . . "

I know the grammar isn't exactly right, but the thought comes in a kind of free indirect discourse (if I remember correctly) and so it's informal like thought, and not grammatically correct. But the actual line flows a little better than that.

And it's an older woman, maybe, passing judgement on a younger woman who is maybe a kind of social climber, or at least just on her way up, maybe not strategically, but has at least learned not ask what's in the food all the time. And the book itself is sort of making fun of this older woman's snobbery, but it's not exactly sympathetic to the she who is learning either.

Now this is fascinating for a number of reasons: It implies that it is (or once upon a time was) rude to ask about what is in a dish, or even discuss it. Particularly at the table, this "at the table" thing I remember getting from context. Is it still impolite to ask what's in the food? I think we've done a 180 on this, no? People are always asking and telling their recipes nowadays, often over the food in question. Or guessing at restaurants. And people with food habits and preferences and allergies and aversions are always asking and sometimes, I know, I know, they really must.

Is this about pleasure, like in MFK Fisher, how she wasn't allowed to enjoy food when she was little? Is it proprietary? Or about propriety? Is it about genius? Or about leisure? Or about how food is supposed to remain unspoken/silent like a muse and other things/conversations are supposed to be inspired by it?

And don't tell me it's from The Group; I could swear it's not. I know that book like the back of my hand. Of course, if you say so, I guess I could read the book this weekend and find the page number.

Categories: ,



Blogger the chocolate lady said...

I don't think I have read this quote, so I don't think it is from The Group, but it does provoke some kind of itching of the phantom limb. I'm thinking of the conversation between Pokey's mother and butler about Kay's cluelessness (paraphrased):

--What was it she called her young man?
--Her "fiance."
--Ah, yes.

To this day, I cannot bring myself use the that word.

I have a feeling that the goof of the young woman may not have been that she asked about the food, but that she didn't know not to do so, and if the older woman who is speaking wanted in some situation to ask about soup, she would have found an acceptable way to do so. Remember a bit in Misalliance by GBS about how to eat rice pudding? I will try to remember to look this up. Toff 1 is talking to Toff 2 about the utter unsuitability of Striver-boy. Finally, he delivers the one crushing bit of evidence (paraphrased):

Toff 1: He eats rice pudding with a spoon!
Toff 2: Dash it all, *I* eat rice pudding with a spoon!
Toff 1: Well, so do I, but there are ways of doing these things.

11:47 AM  
Blogger zp said...

Further google-ing reveals this may not be literal! That would make it another culinary metaphor. I found something very similar in two corporate law type contexts; as in

"In fact, capital markets might get even more concerned if they could see further into the companies in which they invest. Good cooks learned a long time ago that it's sometimes better when guests do not see how the soup is made."

I had googled soup asking how one makes, etc before posting on it, but I think the convoluted grammar created too many variables.

Somewhere between "too many cooks spoil the soup" and "sunlight is the best disinfectant" . . .

And that thing about the fiance cracks me up. And wherever it is, it is a scene a lot like that one. I think even if the phrase is metaphorical the writer is using it literally in the thing I'm talking about. Or playing with it that way.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Serve It Forth is one of my favorite, favorite books. In fact, I've never gotten around to reading the last two volumes collected in The Art of Eating because I just keep reading Serve It Forth over and over and over again.

It's definitely not in Serve It Forth, this story.

11:13 AM  
Blogger zp said...

I did not know you were an MFK Fischer fan. I would not have guessed that.

If you search the blog you'll find me going crazy about the oysters. I like when she writes about California more than when she writes about France.

Wharton is another candidate for the soup scene.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Pyewacket said...

Don't know where the quote is from, but I don't think it's The Group. At any rate, it was considered impolite to mention what was in the food, simple because it was considered rude to pay too much attention to the food at all. (This is what you see in MFK Fisher writing about her early life.). It is currently not considered generally impolite to talk about food, but it is STILL considered impolite to ask about what's in a dish if 1) you give off the impression you are concerned/hoping to avoid something the cook might ahve sneaked in or 2) you push hard for details that the cook doesn't want to offer. The exception is of course if you have an allergy, and the proper way to deal with that is mention apologetically that unfortunately, there are certain things you must not eat, and, though everything looks wonderful, would you mind telling me what's in the dish/letting me know if there are any nuts/etc.?

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love M.F.K. Fischer! Though Consider the Oyster always makes me sad that I've never had a raw oyster, so I really don't know exactly what she's talking about. They're not so easy to come by in Pittsburgh, you know?

10:29 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

If we have raw oysters in Milwaukee, Andy, you surely have them in the 'burgh.

To add to the culinary metaphors: "Laws are like sausages: It's better not to see them being made" (attributed to Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor).

4:30 PM  
Blogger zp said...

You know, Andy, this is the thing: for me food writing and movie writing sometimes work in similar ways, to create a very enjoyable (more enjoyable?) anticipation before the experience. And the experience of film or food takes place in different sensory registers than prose. Which either has its own sensory registers, or mabye none at all or is entirely virtual. And that is one of the things this blog is and has been about as the chocolate lady and mzn probably well know.

And Pyewacket, ah, well. I wish my guests would just trust me and give themselves over to my power completely but that is not what pleasure is about these days . . . No, it is about control and knowledge and I hope these two threads of thought are not related, but I fear that they are, or maybe . . .

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm anticipating those oysters all right! Sad in a good way: more like wistful. Or something...

mzn: I'm sure they're around here somewhere, I just need to go looking!

3:26 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

Hi again,

The GBS passage I paraphrased in my previous comment is not from Misalliance after all. I will check in Getting Married next. Misalliance does have a relevant scene in which the wealthy but middle-class mother confesses to her daughter that she was shocked at the conversation when she began keeping company with the aristocracy--they talk about the drainage.
She continues:
But before I was out the door one of the duchesses--quite a young women--began talking about what sour milk did in her inside and how she expected to live to be over a hundred if she took it regularly. And me listening to her, that had never dared to think that a duchess could have anything so common as an inside!

3:28 PM  
Blogger zp said...

MY insides have been acting up and I thought I might post on this, but a comment here might do the trick . . . What about cooking sick? Do other people get motivated to make themselves that perfect gentle sustaining thing? Or that super spicy thing that will clear the head? And if I manage to get it right, it's more sublime than any other dish. But then, sometimes it just all sticks together in a big gloppy mess and I have to go lie down. And either way its sort of made in a haze . . .

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I go the comfort food route: macaroni and cheese, a bottle of red wine, steamed kale and Bragg's, and a nice movie. Warm and filling and it puts me to sleep!

12:31 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

What's Bragg's?

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bragg's = vegan food!

From their website:

Bragg Liquid Aminos is a Certified NON-GMO liquid protein concentrate, derived from soybeans, that contains the following Essential and Non-essential Amino Acids in naturally occurring amounts: I don't think that a list is necessary!

It tastes a lot better than it sounds--like a spicier, more robust Worcestershire sauce.

10:58 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

I see that stuff on the shelf at the natural foods store all the time and I always think to myself: someone must eat that! The packaging is terrible. Big all caps letters that say "LIQUID AMINOS." Looks like something you might use in chemistry class. I never would have guessed that it gives anyone mac-n-cheese-style comfort, so thanks for sharing.

12:32 PM  
Blogger zp said...

I know I'll regret asking but . . . Andy, are you a vegan and if so what goes into vegan macaroni and cheese? Cheese food?

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not vegan now, but I used to be. It was a star-crossed experiment from the start: I've met very few recipes that couldn't benefit from the addition of butter, heavy cream, or bacon fat...

I'll tell you, though, that it was probably the best thing that has ever happened to my cooking, being vegan for a year. It forced me to be creative, to work with recipes rather than from them, to be resourceful. To actually think about what I was eating.

As to what goes in "vegan macaroni and cheese," I say there's no such thing! But you can make a macaroni caserole that uses tahini, nutritional yeast, and vegan Worcestershire sauce as the flavor components in the sauce. But it's not macaroni and cheese if there's no melting, and nothing vegan properly melts.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Patience said...

No idea where the original comes from, but could it be that the perceived faux pas lies in the words "how" and "made"? This implies that the person asking the question "she" might actually be doing the cooking herself, or be curious about the process of cooking, as opposed to handing off the responsibility to the cook/chef, which is what one ought to do.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Jan said...

(Forgive me if this has already been mentioned...)

My interpretation was that the young woman, in earlier stages of her climb up the ladder, would ask -with annoying predictabilty - what was in the soup/stew/dessert/etc. as a form of polite but patently insincere chit chat.

"My, this (.....) is delicious ! Might I be so bold as to ask for the recipe or is it a closely-guarded secret ?"

The older woman is indicating that she has progressed beyond that stage of (un)sophistication.

At least, that's what I thunk.

Jan, wife of man.

4:43 AM  

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