M.F.K. Fisher: How to Cook a Wolf, Chapter 2

Chapter Title: How to Catch the Wolf

This is quite a short chapter really, but the essence of the chapter is: Are you prepared?  Do you know how to substitute for shortages?  Have you practiced thrifty meals enough to know which your family will eat with real enjoyment?

At the start of the chapter Fisher shares the story of her grandmother sitting with a group of new homemakers during WWI, and the discussion in the group had been all about baking without sugar or butter.  All of the young homemakers had successfully substituted some item or other for those that were scarce, had made their cake and proudly felt that their way was the best.   Fisher's grandmother, who was a seasoned homemaker, listened quietly and then folded her hands in her lap.  The younger homemakers looked at her attentively.

"Your conversation is interesting indeed...It interests me especially, my dears, because after listening to it this afternoon I see that ever since I was married, well over fifty years ago, I have been living on a war budget without realizing it!  I never knew before that using common sense in the kitchen was stylish only in emergencies."

Fisher goes on to decry the 1940's current trend of urging homemakers to enjoy the 'thrill of the new economy cuts' of meat and home economists' enthusiasm that food dollars could be made to stretch in such wonderful ways.   I can attest to these articles, which I often find in my own vintage stash of 1940's magazines.  It might all have sounded 'new and different and world shattering' to those who had never practiced economies to some in the 1940's but it is truth that many of those 'ideas' presented as groundbreaking were truly just common sense.  And what's more, during the recession of the late 1970's to early 1980's when I was a new homemaker, the same sorts of articles were to be found in my women's magazines.   Yet, I had only to pick up that favorite old cookbook (originally printed in 1910) to realize that there was nothing new under the sun in those 1980's (nor the 1940's) magazines!

It is true that when the wolf first proves he is actually there, you feel a definite sense of panic.  "To Work!  To Work!  In heaven's name!"

We are no different today, dears. Not a bit.  Given the pandemic, and later issues (shipping issues, droughts, etc.) and shortages or fear of shortages in the grocery, who of us hasn't heard from a young one, "What do I do?!"  And which of us, who are older and wiser haven't shared that all the things they'd been reading might be done were indeed quite good ways to prepare food and be more economical about it.  'Cook from scratch.  Buy ingredients, not foodstuffs.  Learn to shop seasonally, buy local, " etc. etc.

Farm to table is a current trend but might I just say here that Farm to Table was the way we ate most of our meals when I was growing up!  We had chickens, raised pigs, someone else in the family raised cows, we all had gardens and while a few things were bought at the grocery, for the most part we got along quite well and ate wonderfully fresh and economical meals.  

The one gap, in my opinion, was the lapse of homemakers learning to make their own bread at home.  My mother never baked a loaf of bread that I'm aware of, and while I tried my first loaf (hard as a ROCK at 22 and then gave up), I did eventually succeed with Rhonda's Grandpa's Bread.  That set the stage to my trying many other types of bread from sour dough to Challah, French breads, bagels, pretzels, pizza dough and now our weekly loaf of bread.  From spending $5 a loaf to spending around 50c...And boy does homemade bread taste better!

What is required for a loaf of bread?  A bit of yeast, a bit of sugar, some water, a little bit of salt, some sort of fat and some flour.  You don't even need the fat, though we do like to add a little.  And what comes from that combination of ingredients?  Rolls, loaves, breakfast breads, pizza dough, buns, pita, etc.

Fisher also goes on to point out in this chapter that when food is in shorter supply, one might also expect to find light and fuel shortages come along as well.  Or in some of our current cases, heating fuel shortages, etc.  She suggests her readers determine how they would handle such things as well as how to make more economical meals and practice those that you, 'like best to do...'    I would also suggest that you determine which you mind the least to do!  Sometimes necessity demands we do something whether or not we like doing it, but not every method is for everyone.  As Fisher says, use the good advice out there, or your own good common sense and follow through with employing those methods.

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Lana said...

My Mom baked bread as far back as I can remember and the same with her Mom and most of her side of the family but not on my Dad's side. One of my great aunts never used a recipe but just went by how the dough felt and so her bread was always the very best. There is no better bread than bread that has been kneaded by hand raised on the kitchen counter in a big bowl. Mom always made 4-6 loaves at a time. My Mom's sister made 100 dozen dinner rolls at a time and stocked her freezer because my Uncle ate at least a half dozen with supper every night. Those rolls were even better than lunch room rolls. When you first start baking bread by any method it takes time for it to be the best because you have to build up yeast in your kitchen. After we have been gone to the lake for 2 weeks it always takes a few loaves to be back to the best because our kitchen has lost it's yeast. Years ago when we painted our kitchen and got new counter tops it was weeks getting our yeast culture going again. If you are just starting out it takes patience!

Donna said...

Lots of homemakers may feel they are keeping the wolf from the door as prices and scarcity rise.

Chef Owings said...

When our Amish neighbor sends bread over I can tell who made it. M's is nice size and solid as a mother of now 10 (last on Sunday) she know sandwiches do better on a good solid bread. Daughter L is tall and wide. Can bet there will be air holes through out. B just started, hers are more like her mom's but a bit denser. She dislikes kitchen work so I can guess she doesn't knead as long as she should.
Still... free bread is free bread.