“Tins and jars of exotic foods are my vice. I can resist expensive oils and salts, but I fall under the spell of little tins of cuttlefish packed in their own ink; Italian figs plumped with honey and wine; monkfish liver terrine; pin-sized baby eels. I have a red oval tin of Italian sardines, marked with their vintage.” (An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with economy and grace by Tamar Adler)
This is not a cookbook in the ordinary sense of the word, it rather hovers on the line between philosophy and poetry. Really, it is a collection of suggestions about how to make sense of your otherwise piecemeal life; a set of vague, lovely instructions for good living and cooking. If you crave, however, deliberate lists of precision and exactitude, this is not your book. Only those who feel comfortable with half ideas, with rambling and shuffling paths might be able to extract a few valuable lessons from it the first time around, a handful the second, and more and more as time progresses. It is a book that has the potential to be as everlasting as the title, for it must continue to inform your own table and transform itself into your own ideas.
For me, I feel as though this must be a life-changing book. It has made me think about cooking and eating in a way that none of my other beloved, recipe-oriented cookbooks ever has. Those previous cookbooks have always begged the question of what to do with left over ingredients or meals, and Tamar Adler picks up where they left off. She makes suggestions and imperatives out of those left overs by showing the reader just how good they can be. Unless you are a master chef and superb at practicing home economy, I think that all people must benefit from reading this book. At the very least, it is a collection of passionate poetry organized under invigorating headings such as ‘How to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat’.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Appropriate to material (Dessert)
Further Reading: Tamar Adler says herself that An Everlasting Meal is supposed to be a modernization of M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook A Wolf. Thus, I would think that this work would flow effortlessly into its inspiration. M.F.K. Fisher has many marvelous works including her autobiography, The Gastronomical Me, and a wonderfully bound collection of essays: The Art of Eating.
“The cherry plum test is held in my kitchen. I place the fruit and the book on the Formica table, and as I pick up the former to taste it, I also start on the latter. If each resists the powerful onslaught of the other, if the cherry plum fails to make me doubt the text and if the text is unable to spoil the fruit, then I know that I am in the presence of a worthwhile… undertaking…” (The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery).
What an interesting way to judge books – perhaps this book litmus test should be the standard for any review (save I don’t know where to find any cherry plums, but even Renee makes do with chocolate in a pinch). The cherry plum test isn’t performed merely to find out if the allure of a work of art or philosophy can withstand the pleasure of the senses, but whether they balance each other. Neither the book nor the plum can overpower its challenger for a successful result. In other words, if a book sucks the reader into its world so fully and powerfully that they are unaware of their body and surroundings, that book is not a worthwhile read. I wonder how many popular action-packed, drama-filled, and even intellectually stimulating books would pass this test?
The Elegance of the Hedgehog certainly would. Through her careful thoughts and prose, Barbery ensures that her readers will enjoy every beautiful moment and “profound thought” but also won’t be sucked into an obsessive and inescapable world. This balancing continues even to the tragic ending: it side-steps pure drama by a sufficient counter-weight of hope and healing. Reading this book is lovely, I exclaimed my delight to no one in particular several times, yet the desire to pick it up only came to me when I had finished the day and had the time to delight in it.
Beverage recommendation: brew some strong coffee… and then don’t drink it.
Instead, savor its aroma while sipping on a piping hot cup of jasmine tea.