24 Sep Nor Censure Nor Disdain
While preparing for my food writing class at Western this morning, I sipped my coffee from a clay mug I bought in Morocco and thought about food. I read my favourite, absolute lovely and delightful food writer, M.F.K. Fisher. The story, Nor Censure Nor Disdain, is a memoir about casseroles. A huge part of my class is teaching students how to describe food, not an easy endeavour. Go ahead, try to describe a piece of chocolate cake with coconut frosting without calling it yummy or tasty.
Here are a few gems from this story. When describing the purpose of the quickly prepared one-dish wonder which Americans dubbed casserole, Fisher calls them a gastronomical compromise or often a meal reduced to ‘botulistic mediocrity.” Or what about, mushy pabulum?
When she says that casseroles ‘lend themselves to mass feeding,’ she reveals that yes, ‘many a schoolchild has been forever warped, gastronomically, by the two-by-two slab of stiff macaroni-tuna served him on Fridays at the cafeteria.’
But, that isn’t to say Fisher hates casseroles. Ohh no no. She loves them, but they are often rushed or masks for bad ingredients.
As my students write their first assignment, a memoir of their favourite childhood meal, to which they must recreate, I reveal mine: macaroni and cheese. Classic elbow noodles — one layer on the bottom of a white casserole dish with blue flowers on the side. Next layer: crumbled Premium Plus crackers, grated cheddar cheese, then a final layer of noodles. The top is the best part: cracker crumbs, cheese, then a mixture of milk and a raw egg poured on top, that gels the noodles when cooked, and finally, bacon. Yes, the bacon juice drips down into the noodles and flavours the entire dish with a smokey meat flavour. When it’s done, and the top is golden and crusty cheese, it’s served with canned tomatoes. That is my childhood.
What is yours?