Katherine Woods (review date 20 June 1937)
SOURCE: "About the Various Pleasures of Eating," The New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1937, p. 3.
[In the following review, Woods offers enthusiastic praise for Serve It Forth.]
This is a book about food; but though food is universal, this book is unique. The first adjective for Serve It Forth must certainly be "different." And as one reads on the mind takes note again and again of that different quality, and is charmed and shocked and entertained by it, in what the author has to say and in the way she says it, and even, too, in the quaint illustrations scattered through the text. This is a delightful book. It is erudite and witty and experienced and young. The truth is that it is stamped on every page with a highly individualized personality. Sophisticated but not standardized, brilliant but never "swift-moving" or "streamlined," perfumed and a little mocking, direct and yet almost précieuse, the style of Serve It Forth is as unusual as its material is unfamiliar and odd.
And it really is a book about food. Mrs. Fisher even goes so far, in spite of preliminary assurances to the contrary, as to include two recipes—rare ones, both. But this is no book of practical counsel. These pages are filled with odd fact and obscure fantasy, illuminating comment, personal reflection and remembrance. The young author goes back to the simple and democratic food of the Egyptians and their simple lives; she dwells a bit on the Greeks. Then, with some horrible particularity of detail, she tells how "in their furious delicacy of palate and heavy-handed subtlety of selection the wealthy Romans left Greeks far behind." She explains how good cooking, like learning, was kept alive in the monasteries in the Dark Ages. She has surprising notes from Elizabethan England and Catherine de' Medici's France.
Of all the present nations France, says Mrs. Fisher, "has the simplest school of cooking." But when she explains the proper preparation of snails at their best (they ought to be starved to death, to be most appetizing), one realizes that there are different kinds of simplicity! Mrs. Fisher has lived in provincial France, and much of her oddest research and most pungent comment comes from that land of culinary supremacies; she brings some responsive human anecdotes from France, too. But most Americans, she declares, don't know how to eat: they are "taste blind."