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50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #5 M.F.K. Fisher - Tomato Soup Cake

In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
the "Gourmet" prompt...
5. M.F.K. Fisher-  Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher invented food writing. All food bloggers would like to be her.

I don't know if I want to be her, but I surely would love to know her.  When I read her name as number five on the list, it seemed to ring some bells.  I just wasn't sure where those bells were coming from.  Who is this woman that I should know and revere?  So, of course I started searching her name of google, amazon, and my library website.  I reserved a copy of every single book in our library system that was written (in full or in part) by Fisher. I realized where I'd seen her name recently.  It was in a fantastic, instructional cookbook I'd checked out from the library about six months back- Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji.  Fisher wrote the eloquent introduction that sets the backdrop for non-Japanese people wanting to learn the art in their own kitchen.  Well, I'm a bit embarrassed that I did not know more about her before.   But I am whole-heartedly making up for that now.  Since I knew that How to Cook a Wolf was written during war-times (dealing with food shortages and rationing) and my library didn't have it, I ordered a copy from Amazon right away so that I'd have time to read it.

Born Mary Frances Kennedy in Albion, Michigan in the year 1908, her family moved to Quaker community in California, though she was raised Episcopalian.  Her father was a journalist, so Mary Frances was exposed to writing and a love of literacy at an early age.  She married her first husband Alfred Young Fisher, whom she met while studying at the University of California and later wrote Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon in remembrance of their years living in the "gastronomical capital of the world."  She gained an appreciation on how to live well- economically and consciously.  In the midst of various jobs, she loved to read and was inspired by an Elizabethian cookbook she found at the library.  In turn, she began writing essays on food, eating, and cooking.  Many critics thought that her first book, Serve it Forth was written by a man since her writing style differed so much from other women writers of her time.  Fisher actually wrote around thirty books and there are more written about her, in tribute to her...not to mention compilations of her work.  One of her best know books, How to Cook a Wolf, published in 1942, is a series of chapters or "essays" on "how to live and dine sanely and pleasureably during wartime and within tight budgets."  Although this was written during WWII, her words still ring true in the world of today.

worth further exploration:  (books) How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher, A Stew or a Story: An Assortment of Short Works by M.F.K. Fisher gathered by Joan Reardon, An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher by Anne Zimmerman, Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon by M.F.K. Fisher, Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher by Joan Reardon
Reminiscent of pumpkin or carrot...people can't quite figure out what's in this cake.  Perhaps it's the shape of it, like a loaf of quick bread, that perplexes people.  It is moist and dense without being heavy.  Sweet, yet laced with warming spices and studded with fruit and nuts, this loaf cake pairs as perfectly with afternoon coffee or tea as it does served as a dessert to a light meal.  Tomato Soup Cake is one of those cakes I'd always heard talk of, but never tried.  While initially I was going to go with something light, simple, and seasonal as is the style of Fisher, once I saw this cake in How to Cook a Wolf, I couldn't get it out of my head.  I knew I needed to try it.  While no cooking time was given and frosting was not included in the original recipe, neither was hard to figure out.  She did say it was great "plain with coffee, or frosted with a covering of cream cheese and powdered sugar and a little rum if possible..." Sadly (for me), I was out of rum, but that didn't matter.  I also love that she says: "This is a pleasant cake, which keeps well and puzzles people who ask what kind it is.  It can be made in a moderate oven while you are cooking other things, which is always sensible and makes you feel rather noble, in itself a small but valuable pleasure." 

This cake contains no eggs and very minimal butter in the conscience of war-time shortages and rationing.

Tomato Soup Cake
adapted slightly from How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher
yield ~10 slices

3 Tbs. butter, room temp.
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
⅓ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
⅓ tsp. ground ginger
⅓ tsp. ground cloves
2 c. all-purpose flour
1½ c. (total) raisins, yellow raisins, chopped dates, chopped walnuts & pecans

4 oz. neufchatel
1 Tbs. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 325° F.  Cream butter and sugar.  Grease and sugar a loaf pan; set aside.

Combine baking soda with tomato'll be all bubbly and hard to turn away from (chemistry!).  Sift spices and flour together in a separate bowl.  Alternately add liquid and dry mixture in a couple of additions until just combined.  Fold dried fruit and nuts in to batter.  Scoop the thick batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Slide into oven and bake for ~60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack until cool enough to turn out of pan.  Replace loaf on rack until almost cool.

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together and smooth across the top.  Serve slices of slightly warm loaf cake alongside a cup of coffee or tea...a cold glass of milk.  Also good at room temperature or even cold.
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (7/3/1908-6/22/1992)
"...there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself.  When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts."  ~M.F.K. Fisher (How to Cook a Wolf)

Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?

*sources: MFK Fisher Foundation
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