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How to Cook a Wolf

4.21  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,587 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews
M.F.K. Fisher's guide to living happily even in trying times, which was first published during the Second World War in the days of ration cards; includes more than seventy recipes based on food staples and features sections such as "How to Keep Alive" and "How to Comfort Sorrow.".
Paperback, 202 pages
Published October 1st 1988 by North Point Press (first published 1942)
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Part cookbook, part Hints from Heloise, How to Cook a Wolf is M.F.K. Fisher's chatty, scatterbrained wartime guide for citizens hampered by food shortages or just lack of discretionary income generally. There's no actual wolf-cooking, which disappointed me: the wolf is just a metaphor for hunger. Some of her tips are a little bizarre:

Hayboxes are very simple...bring whatever food you want to a sturdy boil, put it tightly covered on a layer of hay in the inside box, pack hay all around it, and co
Jennifer Cooper
May 12, 2008 Jennifer Cooper rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, funny
I wish I could have been friends with MFK Fisher. This book is full of her strong opinions, down-to-earth suggestions, and fantastic dry wit. Good stuff.

The book was originally written as a practical how-to for people who had to cook during the shortages and food-rationing of World War II. This edition was updated after the war, in 1951. Now, you may think that sounds like the set-up for a particularly grim book, but you'd be wrong. She is generally undaunted by the limitations that war-time coo
Feb 24, 2009 bookczuk rated it really liked it
I found this at my favorite used book store and it has a permanent spot on my kitchen shelf up at the cabin. This is a reprint of the 1951 edition, which was created by the author adding marginal annotations to the 1942 original. That only makes it better to my mind. Many of these notes are along the lines of "What the heck was I thinking?" and I can almost imagine a wry grin inserted here or there. She's also added in tips what to do once the war rationing is over...I can't find the exact passa ...more
Abby Hagler
Jan 23, 2012 Abby Hagler rated it it was amazing
How to Cook a Wolf is interesting because I know that my mother was a bad cook. Thus, when I learned to cook, I also learned to be a bad cook. Fisher's book is full of tips and tricks for saving money by budgeting, having a simple grocery list, and cooking in quantities that conserve on heat expenses, as well. From this frugality comes a kind of happiness. We rediscovered this in the slow food movement. Currently, all the hip young people are trying to get away from the processed, the ready-to-e ...more
Oct 29, 2014 Sylvester rated it liked it
Shelves: war, odd, 2014
Not my usual thing, reading about food or cooking - but Fisher is an amazing writer, I only wish she'd taken to novels. Her power of description and subtle irony are very entertaining and kept me going in spite of my disinterest in the subject matter. Fisher is smart as a whip - here are some of the chapter titles, to give you a taste of her wit:

How to be Sage Without Hemlock
How to Catch the Wolf
How to Distribute Your Virtue
How to Boil Water
How to Keep Alive
How to Rise Up Like New Bread
How to Be
Heather Baird
Feb 11, 2014 Heather Baird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am new to Fisher's writing, and instantly a fan. It's lively, biting and intelligent. Several times throughout the book I'd lose myself inside a single sentence of her prose. I wasn't expecting so much beauty and wit inside a wartime ration cookbook.

"Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken".

"One way to horrify at least eight out of ten Anglo-Saxons is to suggest their eating anything but the actual red fibrous meat of a beast."

So much of this book
Sep 06, 2008 Muna rated it it was amazing
MFK writes perhaps the best prose I've ever read. It doesn't hurt that she writes almost exclusively about food, one of my -- and anyone else who has the faintest conception of true human dignity and joy -- favorite subjects.

Nor does it hurt that she used the term "rich-bitches" perfectly in print in 1963 to describe the menacing and mundane upperclass: "One of the saving graces of the less-monied people of the world has always been, theoretically, that they were forced to eat more unadulterated
Nov 06, 2015 Kristianne rated it it was amazing
MFK Fisher's book seems uncannily appropriate to my days of unemployed living in America. She was writing about the scarcity of war-time America, but we've become so accustomed to our country's overextended reach into military engagements abroad that war is not what comes to mind first as the cause for the wolf's snuffing at the door. Rather, we bat the word "recession" around freely, and though it lacks the humility of the word "poverty," it lacks also the pride of Fisher's war effort. We've be ...more
May 30, 2015 Dandi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food
"A biochemist once told me that every minute an egg is cooked makes it take three hours longer to digest. The thought of a stomach pumping and grinding and laboring for some nine hours over an average three-minute egg is a wearisome one, if true, and makes memories of picnics and their accompanying deviled eggs seem actively haunting."

This book contains some dubious advice and sadly requisite 50's racism and internalized misogyny, but if you found the above passage amusing in any way, you'll hav
Mar 04, 2013 Tuck rated it really liked it
Shelves: wine-and-food
originally written to help folks stretch their money and choices for food/cooking during wwii, but updated in 1951 (korean and cold war, usa just cannot go on without wars right?) fisher is both smart and downtoearth in her funny stories and recipes keeping the wolf from the door. her short answer to the wolf is it better watch out or she'll cook it too.
Apr 05, 2016 J.C. rated it really liked it
"Vegetables cooked for salads should always be on the crisp side, like those trays of zucchini and slender green beans and cauliflowerets in every trattoria in Venice, in the days when the Italians could eat correctly. You used to choose the things you wanted: there were tiny potatoes in their skins, remember, and artichokes boiled in olive oil, as big as your thumb, and much tenderer...and then the waiter would throw them all into an ugly white bowl and splash a little oil and vinegar over them ...more
Cynthia K
Jan 21, 2016 Cynthia K rated it liked it
Recommended to Cynthia by:
Shelves: readharder2016
This food memoir was not a book I found myself wanting to binge on. This edition incorporates the author's later notes and additions in brackets, making for an awkward read. However, I kept on going for three reasons:

1. I committed to reading a food memoir for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I picked this one because it was listed as one of Time's 100 Best Nonfiction Books.
2. I was reminded of my grandmother, a woman who lived through The Depression and the sacrifices of the world wars wh
Apr 05, 2013 Kristen rated it it was amazing
Have you ever seen the movie The Philadelphia Story? If Katherine Hepburn's character were to dictate a war-time cookbook it would be How to Cook a Wolf. I enjoyed the observations on cooking, and the recipes from another time (though "Aunt Gwen's Cold Shape" sounds quite unappetizing) but most of all I LOVED this book for the author's wit. Fisher is the epitome of a classy dame, who writes things like "one of the stupidest things in an earnest but stupid school of culinary thought is that each ...more
Joy Schultz
May 05, 2016 Joy Schultz rated it really liked it
My, but the methods of dealing with wartime rationing are many and various. Creative. Alarming.

Fisher's style is lively, and her focus on how preparation of food is for the good of both body and soul strikes me as wise and timely.
Sep 13, 2009 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
I'd loved to have dined with M.F.K. Fisher; I can't (nor would want to) argue with her point that "since we must eat to live, we might as well do it with both grace and gusto." I'd regard her as a reader's food writer considering her writing is peppered with references to Cervantes, Omar Khayyam, etc. Completely charmed.
Favorite passage:
(On dessert) "Probably one of the best ends to a supper is nothing at all. If the food has been simple, plentiful, and well prepared; if there has been time to
Dec 02, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it
Not as fabulous as I'd hoped, but still, I'm glad to have it on my shelves. Many of Fisher's ideas and recipes will hang with me. We're loving baked apples and at last I can make a decent fried egg. Thinking we'll try "Eggs in Hell" for breakfast.

The edition I read included comments in brackets that Fisher included many years after the original writing. Those really added something. Maybe that's what left me a bit disappointed - that there weren't more of Fisher's ideas and writing and less of
Lissa Notreallywolf
May 27, 2015 Lissa Notreallywolf rated it really liked it
This is what I would call a belle lettres cookbook, as it is chatty and somewhat arch in it's approach, especially when directed at wartime privations. I read it because it was recommended by Novella Carpenter. There is of course no recipe for wolf, rather an allusion to Shakespeare. For me this was a vast relief as I have no desire to eat my patronous, nods to JK Rowling. But I did find it entertaining despite her distaste for parsnips, which I consider divine. The book oddly neglects beans, on ...more
Jun 28, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it
Excellent book. Originally written during the second world war, it is on the surface a book explaining how to cook and live well in the midst of rationing and scarcity. In reality, this book explains how to love food and love life, in good or bad times. Fisher's voice is excellent and enjoyable. In particular, this edition was reedited by her and she has included later commentary on her own writing. Many of this added pieces are excellent and very funny. This is a great book from a fantastic ess ...more
Aug 28, 2014 Mitchell rated it really liked it
Published during the rationing and black-out days of WWII in England, and updated [to me, unnecessarily] in the early 1950s, by one of the 20th century's foremost authors of cookery and food criticism. I loved this book when I first read it in the 1960s, and when I read it a second time a few decades later, and now for the third time this past week.

Folks of my economic class would welcome cooking advice from an expert who is nutritionally attuned but not devoted to any of the "isms" and who tell
Dec 15, 2010 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
What a funny little book you are! Fisher wasn't satisfied with the original text, and in the 1954 edition she includes all kinds of bracketed commentary, which make for an unusually aware reading experience.

Nonetheless, it includes many a tasty recipe and abundant simple, economical advice. Some of it seems dated, others not. It's always good to have additional weapons to fend off the wolf.
Jan 22, 2016 PeggyVW rated it liked it
Written in 1942 to help lift the spirits of Americans during lean times, Fisher gives helpful suggestions for dealing with food shortages, rationing, blackouts and an empty wallet. She offers creative suggestions for stretching food dollars and making meals interesting and delicious using ingredients that are inexpensive and easily obtainable. I enjoyed her use of humor and personal anecdotes which kept the book humming along, and some of the recipes and their descriptions made my mouth water!

Jul 28, 2015 Kate rated it really liked it
I wish I'd had this during the post-college/post-divorce ramen-eating lean years. Give it to anyone moving out on their own; it's as much psychological "being broke sucks, here's how to survive with a sense of humor" as it is recipes.
Sara Croft
Dec 22, 2014 Sara Croft rated it really liked it
Could you survive cooking in the 18th and 19th century? How to Cook a Wolf is not actually about cooking a wolf - the wolf is a metaphor for the hunger that faced many during a time where food was rationed, energy to heat your home was not always accessible, and knowledge of using substitutes for culinary items was common. The wolf is beating at your door, but you cannot give in, and MFK Fisher gives you the tools you need to beat it away.

Imagine making your own hot box, a wooden box filled wit
Debbie Balzotti
Jul 24, 2009 Debbie Balzotti rated it really liked it
This little gem is not for every reader. I enjoyed her passionate opinions on food and how it is an important part of living life to the fullest. The recipes from the 1940's will probably not make it onto my table however! the full review is on my blog at
Margaret McCamant
Feb 27, 2014 Margaret McCamant rated it really liked it
I've read this before, but apparently long enough ago that I bought a new copy! Enjoyed it again, but I'm not sure about the revisions in this updated version. I understand that every writer would love the chance to fix the prose 10 years after it was originally written, but while some of the bracketed comments were about changes since the extreme hardship of wartime rationing and shortages, many were of this ilk: "I still believe this, if not more with added age and experience." Not so interest ...more
Leah W
Oct 20, 2009 Leah W rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who want Pollan self-congrats, with the autobio flourishes of Ruth Reichl
I'll write more later. I really loved this book, which is on one level a book about how to survive happily during wartime (it was written in 1942), but is also just a terrific piece of food writing.
Summer Rae Garcia
Aug 24, 2007 Summer Rae Garcia rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nostalgia-junkies
Shelves: memoirs, food
How to make a blackout fabulous with sherry and shrimp pate.
Nov 03, 2014 Matt rated it it was amazing
A literary guide (written during WWII) to heedful gastronomy and gracious living, how to cook and eat with economy, attention, and enjoyment. Wickedly funny and stealthily poignant.

"For centuries men have eaten the flesh of other features not only to nourish their own bodies but to give more strength to their weary spirits. A bull's heart, for example, might well bring bravery; oysters, it has been whispered, shed a new potency not only in the brain but in certain other less intellectual region
Jul 11, 2014 Mickie rated it really liked it
This book is amazing. Beyond tighten your belt recipes, Fisher addresses the psychology of food and dignity through times of war. There's always so much more to food than the food. In my mind what we eat is intimately associated with our politics, our beliefs, our sense of self and our do you keep your temple when the wolf is at the door? You make like the little pigs and serve wolf stew.

"Nonetheless, if you have the time and fuel, make a stew for your soul's sake."

"Use as many fresh
Jan 02, 2011 Stacy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-writing
M.F.K Fisher is widely acknowledged as the grand-dame of food writing, and this is perhaps her most famous "essay". Published in 1942 and further edited again by the author 10 years later (later comments are noted in brackets), the book uses a wolf as a representation of hunger, something many Americans experienced during this time due to war shortages.

In each chapter, Fisher counsels readers how to escape hunger through economizing one's kitchen, using everything from inexpensive cuts of meats
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Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was a prolific and well-respected writer, writing more than 20 books during her lifetime and also publishing two volumes of journals and correspondence shortly before her death in 1992. Her first book, Serve it Forth, was published in 1937. Her books deal primarily with food, considering it from many aspects: preparation, natural history, culture, and philosophy. Fisher ...more
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“I cannot count the good people I know who, to my mind, would be even better if they bent their spirits to the study of their own hungers.” 17 likes
“Perhaps this war will make it simpler for us to go back to some of the old ways we knew before we came over to this land and made the Big Money. Perhaps, even, we will remember how to make good bread again.

It does not cost much. It is pleasant: one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world's sweetest smells. But it takes a lot of time. If you can find that, the rest is easy. And if you cannot rightly find it, make it, for probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
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