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How to Cook a Wolf

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  2,134 ratings  ·  213 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
Jennifer Cooper
Apr 29, 2008 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
Abby Hagler
Jan 07, 2012 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 ...more
Oct 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: odd, 2014, war
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
Feb 24, 2009 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 ...more
Janice (JG)
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book to get a real taste of what it was like to be rationed during the war, how to survive in scarcity and emergency, and how to do it with humor as well as just good common sense.
This recipe did give me pause:

Aunt Gwen's Cold Shape (!)
1 calf head, quartered
salt, pepper, bay, herbs as desired
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup dry wine

The recipe does call for removing the eyes, ears, snout, and brains. Thank heavens.
Who would think a book written in 1942 at the height of World War II and updated in 1954 would have relevance today? Yet under the proficient pen of MFK Fisher, you do. The “wolf” is your hunger, how you deal with cooking healthfully and with enough sustenance to leave you and your family full and keep the wolf at bay.

Fisher was ahead of her time; she brined cuts of meat, talked about eating less red meat (for health reasons as opposed to rationing), and praised polenta and risotto. Adorably,
Heather Baird
Feb 08, 2014 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
Jul 09, 2008 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
Not exactly a cookbook, but a book about cooking and eating, and the philosophy thereof. MFK Fisher is some one I would have dearly loved to know.
Mar 10, 2016 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 ...more
Dec 20, 2011 added it
Shelves: truthfully
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 ...more
May 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fisher is a delightful prose stylist, and her advice for surviving in the midst of a wartime crunch on supplies resonates in a contemporary ecologically-minded, waste-averse context. Plus, the recipes are a blast, and she's very witty. I love her bracketed asides, commenting in the 1950s on the original text of the 1942 edition. Fisher is not just telling readers how to skimp and save--also how to mix cocktails, fantasize about luxurious cooking no longer within their means, and to feed pets ...more
May 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, teaching
"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
Oct 05, 2012 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.
Summer Rae Garcia
Jul 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nostalgia-junkies
How to make a blackout fabulous with sherry and shrimp pate.
Oct 10, 2016 rated it liked it
looking for ingredients... any suggestions?
Hilary Hanselman
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Practical advice on the art of eating whether you're facing the economy of war or not
Apr 05, 2013 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
Cynthia K
Aug 30, 2011 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
Sep 09, 2009 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
Aug 31, 2011 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
Jun 24, 2013 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 ...more
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm going to have to buy a copy of this book. I took it out from the library and didn't have it nearly long enough. It's best enjoyed in small snippets, or the amount of information flying at you can get to be overwhelming. M.F.K. Fisher is so full of great tidbits and recipes that I know I'll need to refer to her later down the road, and her insistence that cooks be aware of things like the amount of energy they're using in cooking and how they re-utilize even the meanest of leftovers is still ...more
Jun 15, 2009 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.
Jun 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
I just didn't like it. Her tone in this book is off-putting and I find her, in general, unconvincing on the subject of economy. Sometimes she sounds incredibly childish and self involved especially in her revisionary comments from the 50s, one of which was "That was a good sentence." ugh.
Joy Schultz
May 05, 2016 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.
Jul 28, 2015 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.
Debbie Balzotti
Jul 24, 2009 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
Leah W
Jul 11, 2009 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.
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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
“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.” 21 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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