Casaubon's Book

Christine Ferber, Art, Obsession

Rod Dreher has an interesting post (building on a NYTimes article) about the glories of the art of confiture and why the obsessive creation of food-as-art is worth doing:

When I went to Paris a year ago with my niece Hannah, I brought back some confiture by Christine Ferber. She makes some of the most prized jellies and jams in all of France. They’re expensive; those little jars you see above, which I brought back from that trip, cost about $9 or $10 each at the exchange rate back then. But oh, so very worth it. It’s hard to describe the intensity of Ferber’s confitures, which are difficult to impossible to find in the US. We brought back five jars from our trip to Paris last fall, and we’re just now on the last one; we have been stretching them out for all this time, something that’s easy to do because they are like jellied fruit electricity. A little Ferber confiture goes a very long way. And the pleasure — man, it’s such a special, special taste.

I’ve had her confiture (Eric and I visited Alsace in the 1990s), and it was wonderful and amazing, but I admit, I don’t quite get the reverence foodies have for certain very high-cost, very labor-intense foods.  Which is strange, because aren’t I the queen of home preservation, and haven’t I spent all this time persuading people to do the time consuming work of putting up their own?

Yes, I have.  But I guess I’m not that interested in food-as-art, if by art we mean “time consuming, expensive and rare.”  To me, eating is a passing thing – it is fun, I’ve had some amazing meals I still treasure the memory of, but ultimately, I want my food experiences to be ones that can be repeated and accessed.  The truth is that my household of ten (ish) people doesn’t need tiny $10 jars of confiture from France – one would last about through one piece of toast.  What it needs is absolutely delicious blackberry jam in quart jars.  I don’t want to eat an artisanal cheese that I can only afford once a year, so much as a really good functional goat cheese I can crumble on my salad whenever I need a great dinner quickly.

A reader asks Dreher what the difference is between Ferber who is admittedly obsessed with making good jam, and a corporate lawyer workaholic.  Dreher tries to suss it out, with interesting results.  For me, I don’t see much difference, other than that I personally prefer to eat jam over reading briefs.  As long as there isn’t a family being neglected, being an obsessive artist or workaholic of any kind is one’s own privilege.  If it messes up other people’s lives, I’d go for the good, but less perfect jam you can do in human time.

All of this really comes down to the fact that I’m not a true foodie.  Don’t get me wrong – I love food, I enjoy eating delicious things, I like to try new stuff, I’m interested in artisanal food.  But the idea of eating one amazing thing one time, just me or just me and one other person because I can’t afford to share it out, that doesn’t do much for me.  I think what she does is interesting, and am curious about what could be applied to my own preserving, but I don’t see the idea of a food hero there, maybe because I’m not an artist myself.

I also sometimes have a bit of trouble with the larger culture that says that the most important and interesting food is food-as-art.  It is natural, but the truth is that everyone has to eat three meals a day.  I’m personally most interested in how you make all three of those meals as fresh, delicious and environmentally sound as possible within the realistic parameters of one’ s imperfect life, not in occasional transcendence.  That’s a personal taste, of course, but I also am troubled by a food culture in which we watch television to see people make meals that no one could actually make at home in real life, but lack access to good, tasty food that we can put together on a daily basis.  Now it isn’t either/or – there’s a place for the wonderful and transcendent at dinner too, the meal you can’t have often.  I just don’t find myself most interested in the heroic artist, but in how ordinary people feed themselves and others well every day.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 NM
    April 24, 2013

    My personal cooking ambition is to emulate my Italian peasant immigrant grandmother, and her ilk. She was the best cook I’ve ever encountered, and her cooking was very much based in the home garden first, and moving outward from there, focused on the practical business of feeding the family, efficiently and well (and not to the exclusion of the rest of her busy life). Can’t recall whether I stole this notion from someone else — possibly you! — but I try to be a modern-peasant cook.

  2. #2 Kate
    April 25, 2013

    Hmmm….I guess I am a foodie, and I do see food as an art. I admit to loving the occasional taste of a truly sublime food. But I come down with you on the side of good, everyday meals. I suppose where we might differ is that I see the real possibility of art in those everyday meals. Perhaps not the “heroic art” as you call it, but a domestic art, or domestic grace. I really do think there’s a quiet artistry in making delicious food out of pantry items and fresh, seasonal produce. The artfulness of thrift, and invention, and skill, and inspired risk-taking, and attention to detail, and putting meals on that table day in and day out, and yes, even scrubbing that counter when the work is done. This art isn’t flashy. It can’t be displayed for a potential buyer. It doesn’t stay done the way some forms of art do. Maybe it’s not even possible to see it in a single moment. But the artist can be known for feeding themselves and others well over a lifetime. I think this IS food-as-art, just not in a high art sense.

  3. #3 Brad K.
    Ponca City, OK
    April 27, 2013

    Sharon,

    There is a discussion that occurs regularly amongst horse owners. Most will lament the poor average quality of horses that come from random, back yard breedings. There are those that think only registered pure blood strains are “good” horses. Some think pure bred horses are an affectation, and seldom worth the cost.

    The explanation I like best is that most people need a cross, something in between the pure breeds. And we need to produce lots of that kind of horse.

    But to do that we have to have some of the baseline breeds, well managed and preserved intact through the generations — by the pure bred breeders (the best of them, anyway).

    I see you labor intensive, high cost foods, and foodies, as serving that baseline function. While most don’t need their product, the presence of their products in the world improve the standards and expectations of others, and provide a resource for those looking to improve.

    Very few of us ever went to space. Yet the space programs here and abroad have actually spun off some benefits that have made lives better. Now, if we could manage to transit to space and beyond with a reasonable carbon footprint, fewer toxic chemicals and processes, and a useful, sustainable level of energy demand . .

    Consider the $10 confiture a space mission, or a hero, or a Rolls Royce. Just knowing about it, or experiencing it once, can be life changing for the better. Maybe.

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