Book Review: The Supper of the Lamb
Image reading a book where superb writing, food, and faith collide. Now imagine that the author is witty, bold, wise, and frequently hilarious. If you could imagine The Office in cookbook form written by an Anglican priest, you would be on the right track.
To date, this is my favorite read of the year.
In fact, I'm tempted to take a few weeks off of reading altogether because I simply can't imagine having as much fun with my nose in a book as I did reading The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon this week.
My brother and sister-in-law have been raving about this book for YEARS (the first edition was published in 1967), but the title wasn't very appealing; it sounds stuffy and earnest and not at all humorous.
Oh my, how wrong I was.
You could call The Supper of the Lamb a "cookbook," but it's more suited to its subtitle, "A Culinary Reflection." While there are recipes scattered through the text, most of them are in the Appendix, much like an afterthought.
There are no pictures and, in fact, there's MAYBE a 50% chance that I'll actually cook anything from this book. But that's beside the point.
Instead, Mr. Capon is pushing a broader agenda, most simply represented as a celebration of life; and life, as you know, is sustained by food. If you've ever felt that you might perhaps gush a little too much at meals or post a few too many pictures of beautiful plates of food, you'll find a kindred spirit in these pages.
"...if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his win, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn't know his job."
At every turn Capon encourages embracing the loveliness of food as a gift and delight.
“Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral – it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness."
But he's just getting warmed up. He's setting the tone for the journey he takes a reader on where he demonstrates what it's really like to notice something and be joyful.
As a reader, you'll be stunned at how long he can spend describing an onion (8 marvelous pages), the way he works in the necessity of a good belch (What??! I love a great burp!), and how many opinions are possible around the subject of knives, calories, and nutritionists!
If you happen to read your books with a pen in hand, your book may end up looking like this...
The writing is so vivid and unexpected.
For instance, in one section Capon is describing the crazy process of making strudel. The directions call for taking the dough and, "flinging it down on the pastry board 100 times."
He's not kidding.
When you're done with the dough work, "fight the temptation to curl up and take a nap in the presence of all this coziness."
I could spend this entire review talking about the engaging way he talks about food prep, but his book is so much more. He spouts wisdom almost unwittingly between thoughts.
There are nuggets:
"Paradox is the only basket large enough to hold truth."
"Pastry is bread transfigured by concern."
And brilliant insights. For instance, he talks about the frustrations parents have with getting kids to eat well.
" ...this desperate situation is anything but serious. First of all, every generation has survived it. We did, and they will. Disaster comes only from taking it seriously -- from playing for keeps what is only a game of tasting and testing...their loves are in in their hands, not ours."
I'm gushing. I know.
Still, I think you'll love a book where you're told to, "pile in a serving dish and toss with an unconscionable amount of butter." And where you'll be encouraged to experiment: "homemade soup is no place for narrow dogmatism. Do anything that comes into your head except oversalt. It is impossible to go wrong."
His chapter on wine is fantastic as are his toasts.
This one, in particular, made me say, "Amen."
“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men - to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us - with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”
Seriously friends, I cannot wait for you to read this gem.
If you don't enjoy it as much as I, please don't tell me. Your loves are in your hands, not mine...