The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon
It’s a cook book.
It has recipes.
Well, that and a great deal of philosophy, theology, poetry, parenting advice, and laugh-out-loud humor.
I’d say it’s a little C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Frederick Buechner, N.D. Wilson (Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl), and Bill Bryson.
In a cook book—written by an Episcopalian priest who considers himself an amateur chef.
It’s an absolute celebration of the unnecessary goodness of the simple things—playfulness that leads to profound poetry.
A convivial feast.
I think I shall add it to my top ten, even though it is not a novel.
I can say this as an unashamed electric-stove-user and canned-whipped-cream-eater.
So many passages beg to be read aloud (the part on pocket knives, for example) and I gaffawed repeatedly—like when he compared the feel of packaged bread to a leaky concertina and wrote that boxed cereal tastes like old ironing-board covers soaked in milk.
And yet some passages were so beautiful, they made me want to weep.
Please let me share a small sampling of my heavily underlined book. [You might want to pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in.]
“The world…needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more 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.”
[From the whole chapter devoted to cutting an onion. Yes, you read that right.] “You will note, to begin with, that the onion is a thing, a being, just as you are. Savor that for a moment. The two of you sit here in mutual confrontation. Together with knife, board, table, and chair, you are the constituents of a place in the highest sense of the word. This is a Session, a meeting, a society of things.”
“Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely.”
"A man can do worse than be poor. He can miss altogether the sight of the greatness of small things." “[F]or life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavored.”
“The girl is bored. Additional goodness cannot help her; inattention has immunized her against even what she has.”
"Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of cliches. It takes playfulness to make poetry."
“Red in tooth and claw, we come at last to a fierce and painful city, to the bloody, unobliging reciprocity in which life lives by death, but still insists that death is robbery.”
"A woman with a cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman. She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power, as mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with--and in which she defines the trifles. A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. Unsuspected majesties await him."
"And the mushroom? Ah! It is the proof of creation ex nihilo, the paradigm of the marvelously solid unnecessariness of the world. How anything so nearly nothing could at the same time be so emphatically something--how the Spirit brooding upon the face of the waters could have brought forth this...well, words fail, and mystery reigns."
“With wine at hand, the good man concerns himself, not with getting drunk, but with drinking in all the natural delectabilities of wine: taste, color, bouquet; its manifold graces; the way it complements food and enhances conversation; and its sovereign power to turn evenings into occasions, to lift eating beyond nourishment to conviviality, and to bring the race, for a few hours at least, to that happy state where men are wise and women beautiful, and even one’s children begin to look promising.”
[On a whole chapter about thickening the stew:] "Only miracle is plain; it is the ordinary that groans with the unutterable weight of glory." "It is the smallness of the process that hides the wonder." "Each particle of flour, till now so nearly dry, becomes a creature of the sea again, pregnant with the juices of life, waiting for a pentecost of power." "Unfortunately, we live in an age which is too little impressed by the small and too easily intimidated by the great." "Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large."
[On wooden spoons:] "True enough, they burn easily and become cracked with age; but then, so do we all. It's nice to have a few things around that make no pretense of imperishability."
"The dish, however, should never be wet and sticky. The grains of rice should salute you individually, not simply glare back at you as a single glutinous mass."
"Knead well...it is good for your soul. There are few actions you will ever take that have more of the stuff of history in them. A woman with her sleeves rolled up and flour on her hands is one of the most gorgeous stabilities in the world. Don't let your family miss the sight."
"It should be noted that the rolling of a strudel calls for a certain amount of finesse. Violence, of course, is out; but so are faintheartedness and apologetic flipping. Quiet boldness is perhaps the attitude to strive for."
[On parenting and getting kids to eat well:] “Give them any goals you like—but don’t hold your breath. When all is said and done, their loves are in their hands, not ours; we went into this business only to go out of business. No matter how sad it makes you feel, everything here remains a game: We have yet to sit down to the really serious Supper of the Lamb. Say Amen, and let them go in peace.”
"May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men. We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot... Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts--for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem. Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Or Last Home will be home indeed."
"Homemade soup is no place for narrow dogmatism."
"Love is as strong as death. Man was made to lead with his chin, he is worth knowing only with his guard down, his head up, and his heart rampant on his sleeve. But second, last and most important, playing it safe is not Divine. We have come to the end. I tell you simply what I believe. Love is the widest, choicest door into the Passion."