Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

At Hemingway's Table: Food for the Five Senses

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

At Hemingway's Table: Food for the Five Senses

Article excerpt

Hemingway's one-time secretary and daughter-in-law, author of Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways, Valerie Hemingway offers her memories of dining with the author, presenting him in a humorous and human light and reminding us of the sense of community and storytelling that develop around a dining table.

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During the two years I worked as Ernest Hemingway's secretary, 1959 and 1960, a great deal of time was spent eating and drinking. It is not an exaggeration to say that Hemingway perfected the art of eating and drinking in the same way he perfected the art of writing and in his works we encounter many fine and some humble meals and a prodigious quantity of drinking. I not only observed Hemingway at the table and accompanied him through many meals, I also learned from him the joys of eating as a nourishing, replenishing, refreshing, invigorating and occasionally an intellectually stimulating exercise. Wherever and whenever it occurred, eating with Hemingway was an adventure. Fast food was not for him. The slow enjoyment of each morsel, washed down with copious sips or gulps of an appropriate beverage, preferably a carefully chosen local wine, and accompanied by vigorous conversation and genial camaraderie, that is how I learned the pleasure of eating at the table of Ernest Hemingway.

I use the word table loosely. We might have been sitting on a mossy bank dangling our feet in the Irati River that runs through the giant virgin forest north of Pamplona in the Basque country, barely inhabited since the time of the Druids; or we could have been leaning against the trunk of the Pembroke Coral, as Ernest named his Spanish rental car, while we sipped cool Tavel rose and ate fresh baguette with hunks of the local cheese and circles of Bermuda onions while we breathed in the Provencal landscape Cezanne has immortalized on his canvases. No conversation needed then. Perhaps we were at the great Parisian fish restaurant Prunier, an eatery Mary was so fond of, she persuaded the management to sell her a set of their plates that she mailed to Cuba; or there at the Finca enjoying a home cooked meal served on those Prunier plates, with Ernest's longhaired tabby cat, Cristobal Colon, sitting in front of his master waiting to share the delicate dorado caught by Ernest the day before in his beloved fishing boat, Pilar, as he and mate Gregorio Fuentes trolled the Gulf Stream. I spent more than fifty days on that boat with them. Some of the best meals I have eaten were cooked in the tiny galley kitchen by Gregorio with fish so fresh you could almost hear its heart beat. Nothing could better Gregorio's salsa verde, a delicate green sauce of blended herbs and vegetables which we ate as we bobbed on the water in the heat of the day carefully watching and waiting for the fishing lines to jerk. Indeed, I have many wonderful memories of my initiation into the world of food during my travels around Spain, France, and Cuba in my late teens in the company of Ernest and Mary Hemingway.

It was Mary Hemingway who taught me to cook, first on Sundays, cook's day off at the Finca Vigia, and later in that bright yellow kitchen in the Ketchum home she called the Block House. I had grown up in mid-century Ireland when food was still rationed in the wake of World War II. Cooking was far from adventurous: daily porridge and weekend fried breakfasts, boiled dinners at midday with the leftover meat supplementing bread and butter at supper-time. Rice was a pudding; spaghetti didn't exist except in stories. Rice, we knew, grew in paddy fields in China; nobody said so but I supposed there were fields of spaghetti all over Italy. When I first tasted it with tinned tomato sauce at the age of seventeen, spaghetti seemed more banal than anything Irish cuisine had to offer. Tea was the saving grace especially if served when friends or relations came to visit. Hospitality is the hallmark of my countrymen and tea was the meal that was shared. …

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