It was not hard to decide to read the new book Keeping the Feast. When the invitation came, they had me at the author’s name: Milton Brasher-Cunningham played with Billy Crockett, and I have heard and loved both his lyrics and his guitar lines a million times. But the book was also promoted by the foreword by Sara Miles, who is herself 10 feet tall– an astounding writer who courageously and joyfully gives away tons of food each week in San Francisco (but not before rolling up her sleeves to cook for the crew who distributes it). To put the cherry on top of all of that deliciousness, the invitation to read invoked the name of Robert Farrar Capon, whose magisterial work The Supper of the Lamb still comes to mind every single time I dice an onion.
Though the book is thoughtful and erudite and filled with both poetry and recipes, Milton understands that cooking isn’t about perfection, or innovation, or impressive culinary flourish, but about the people who we feed. It is about making something with your hands and imagination and instincts, then watching it delight and sustain and heal people. Which resonates into far more than food and cooking as it flows right into and through the Eucharistic gathering of the ragtag followers of God.
The key to the book comes in the very center, when the author is looking for a job as a cook and is asked by the chef if he has received training. Since he has no formal degree, he rightly responds that he is self-taught, and goes about the rest of the interview. It is only upon further reflection that he realizes that this is not, strictly speaking, true: he has learned each aspect of his ability from a different person. Kevin taught him eggs, Bill taught him how to feel for steak doneness, Pedro showed him mashed potatoes for 300, and so on, all the way back to his mother’s fried chicken. So too, he notes, with the Christian faith. And so, too, for me. I have learned about justice from Israel, hope from Diana, kindness from Ken, reconciliation from Jackie, encouragement from Amy, and love from Mike. These are my mentors, though they themselves have no formal training either.
What made this beautiful book even better was the places from where I read it: on Thanksgiving evening, sitting next to a burbling stock pot creating the essence for another batch of cornbread stuffing. On a short night while two pork shoulders smoked in the dark, waiting for the new day. After my first foray into pollo ala brasa– rotisserie chicken over a charcoal fire. And I was deeply pleased that our Thanksgiving dinner had serendipitously included about half of the dishes he details in the book. As Milton quotes Tozer, two pianos tuned with the same fork will sound just the same.
There may be small bones to pick with this book– the way the author overuses some metaphors, or indulges in certain redundancies– but in the end it is a great book because it is so utterly human. It plainly reminds us that we are in bodies, and we are feeding our bodies as well as the bodies of others, and that this kind of basic community is what makes us human and connected to our Maker. You are here, and I am here, so let’s break bread together. There is a lot to say about Christian spirituality, but it doesn’t say much if it isn’t grounded in this essential, glorious, empowering truth.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.