I know I should address you properly as Father Robert or R.F. Capon, or at very least Mr Capon, but now that I am intimately acquainted with your work, I feel as though we are chums, you and I. I’m sure you would also want to abandon courtesies and instead call me Liss. If you were still alive, I dream we’d be propped next to a gas range somewhere sipping sherry before joyfully pouring it into the neighboring saucepan. We would discuss food and love and our inner struggles and God’s irrational beauty in our midst.
A long time ago a friend gave me a copy of your book The Supper of the Lamb. He spoke highly of it and was certain I too would like it. I giddily packed it as my paperback companion for a weekend getaway. My husband and I were retreating to Galiano, one of British Columbia’s picturesque Gulf Islands, and I intended on making headway through your book. You must know I am reputably not a ferocious reader but my intentions are always good. I planned to give it a go between quiet meals and peaceful walks with my husband on the lush waterfront farm where we were staying.
I wish I could tell you about our time on Galiano in detail but outside of a precious visit with Lorne and Mary Ruth Wilkinson (whom you would love, by the way) and a sumptuous meal at a tiny Provençal restaurant, all I remember is the happy facial pain from my prolonged smile as I devoured The Supper of the Lamb in its entirety. Even today, eight years later, I giggle loudly in bed when I read it. My sweet husband doesn’t really get it – he’s a medieval historian, God bless him – but I do and I love it.
Different chapters of your book have spoken louder than others over the years. When I felt out of my depths in my field of work, I took heart that you introduced yourself within the first pages as an amateur but then immediately distinguished between an amateur and a nonprofessional. You explained why the humble posture of an amateur is the world’s treasure, a merit and not a hinderance. It gave me confidence to pour myself into my job freely. I may have even fooled some into thinking I was actually professional.
Most recently, I have appreciated your distinction between festal and ferial cuisine, essentially elaborate feasts and peasant food. As I write this, my husband and I are living abroad with two sweet children, burying ourselves in student loans and precious memories. We are not starved but our diet is a simple one. You have shown me what a blessing it is to eat within financial restrictions. Below are two of my favourite passages.
“The ferial cuisine, you see, was the poor man’s invention out of necessity but it is light-years away from poor cooking. The poor man may envy the rich their houses, their land, and their cars; but given a good wife, he rarely envies them their table. The rich man dines festally, but unless he is an exceptional lover of being – unless he has the soul of a poet or a saint – his feasts are too often only single. They delight the palette but not the intellect…Every dish in the ferial cuisine provides a double or trebel delight. Not only is the body nourished and the palette pleased, the mind is intrigued at the triumph of ingenuity over scarcity – by the making of slight materials into considerable matter. A man can do worse than be poor. He can miss altogether the sight of the greatness of small things.”
“Let us fast, then – whenever we see fit, and as strenuously as we should. But having gotten that out of the way, let us eat. Festally, first of all, for life without occasions is not worth living. But ferially, too, for life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavoured.”
Thank you and amen! Thank you for elevating small things in my eyes. Thank you for dedicating your time to savouring God’s goodness, both in spirit and in food, and thank you for pausing to harvest and preserve your thoughts in this treasured book. I value your insight and revel in your wit. Surely by the time my work here on earth is done, my face will bear many laugh lines all because of you, dear Bobby. Be blessed.