CNF: on invention

by Natasha Sajé
italics from The Most Excellent Book of Cookery (1555) trans. Timothy Tomasik and Ken Albala

Counterfeit Snow: First a quart of good rich milk. Make sure it has been a year since the cow had a calf. Add six egg whites, one ounce of rice flour, a quarter pound of powdered sugar, whip together like butter. Skim off what comes to the top. That’s the snow. Put it on a plate.

Travel the little tunnel that spans from known to un. Run out of air and breathe anyway.

Peacock and Capon Barded Like Porcupines: Find the slenderest cinnamon sticks, cover in sugar like candy, as long as three or four fingers. Pierce them into said game like the spines of a porcupine. Place the sauce at the bottom of the bowl, making sure it does not touch.

Put a finger in the fish tank and an angel brushes by. Or a sharklet.

Milk jasper: Nice rich milk and the same amount of egg whites. Add chopped parsley, white powder, salt. Mix and simmer and when you have stirred it well, squeeze it in a cloth after it has cooked for a day. Then cut it into slices and fry in butter.

Which flowers are edible? You could be frugal and grow your own. Or forage. Constraints are as useful as bones.

A bowl of elderflowers and as many red roses. Put them into boil and then strain them. Add to this some fine flour, eight egg yolks, two or three ounces of sugar, and a quarter ounce of cinnamon. A bit of powdered saffron, a bit of salt. Mix together and fry as you would other fritters.

The Puritans named girls Patience and Tace, which means silence. Use your tongue for tasting, your hands for cooking and writing. Both for love.

Take marrow, take rhubarb, take plantain, shepherd’s purse and a little comfrey. Anoint your hands with this and then you can place them into boiling water.

Make a rule.

There should not be cloves with shad nor with fried eggs.

Then break it.


Natasha Sajé is the author of three books of poems, including most recently, Vivarium (Tupelo, 2014); a critical book about poetry, Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory, (Michigan, 2014); and a book of creative nonfiction, Terroir: Essays on Otherness, forthcoming from Trinity UP in 2020. Her honors include the Robert Winner and the Alice Fay di Castagnola Awards from the Poetry Society of America, the 2002 Campbell Corner Poetry Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship to Slovenia, and a Camargo Fellowship in France. Sajé teaches at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program. www.natashasaje.com


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “on invention”?

Because I’m a Francophile and a good cook, an historian colleague gave me the new translation of this cookbook. I immediately knew I wanted to make something with it, similar to the way a cook sees an unknown ingredient (longpepper!) and wants to use it. Iterations of this piece included merely editing it into a found poem and a treatise on class distinctions in this period (peasants were eating barley mush while the nobility was indulging). My final spur was the way invention transcends art forms, crafts, and genres, and that I, like the cookbook writer, enjoy being able to give advice.


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