On Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb
In 1967, a grumpy Episcopal priest tried to write a book on cooking.
But since Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013), by his own admission, was unable not to write books on theology, what he ended up with was “a culinary reflection,” a collection of thoughts on “the cracks and interstices of the culinary keyboard.” In short, The Supper of the Lamb is a book that is always beginning to talk about food and cooking and always ends up talking about the fundamental goodness of the created order. And the fundamental goodness of large amounts of real butter.
Capon structures the book around variations on a recipe for roast lamb, which functions as “a fixed star under which the length and breadth of cooking is explored.” He begins by inviting the reader to contemplate an onion, and in so doing, to encounter its thingliness. At the risk of scaring his reader away altogether, Capon proceeds to spend an entire chapter on slicing an onion. “What we are up to here,” he explains much later in chapter seven, “is not the hasty shaking loose of a culinary result, but a patient rumination on cooking itself. There are more important things to do than hurry.”
Subsequent chapters discuss cookware, stocks, meat, wine, the ideal number of guests at a dinner party, the vicissitudes of good pastry, and even the merits of baking soda. The reader may be confused in places as to whether the author is discussing bourguignon or the Eucharist. With wit, theological acuity, and self-deprecating humor, Capon manages to dwell at length in that liminal space between the holy and the ordinary in such a way as to show that the ordinary is holy and the holy is ordinary.