Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection is not like any cookbook I have ever come across. At least, I think it’s a cookbook. Or it might be a book of theology. And it is funny. And perhaps that’s what describes it the best.
A funny, theological cookbook.
First published in 1969, Supper of the Lamb is about as different a cookbook as you can imagine. It’s about the preparation of one recipe, lamb for eight persons four times. The reader is warned early on: “Lamb for eight persons four times is not a recipe. It is a way of life.” Capon does eventually arrive at the completion of the recipe, but it is one wild ride along the way.
But during the journey to complete the meal, you discover, among a lot of other things, one entire chapter on onions and one on kitchen tools, especially knives; a discussion about tin fiddles (poor, pale substitutes of the real thing); the need to avoid diet foods (no margarine for Capon; it must be butter); the art of soup stock; how to make a good dough; the delights of real bread; the critical role of the amateur; and the importance of hosting dinners, including the blow-by-blow description of the preparations for a dinner that only narrowly avoided disaster.
Capon, now 85, is an Episcopal priest, or was, since he retired from the priesthood to devote himself to full-time writing. And he was a “High Church” Episcopal, which meant his theology was far more common in the Episcopal Church of the 1960s than it would be today. But, even today, it’s easily recognizable for a Christian who’s a theological conservative.
And his preparation of this supper is infused with his theology. Good food, prepared well, is part of the creation that God pronounced “good.” Here, for example, is what he says about cheese: “Cheese is at once a testament to the Creator’s ingenuity in providing enzymes and bacteria that will do fearful and wonderful things for milk and to man’s audacity in the face of some pretty forbidding stuff.” It might take a thesis to unpack that statement which is at once a description of cheese and some formidable theology.
And it is this combination of insights into food and its preparation and theology that structure this book into a thing of joy.
Supper of the Lamb is the February selection of the Readers Guild of the International Arts Movement. If you’re interested, you can download a discussion guide. (I did, because I wanted to see what discussion questions they had.) For March, the selection is The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor.