The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon; edited by Ruth Reichl (New York: The Modern Library, 2002; originally published in 1967. 320 pp)

Robert Farrar Capon is the author of numerous books on theology, cooking, family life, and, sometimes, a combination of the three. His works include Between Noon and Three; Kingdom, Grace, Judgement; and Genesis: The Movie. An Episcopal priest, Capon is the father of six children and two stepchildren, and lives on Shelter Island, New York.

In Consideration of the Cookbook

Don’t get me wrong; I love cookbooks. But they are a hollow medium. At its core, a cookbook is an instruction manual—many more pretty pictures, but an instruction manual nonetheless.

A successful cookbook inspires you to cook.

First, a succulent picture heats your metaphorical oven. The food—photographed to cut to the core of your carnal desires—rumbles your stomach and leads you toward the grocery store to collect ingredients.

Photo by Darwin Bell

Second, the text offers careful instructions for successful culinary implementation. There’s no room for improvisation. Follow your steps; cook your food; eat.

Finally, a cookbook provides opportunity for revision. No matter the quality of a cookbook, your specific tastes might suggest small alterations. Too much salt, too little cumin, more time for marinating. Our tastes are as unique as our physical appearance.

With The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon throws aside all of the standard components of a successful cookbook.

A Moderately High-Church Cook

A self-described Anglican or moderately high-church cook, Capon is both chef and priest. He spends equal measure describing the importance of knife wielding and pondering the philosophical and theological value of food. As The Supper of the Lamb unfolds, Capon imbricates recipes with treatises on God, food, and the meaning of life.

Consider Capon’s passage on an orange peel:

“Peel an orange. Do it lovingly—in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as my grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’s chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men” (4-5).

In such passages as these, we find the incomprehensible value of The Supper of the Lamb. Where most cookbooks state, “1 orange, peeled,” Capon expands the notion of peeling an orange into a discussion about the beauty of God’s creation.

How Heartburn Relates to Our Deep Spiritual Longings

Or, consider this quotation from a chapter on heartburn:

“We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.
That is the unconsolable [sic] heartburn, the lifelong disquietude of having been made in the image of God” (189).

While functionally, we all need helpful ways in which to manage heartburn after a meal. Capon expands the concept of heartburn into a spiritual state. Our physical appetite connects with our spiritual appetite. The desire for success, the longing for love, the hope for peace: all of these lofty ideals link with the very carnal notion of hunger, appetite, consumption, and heartburn when taken in excess.

Not a Cookbook for Everyone

If you are looking for a functional cookbook, The Supper of the Lamb is not for you. There are no images of succulently prepared food; there are no step-by-step pictures of the author preparing food. Truthfully, I haven’t prepared any of the recipes from Capon’s book—I couldn’t tell you about the quality of the recipes therein.

But, if you are interested in the philosophical and theological ideas surrounding the dinner table, The Supper of the Lamb is a masterpiece. The level of introspection and quality of thought is pristine. The Supper of the Lamb is a must read for all theological and philosophical foodies.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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