Slightly off topic but quite fitting for today, I thought.
In 2010 we took a trip to Washington, DC. It was a fantastic trip, full of sightseeing, food and fun. While we were there we made a trip to see Julia Child’s Cambridge Kitchen.
Julia Child was not that well-known in the UK to people of my generation, her books didn’t line the best sellers shelves in the book shops and she wasn’t all over the television. Our world of celebrity chefs was dominated by Hugh, Jamie, Gordon, Delia and Nigella. It wasn’t until Julie & Julia was released in 2009 that she came to my attention.
Julie & Julia is tale of two women. Julie [Powell] cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking for something to do and Julia [Child] ate French food, cooked French food and wrote a French cookbook of encyclopedic proportion. I had never seen any footage of Julia Child before but after looking some up I can understand why she captured the hearts of a nation. She was funny, shrill, made a mess and got it wrong so many times. She was a gem but far from polished.
I quickly got a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. I really had to know what went into making an aspic (it’s enough to turn your stomach, no one should ever want to eat beef flavoured jelly), if her recipe for boeuf bourguignon (all three pages of it) was really worth the hassle and hype and how much butter she really used (lots). My copy of the book is now battered. The pages are curled over and spattered with wine, melted butter and bits of sizzling bacon. There are notes in the margins. It looks like it has been used.
The first time I made boeuf bourguignon I was muttering all sorts before I had even reached the end of page one. The dicing of beef into certain sizes, drying each piece on paper before browning it in the pan, the addition of white bacon fat, the sautéing of vegetables, the separate sautéing of mushrooms in butter and the addition of pearl onions (which I never managed to find in all the shops I scoured) seemed like so much work but it was so worth it. Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon is quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked and eaten. It is the only thing that I make over and over but still use the recipe book for. I don’t want to get it wrong.
Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday. She passed away in 2004 two days before her 92nd birthday and a decade after her beloved husband, Paul.
If Julia hadn’t written MtAoFC then Julie Powell wouldn’t have cooked, blogged about it and published her book. I wouldn’t have read her book or watched the film and I probably wouldn’t have considered blogging. I would never have heard of Julia Child or have learned to make the best beef stew in the whole world. So, thanks Julia – tomorrow I am going to the market to buy leeks, potatoes and butter, get out MtAoFC and make your potage parmentier (leek and potato soup) for dinner to say Happy Birthday.
- Julia Child honoured in Google doodle (guardian.co.uk)
- Marlo Thomas: Bon Appétit! It’s Julia Child’s 100th Birthday (huffingtonpost.com)