Julia Child’s memoir of her time in France is that of a love affair with a country and its rich culinary tradition.
For this reader, the details of classic French cookery are frankly, sometimes nauseating. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a friend to butter, cream, fat, and all those awful things that taste so delicious. But I enjoy fresh or lightly cooked vegetables and food that hasn’t been overly fussed about. Consider this passage, a brief description of her three-day’s labor to create a “mammoth galantine de volaille“:
First you make a superb bouillon–from veal leg, feet, and bones–for poaching. Then you debone a nice plump four-pound chicken, and marinate the meat with finely ground pork and veal stripe in Cognac and truffles. Then you re-form the chicken, stuffing it with a nice row of truffles wrapped in farce and a fresh strip of pork fat, which you hope ends up in the center. You tie up this bundle and poach it in the declicious bouillon. Once it is cooked, you let it cool and then decorate it–I used green swirls of blanched leeks, red dots of pimiento, brown-black accents of sliced truffle, and yellow splashes of butter. The whole was then covered with beautiful clarified-bouillon jelly.
Whew! Call me pedestrian, but after reading that, all I want it is a fresh plate of greens with a bit of nice oil and vinegar and a tall glass of cool water.
The charm of Child’s memoir is not the food, it’s her enthusiasm for her work. She pursues her beloved with relentless energy and curiosity. When evaluating the recipes that would eventually form part of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she writes that
Working on soups, for instance, I made a soup a day chez Child. On the day for soupes aux choux, I consulted Simca’s recipe as well as the established recipes of Montagne, Larousse, Ali-Bab, and Curnonsky. I read through them all, then made the soup three different ways…my guinea pig, Paul, complimented the three soupes aux choux, but I wasn’t satisfied.
She is a perpetual student, a scientist, an evangelist, and at the end of her story she has converted her home country to the joy of cooking in the tradition of her beloved France.
Happy reading and happy eating,