The New York Times
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVotoby Joan Reardon
With her outsize personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. But despite that familiarity, how much do we really know of the inner Julia? Now more than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent memorably introduced in the hit movie Julie & Julia, open the/i>/i>… See more details below
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With her outsize personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. But despite that familiarity, how much do we really know of the inner Julia? Now more than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent memorably introduced in the hit movie Julie & Julia, open the window on Julia’s deepest thoughts and feelings. This riveting correspondence, in print for the first time, chronicles the blossoming of a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women and the turbulent process of Julia’s creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written. Frank, bawdy, funny, exuberant, and occasionally agonized, these letters show Julia, first as a new bride in Paris, then becoming increasingly worldly and adventuresome as she follows her diplomat husband in his postings to Nice, Germany, and Norway. With commentary by the noted food historian Joan Reardon, and covering topics as diverse as the lack of good wine in the United States, McCarthyism, and sexual mores, these astonishing letters show America on the verge of political, social, and gastronomic transformation.
The New York Times
"The spirit of the indomitable Julia Child lives on in Joan Reardon’s AS ALWAYS, JULIA, a saucy soup-to-nuts compilation of the correspondence between Child and lifelong friend Avis DeVoto. As Julia said, ‘Life itself is the proper binge.’ Let’s live it up!"
– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair, Dec. issue
"The women’s frank, tender letters are an absolute delight to read, as much for their mouthwatering discussion of cuisine as for the palpable fondness they portray for one another. In an early note, DeVoto calls Child’s evolving manuscript "as exciting as a novel to read," and, indeed, so are their conversations."
-Booklist, starred review
"This epistolary testament to a close friendship will surely appeal to Child fans."
- Kirkus Reviews
"Witty, enlightening and entertaining, these letters serve as a compelling companion volume to Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
- Publishers Weekly
The letters exchanged between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto from 1952 to '61, as the former was creating the first volume ofMastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).
During many years of research, culinary historian and biographer Reardon (M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans, 2008, etc.) had collected most of DeVoto's letters to Child, but it wasn't until 2006, when the Avis DeVoto papers were unsealed after 30 years archived in a Cambridge library, that she read those written by Child. Of the more than 400 letters they mailed to each other between 1952 and '88, Reardon has selected those that capture the first nine years of their friendship, making only minor adjustments (accents for French words, punctuation for clarity). Child's letters were written from the myriad cities where her husband was stationed for his work in the U.S. State Department: Paris, Marseille, Washington, D.C., Oslo and elsewhere; DeVoto's were all postmarked in Cambridge, Mass. The women's correspondence began when Child wrote to DeVoto's husband, journalist Bernard DeVoto, praising hisHarper's article about knives, and it was Avis, not he, who responded. Living in Paris, Child had been consumed by an obsession with French food and was teaching cooking classes and writing a book on the subject. She sent the first draft to Avis, who played a vital role in getting it published. Even before they met in person, DeVoto and Child formed a bond strong enough to qualify as "soul mate[s]." Rooted in a shared love of great food, their exchanges cover recipes, family news, all the quotidian ins and outs of their lives, emotions, enthusiasm for the book and all the many trials of finding it a publisher and seeing Julia's endeavor brought to light in America. The letters are detailed, engaging, witty, warmhearted, and immensely honest, and the women's comfort in their friendship is evidenced by the total lack of pretense and the vast quantity of letters they shared, most of which are signed off with love.
Nothing too compelling, but this epistolary testament to a close friendship will surely appeal to Child fans.
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Read an Excerpt
Almost three and a half years after arriving in Paris with her husband, Paul, Julia Child read an article in a 1951 issue of Harper's written by the historian and prolific journalist Bernard DeVoto. In "Crusade Resumed," he revisited what he considered "the only mission I have ever set myself, that of trying to get for the American housewife a kitchen knife she can cut something with." DeVoto criticized American-made stainless steel knives for their inability to hold an edge, and he detailed his continuing search for a carbon steel paring knife. As a cook who had already acquired a substantial batterie de cuisine, Julia sent him one, and Avis, who answered most of her husband's letters, acknowledged the gift. Soon "Dear Mrs. Child" and "Dear Mrs. DeVoto" became "Dear Julia" and "Dear Avis."
As an employee of the State Department's U.S. Information Service (USIS), which operated as a sort of propaganda agency, Paul set up photo and other art exhibits that would present the United States in a favorable light. Meanwhile, Julia explored the markets and dined in the small restaurants of Paris. Blessed with a hearty appetite, she had never been particularly interested in food until she began working with Paul in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China, where she enjoyed exotic meals. But in the City of Light, she experienced a culinary epiphany, and she had all the fervor of a religious convert regarding French food, wine, and cooking utensils. Above all, she valued the importance the French placed on mtier (skill). Propelled by her enthusiasm, she began a formal culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in 1949 and sought out friends who thought about food the way she did. She met Simone "Simca" Beck, a Parisian who was well versed in the cuisines of Normandy, Alsace, and Provence, at a party for embassy personnel. The two clicked immediately and began to discuss food and "how to make a valid professional project out of it." When Simca and her friend Louisette Bertholle urged Julia to join Le Cercle des Gourmettes, an exclusive women's club started in the late 1920s, Julia was delighted. The three women often arrived hours before the scheduled Gourmettes' luncheon to assist the chef of the day in what they considered a private cooking lesson.
Cooking in tandem became a heady experience. So in January 1952, when a handful of Julia's American friends who either lived in Paris or were on holiday asked her to teach them something about French cooking, she persuaded Simca and Louisette to join her in organizing classes in a venture that came to be known as L'cole des Trois Gourmandes. The three women taught twice a week. Julia organized the lesson plans and typed the recipes. The format included two hours of instruction and hands-on cooking, after which everyone sat down to a leisurely meal in the Childs' dining room, with Paul selecting the wines.
Teaching cooking classes together soon led to writing a cookbook together. A few years earlier, after Louisette returned to France from a visit to the United States, she and Simca had submitted about six hundred recipes for a book to be published by the New York publishing house Ives Washburn. The head of the house, Sumner Putnam, had hired a translator/writer named Helmut Ripperger to prepare some of the recipes for a small spiral-bound book called What's Cooking in France, which was published early in 1952 but not widely promoted. Ripperger was not interested in working on a much larger cookbook, no contract was negotiated, and the project stalled.
Simca and Louisette turned to Julia to help them realize their plan to publish their big book. Although reluctant at first, Julia soon recognized the benefits of the project, which presented an opportunity to test and refine recipes and "translate the genuine taste of French cooking into American." Julia also knew that simply being an American might give her an advantage in dealing with U.S. publishers, and she began to question the wisdom of publishing the book with Ives Washburn. In the fall of 1952, she requested that all of the material already sent to Putnam be returned for translation and editing. Then she, Simca, and Louisette began to outline the tentatively titled "French Cooking for All" and discuss its scope. They told Ives Washburn that they wanted the manuscript published in a sequence of five individual volumes.
Meanwhile, Julia sent the first draft of the book to Avis, who immediately saw its potential and communicated her enthusiasm to Julia, along with the advice to extricate the project from Ives Washburn. Avis was an enterprising cook who knew how rare it was to find shallots even in the specialty shops of Cambridge and understood that there were limited places where an American cook could find a variety of herbs. She quickly became Julia's stateside adviser on ingredients, utensils, and the preferences of American cooks, as well as a valuable sounding board for Julia's staunch liberalism, ambition, and occasional insecurity.
Because Houghton Mifflin was her husband's publisher, Avis knew the staff at the venerable Boston publishing house, and she contacted her friend Dorothy de Santillana, senior editor there. De Santillana instinctively knew that this technique-focused cookbook was unlike the Americanized French recipes that were being offered in women's magazines and upscale cookbooks. She was interested.
In the following early letters between Julia and Avis, the latest victims of Senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt get equal time with experiments on beurre blanc. Avis's accounts of forays into the West and excitement over Democrat Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential campaign cross paths with Julia's descriptions of the catch at the Old Port in Marseille, where Paul was posted in 1953. ("What luck for us," Julia says. "It could have been Abbis Ababababa.") Family members are introduced, and recipes are discussed at length.
Based on de Santillana's assessment of the manuscript and Avis's enthusiasm, Houghton Mifflin began discussing a contract in late 1953. It was signed on June 1, 1954. One-third of the $750 advance was forwarded to Julia as the representative of the Trois Gourmandes, with instructions to submit the manuscript of "French Cooking in the American Kitchen" (as it was now called) as soon as possible. Avis signed on as Julia's unofficial line editor. It was the perfect arrangement all around.
81 Rue de L'Universit, Paris, 7
March 8, 1952
Dear Mr. de Voto:
Your able diatribe against the beautiful-beautiful-rust-proof-edge-proof American kitchen knife so went to my heart that I cannot refrain from sending you this nice little French model as a token of my appreciation.
For the past three years here, I've had the good fortune to be able to spend my life studying French cooking and have amassed a most satisfyingly professional batterie de cuisine, including a gamut of excellent French knives. When we were in the USA last summer I picked up four beautiful-beautiful American stainless steel housewives knives, of different makes, to try them out. But I have been quite unable to sharpen them satisfactorily. I am therefore wondering if the average American housewife really wants a sharp knife in the kitchen, as many of my compatriots accuse me resentfully: "But your knives are so sharp! They're dangerous!"
If you are in need of some good professional knives, I would be very pleased to get some for you, and the prices are modest:
This one is about 70 (280 francs)
8-inch blade, about $2.40
7-inch flexible fish filleter, about $1.00
Mailed from here Fourth Class, one or two at a time, there seems to be no duty to pay at your end.
We do enjoy you in Harper's!
(Mrs. Paul Child)
8 Berkeley Street
Cambridge 38, Massachusetts
April 3, 1952
Dear Mrs. Child:
I hope you won't mind hearing from me instead of from my husband. He is trying to clear the decks before leaving on a five weeks' trip to the Coast and is swamped with work, though I assure you most appreciative of your delightful letter and the fine little knife. Everything I say you may take as coming straight from him on the subject of cutlery we are in entire agreement.
This is the first knife which has come from France we have had one from Spain and one from Germany and a great many from all over the States. I am particularly happy to have it because I have known all along that no French cook would be caught dead with a stainless steel knife. I have an enormous collection of knives all sent since the Harpers' piece and an earlier one in Fortune last spring but the prizes of my collection remain two ten-inch chef's knives made by a firm called Pouzet which I have owned for twenty-five years and which I plan to hand down to my children. I was in Paris for a couple of weeks in 1950 but was rather too busy eating to think about hunting for knives, a temptation I am sure you will understand.
An aside on eating I am green with envy at your chance to study French cooking. There are two dishes served at Bossu on the Quai Bourbon that I remember in my dreams, and if by any possible chance you know how to make them I would be forever in your debt if you would let me know. One is a mixture of eggs, cream and fresh tarragon, done in a saucepan. I probably can't get the right kind of cream for it but I live in hopes I have tried it a dozen times with little success. The other is their veal in cream with tarragon. I am fairly successful with this using sometimes a dry white wine or even vermouth but Bossu probably has access to younger veal than I can get here.
You are quite right in thinking that stainless steel knives can't be sharpened properly. If they are cheap, the steel is too soft to take an edge. The very expensive ones will hold an edge for a long time but can only be re-sharpened at the factory I am thinking of the brand called Frozen-Heat, made by Robeson at Perry, New York. These people have sent us two five piece sets retailing at $19.95 and I must admit they are good. But who wants to send knives to the factory to be reconditioned?
We have been immeasurably heartened, however, to find that there are a number of small manufacturers who are quietly turning out excellent carbon steel knifes at reasonable prices, though where they are sold I cannot tell, as the American housewife wants stainless steel and that's what the retailers give her. A butchers' supply house seems to be the answer, and one of these houses in Kansas City sent us a boning knife, which sounds like your flexible fish filleter a wonderful knife. The best value of all is a set made by the Goodell Company in Antrim, New Hampshire long slicer, short chef's knife, boning knife, paring knife, pot-roast fork, plus a magna-grip to hold them on the wall it retails for $7.95. This set restored our faith in American industry, and my hardware man at Harvard Square now stocks them and they sell like hot-cakes.
Since you are on your way to becoming an expert in these matters, I wish you would tell me how you sharpen your knives. Steel, hone, or what? I haven't mastered the hone, though if I ever get time I mean to practice until I have learned to do it correctly. I do use a steel frequently, but I find that once a year or so my knives need a trip to a really good professional who grinds them very gently and then finishes with a hone. The New Yorker last week spoke highly of a sharpener called the Emmons Rifle which has been made in Connecticut for a hundred and fifty years and sells for all of ninety-five cents. It's a fourteen inch paddle covered with some special Turkish emery I have sent for one but it hasn't come yet. Most patent sharpeners are death on knifes, I find especially the kind that give a sharp edge but remove ribbons of steel in the process. Of course you are right in thinking that lots of women are terrified of sharp knives but once having used a good one I don't see how they can go back to hacking and mashing.
We have learned a tremendous lot this last year on the cutlery question, and sometime DeVoto is going to write another piece on the subject. We want to visit some of the manufacturers first at Antrim, and at Southbridge and Ayer, Massachusetts, where Dexter and Murphy make fine knives. We are even working our way through a six-volume affair called La Coutellerie Depuis l'Origine Jusqu' Nos Jours, by a gent named Pag, but since it was written before the invention of stainless steel, it won't be much help except to show off our learning to the enemy, who probably won't be impressed.
Thanks again for the knife, which is a little gem. My husband, I regret to say, has snitched it for his own use cutting the lemon peel the proper thinness for the six o'clock Martini but it will be mine while he is in California. We are both pleased that you like the Easy Chair(1) and we both enjoyed hearing from you.
Avis W. DeVoto
81 Rue de L'Universit, Paris, 7
May 5, 1952
Dear Mrs. De Voto:
I have been planning to write you a long and well-organized letter in response to yours. But, with the tourist season and the sudden inauguration of "Mrs. Child's Cooking School, Paris Branch," there has been too little time. As to the tourists, we have been to the Follies Bergres, the Lido, the Ritz Bar, the Meurice Bar, the American Express, the Coq Hardi, the Tour d'Argent, the Table du Roi, and are now taking quite a bit of bicarbonate of soda. I don't ever want to go to any of them again except the American Express. And what is worse, a great many of these people are for Taft(2) and think McCarthy is doing a fine thing, which makes digestion even more difficult. What is the country coming to, I sometimes wonder.
The cooking school, "L'cole des Trois Gourmandes" is a joint enterprise with two French women. Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 until 2, including lunch, maximum of 5 pupils. Object, to teach the fundamentals of French cooking to Americans. So far we've given 22 lessons, and it is working out well, and a tremendous amount of work for us professors, as each of us has slightly different methods, and we want everything to be as perfect and complete as possible. I'm enjoying it immensely, as I've finally found a real and satisfying profession which will keep me busy well into the year 2,000. But I wish I had started in when I was 14 yrs. old.
I was fascinated with your account of the KNIFE. You must have a kitchen full by now. And particularly pleased to hear that there are some good ones being manufactured in the USA. The "Frozen Heat" types sound interesting, but who, as you say, wants to send them back to be re-sharpened. You'd have to have two sets. But, having seen lately, how few women have any idea how to use a knife (including French women), and remembering our American ideal of "glittering beauty," it will take a great deal of awakening to make the average housewife knife-conscious.
I suppose one method will be the slow but sure one of the home economics courses, such as Life wrote up several weeks ago.
As to knife sharpening, I am no expert. My husband, who is a one-man art factory, goes over them once in a while with a soap stone (carborundum with oil); and I keep an edge on them with a big steel fusil. I have once this year taken them all to a professional, who did a beautiful job, but I did feel he took off quite a bit of steel. However, I don't expect them to last a life time, I just want them to cut well. I don't know anything about hones. The next time I have the "man" sharpen them, I will hover over him, and report what he does. I think he has a mechanical wheel, and also a hand stone. Would be interested to hear how you like the Emmons Rifle, and what it is.
You mentioned French cream. I think the difference between theirs and ours is how the separator is set. In theirs, the separator is set so that what comes out of the "other" spout is practically water, which is given to the pigs or thrown away. So it, the cream, is a most concentrated thick mass. And what you get is "whole cream." Some of it they make butter out of, the rest is sold as "crme frache." And they don't put it under refrigeration, so it gets that slightly sour taste. I wonder if one took US cream and put it through a separator one wouldn't get the same result. You could always get a richer flavor to your sauces by "buttering them up," i.e., after the sauce is off the heat, beat in bits of butter, a bit at a time; but never reheat to even under the boil again or the sauce will thin out or the butter will release itself. And you could get a slight sour by a few drops of lemon juice.
Have been only once to Le Bossu, and had neither of the two dishes you mentioned. Scrambled Eggs, French, they do not scramble them as long as we do; the eggs remain in a soft broken custard, rather than in flakes. Done over very low heat, almost like a Hollandaise, stirred constantly until they "custard." A bit of butter beaten in at the end will add richness. Tarragon could be chopped up with the butter, and so impregnate itself.
Veau la Crme, l'Estragon (a method). Heat butter in pan until it has foamed and is just turning blonde. Saut the veal, about 2 minutes on each side. Salt and pepper it. Stir in minced shallots. Pour in some brandy, set it aflame, let burn 1/2 minute and cover pan. Pour in a bit of white wine (dry) and some good reduced meat stock. Sprinkle in 1/2 your tarragon (chopped). Cover pan and let stew about 5 minutes. Uncover pan, turn up heat, let sauce reduce. Add heavy cream, and let that reduce. Sprinkle in fresh herbs before serving. The veal shouldn't be overcooked, and all of this shouldn't take more than 15 minutes.
Mr. DeVoto's article on the hopelessly antediluvian monsters that Eisenhower will face in Congress(3) is a most sobering thought piece. But I want the Republicans in anyway; they need to "grow up" to their responsibilities. I have faith that the nation is strong enough to withstand them and to teach them, though my faith is not without dreadful qualms.
Mon mari se joint moi, chre madame, en vous priant d'accepter,
vous et votre mari, l'expression de nos meilleurs voeux(4),
(Mrs. Paul Child)
8 Berkeley Street
Cambridge 38, Massachusetts
May 30, 1952
Dear Mrs. Child:
The knife has come and it is a dream I am somewhat overwhelmed by your kindness. I have not used it yet but I expect it will perform nobly I want to try it first on a fish. In about two weeks my twelve-year-old son and I move down to the shore for the summer, and if he can't catch what passes for sole in those waters (flounder), he can provide me with a mackerel. But I think the knife will also be very good for vegetables it really is a joy to use knives like the two you sent me. They are as easy as possible to sharpen with a steel. Some of my best American knives are hell to sharpen, especially the hollow-ground ones. Hollow-ground is a hollow fraud it may be fine for razors but in the kitchen it is perfectly useless.
Of course I know the Flint knives whose pretty picture you sent me, and I have a fine specimen. As I think I told you, these stainless steel knives, the expensive ones, hold an edge for quite a long time compared with a carbon steel knife, but it is practically impossible to sharpen them at home as the steel is too hard and too brittle. I have been faithfully using the Frozen Heat knives sent me by Emerson Case(5), because I promised him I would, but they weren't as sharp as your two knives to begin with. Funny thing happened with one of those Robeson knives. I had an extra one, roast carving size, sent me by the then president of Macy's last summer, but when Mr. Case sent me two of his sets I gave this odd knife to my part-time cook. Mary never abuses a knife; she has been too well indoctrinated by the DeVotos. But she was slicing an onion on a board one night at home and the Robeson knife was suddenly in two neat pieces. I sent it back to Mr. Case in great glee, and he replaced it at once since those knives are guaranteed for a lifetime, no less, but he has still not explained why or how it could possibly have happened. In all my days I have never had a knife come apart in my hands, even when digging dandelions out of the lawn.
Of course there is nothing I would like better than to come and look at French knife factories except possibly go to England which is the great love of my life. But, fat chance. Or rather, there is about one chance in a million, because there is a vague deal on foot which would bring both the DeVoto's to France for a month or more to take a long look at French industry and the plan Schuman(6). I really doubt if this will come off, and DeVoto takes a dim view of it anyway, since he has always been oriented West like a homing pigeon and indeed has just returned from a six week's trip to California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, as you will duly read in Harpers. However, I can dream, and the powers that are talking about this trip can easily deal with such minor matters as transportation in a summer when all space is at a premium. I am very superstitious about this possibility however, so don't mention it to anyone at all.
The Emmons Rifle is not anywhere as good as Sheila Hibben(7) says it is, or perhaps I have not mastered its use. I am mastering the hone or carborundum stone, but I use my steel every day. I have an absolute beauty, a French import sent to me by a butcher's supply house in Kansas City.
Recipes noted, and many, many thanks. I shall try your method for Veau la Crme, minus shallots which I can never find in the market. It is very like my own method, except that I do not use brandy, hence no flaming, and that I use olive oil instead of butter. I like to do vegetables in olive oil too mixtures such as celery, green peppers, onions plus sometimes eggplant and tomatoes. I like to do young carrots and scallions that way too, very little oil and let them cook in their own steam.
I still hope you can eat the eggs with tarragon at Le Bossu, because there is some element there that I have not hit on. There is one more never to be forgotten egg dish that I hope you can help me with. This is called piprade and is I think of Basque origin it is very soft scrambled eggs with tomatoes and various kinds of peppers, so that it is full of little hot pockets. The best place to eat it is a tiny little hole in the wall between the Rtisserie Prigourdine and a little nightclub named L'Ecluse I have forgotten the name of the restaurant which has two or three tables on the sidewalk and a few more inside and is very inconspicuous and cheap. At least it was in 1950. I really cannot think of any dish more suited to a quivering stomach after too much wine the night before! Not that I ate it as a hangover cure; I have not had a hangover in fifteen years, thank
I am anxious to get to the beach I'm tired, dispirited after a hard winter, and nothing smoothes me out like sea air and long afternoons on a hot beach. My son Mark is great fun to live with and we gourmandize a lot, since Mary remains in town to look after my husband and elder son. Address, incidentally, 21 Leonard Street, Annisquam (Gloucester), Mass. This is on Ipswich Bay and rather heavenly. Cape Ann also provides what I stubbornly maintain are the world's best lobsters. I also stubbornly maintain that the only real way to cook lobsters is in three or four inches of sea water, in a covered kettle, for about twelve minutes (pound and a quarter lobsters being the ideal size). You then drape these dazzling creatures over the rocks until they cool off a bit, tear them apart with the bare hands, dip each piece in melted butter, and guzzle. There should be from two to six lobsters per person. While the lobsters cook and cool off, two dry Martinis la DeVoto should be served. Nothing whatever else should be served we are eating all the lobster we want, we are not fooling around with salad or strawberry shortcake or even coffee. All you need are the martinis, plenty of lobsters, millions of paper napkins, and a view. This is one of the culinary matters where the Americans have it all over on the French, as I hope a loyal American like you will agree. Ditto strawberry shortcake, season for same being upon us when the New Jersey berries come in next week. A strawberry which has traveled from Florida or California has no taste at all. I am not saying that the French lobster in all its sizes and varieties is not a fine thing, but when you have plenty of lobsters right out of the ocean I think it is a crime to obscure that heavenly flavor with any sauces.
We will be in Annisquam until September 10th or so, DeVoto commuting week-ends as it is only 45 miles.
I am fascinated by your account of your cooking school what a wonderful job to tackle. Do you plan to come back to America eventually and set up shop here? You will have no competition except Mrs. Lucas(8), who at present is sweeping all before her, on radio, television, and in person. She comes to Boston every spring under the auspices of the Smith College Club to make six or eight public appearances, which are mobbed. I must admit she is a very good showman, and I believe she is making a fortune. She also hits the road and has appeared as far west as Seattle. Plenty of room in the field for you, and a very good living. I would give anything to take such a course as I really do love to cook and there is so much I have to learn. But there just isn't time. I do a weekly newspaper column on detective stories very mere, badly paid, and I do all my husband's secretarial stuff, all the typing, take dictation from a tape recorder, and handle a lot of his routine mail on my own. The house is big and the children need me a lot. Plus all this I am now correcting proofs on the new book, which will appear late in the fall, and it's a hell of a job,
the footnotes and bibliography especially which have some horrifying items in illiterate, 16th-17th century French, Spanish and so on. I am losing my mind.
Well, it is very relaxing writing to you, but there are other fish to fry. I am keeping your letters in my fat file on kitchen knives we still have hopes of another article on the subject but we haven't got round to visiting these local foundries yet. Maybe next fall, if things calm down a bit. If you ever hear of a stainless steel knife made in France, I wish you would let me know I cannot believe that French manufacturers will ever fall for that fraud, but in the interest of expanding markets they may have to. Let us hope they find chrome too hard to come by.
Now I must bully my eldest into washing the car, a proper job for Memorial Day when any cautious American stays off the roads. I love my new knife, and so do all the visitors who have seen it. Thank you a thousand times.
8 Berkeley Street
Cambridge 38, Massachusetts
October 3, 1952
Dear Mrs. Child:
I have been terribly delayed in writing to thank you for the little cookbook. I have had a stubborn virus for three weeks now, my maid only comes three days a week, a compromise between what I need and what her husband wants, and of course everybody in the United States is perfectly hysterical about the campaign. Including me. I hope to God you two have absentee ballots in good working order. The spectacle of Eisenhower's complete capitulation to Taft is something to see, and l'affaire Nixon(9) is and has been quite terrifying. I was completely confident until Nixon's soap opera was so successful and can only pray that serious Republicans return to their senses.
Anyhow, during all this turmoil I have managed to make eggs piprade three times with complete success except that I found there was a little too much fat in it going a little light on the oil and butter takes care of that and I am overjoyed to have the recipe. Thank you very, very much. My family thanks you too. It is all so simple but I never would have thought of three kinds of fat in one recipe it works like a charm.
If we live through the election perhaps I can get back to some serious cooking, but now life is far too full of telephones ringing. What with the boss going out to Springfield and helping with other speeches here, I
have to swing quite a lot of his affairs myself. After a blistering hot summer during which my weight fell to 112 pounds, I could do with some peace and the opportunity to putter around a stove. And I have told DeVoto that if he ever gets back to the knife question, if he tells the truth he will have to accept my verdict that French knives are better than American or any others. My hand automatically reaches for the two you sent me and I vastly prefer them to any others. They are far easier to sharpen, too.
I hope all goes well with you and with your school, but I am sorry you have to miss the campaign doings. They are to be sure quite exhausting, but I have never seen the population so excited nobody talks of anything else. And you are not seeing Adlai [Stevenson] on Television. (I never looked at TV until the conventions but now I see why it was invented.) Please do not think me too immoderate when I say that this is a completely new kind of man in politics. I think he is going to be bigger than Roosevelt but then, I didn't always admire FDR though I voted for him four times. I hope the French press is covering all this adequately the English papers and weeklies have been very satisfactory. The Economist certainly isn't missing anything.
Sorry to sound so frenetic I am in a state, what with my throat and everything. Now I must dress to go to the Ritz to have dinner with Alfred Knopf, that great gourmet [and publisher] I'm perfectly certain he has been harrying the chef all afternoon. I hope there are no Republicans present as I would like to relax with the vintages Alfred probably ordered weeks in advance.
Blessings. And Vote.
81 Rue de L'Universit, Paris, 7
December 15, 1952
Dear Mrs. De Voto:
I have not yet answered your very nice letter of way back before the election, but I have thought of you both with affection and interest. Was delighted to see that Mr. De Voto was in on the Stevenson campaign. It must have been a bitter disappointment to all of you, after the work you put into the campaign. Stevenson appears to be a marvelous fellow, from all points of view, and the more he talked, the better I liked him. He made a tremendous hit here with the French, which probably did him no good at home. But I do think he would have had one awful time, with more and louder McCarthyism. I am, of course, "persona traitoria" to my family in California, who are Old Guard Republicans of the blackest and most violently Neanderthal stripe. My nice step-mother wrote me the other day saying please not to write anything more to my father about either politics or Charlie Chaplin (10) as it upsets him too much. And my brother, from Pittsfield, Mass., writes to inform me I have no right to foster my ideas on other people, and that furthermore the only real red-blooded Americans are the Republicans. YE GODS. Well, I hope tempers will subside and a bit of mature reason shall reign.
I am sending you with this letter a part of the Sauce Chapter from our forthcoming book FRENCH HOME COOKING. We are so steeped in it, we cannot look at it objectively, and need some intelligent American opinion.
We seem to be sewed up morally (not legally) with Ives Washburn Company. Do you know anything about them as a publishing house? I immodestly think that this could become a classic on French cooking, as it is a complete re-studying of classical methods and recipes, in view of making them easier to do, and of bringing them up-to-date, and of making them understandable to the novice, interesting for the practiced cook. I do not think, moreover, that we are at all in competition with the Gourmet publications, or any of the other French cook books we've seen, as we are not trying to be an encyclopedia, only a good book on the fundamentals . . . with the object of making cooking make sense.
Whether or not it makes sense to you, also, interests me very much, so if you have the time, I shall be deeply appreciative of any comments you can make. And please be frank and brutal.
WISHING YOU BOTH A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
PS: Please do not show this ms. to anyone. I think cooking recipes and methods are too easily stolen, and, as quite a bit of this is new stuff . . .
1 Bernard DeVoto's column in Harper's.
2 Robert A. Taft, a conservative Republican senator from Ohio, who was vying for the GOP nomination for president in 1952 but lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
3 Eisenhower hoped to win over the isolationist Republicans in Congress to an internationalist approach.
4 "My husband joins me, dear lady, in hoping that you and your husband will accept the expression of our best wishes."
5 Case, president of Robeson Cutlery Company in Rochester, New York, developed a process for heat-treating stainless steel blades to make them harder that he called Frozen Heat.
6 The 1950 Schuman Plan, a precursor of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) and eventually the European Union, called for establishing a single organization to pool European coal and steel resources.
7 A food writer who had consulted on the White House menus for Eleanor Roosevelt and was a columnist for The New Yorker.
8 Dione Lucas, an English chef, cooking teacher, and cookbook author; an early champion of French cooking; and the first woman to have her own cooking show in the United States.
9 During Eisenhower's campaign for president, the vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon of California was accused of having appropriated campaign donations for his own use. In a nationally televised speech, he defended himself and said the only political gift he intended to keep was the family cocker spaniel, Checkers.
10 The comic film star was forced to leave the United States by the FBI in 1952 because of his leftist political views.
Meet the Author
Culinary historian, cookbook author, and biographer Joan Reardon is the author of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table, M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans, Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher, and Oysters: a Culinary Celebration. Reardon, who has a PhD in English literature, won an IACP Award for culinary writing, publishes and edits a quarterly newsletter for Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago, and serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica magazine.
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It all started with a fan letter written in March of 1953. "Housewife" and food junkie Julia Child wrote a letter to Mr. Bernard DeVoto agreeing with his "diatribe" against stainless steel knives in an article he'd written for Harper's magazine. Julia's letter was answered by Bernard's wife, Avis. Many of us learned about the friendship between Julia and Avis DeVoto in the 2009 hit film, Julie and Julia. Now we are blessed with the treat that is Joan Reardon's As Always, Julia. Joan Reardon has done a superb job in selecting, compiling, editing and referencing what was originally more than four hundred letters written by Julia and Avis. Ms. Reardon is a culinary historian, cookbook author, and biographer. She also edits a quarterly newsletter for Les Dames d'Escoffier Chicago and serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica. In other words, Ms. Reardon knows her way around a kitchen and it shows! Within the 430+ pages of this book, the letters not only chronicle the growing friendship between Julia and Avis, they also serve as steadfast barometer of the times. The letters span the years between 1953 and 1961. The world was changing rapidly and the commentary and banter that flows back and forth reflects the post-World War II "jet age" experiences. One of the things I found amazing was the pro-and-con 1953 debate spurred by new "labor saving devices," in particular, the automatic dish washer, something a 2010 household thinks nothing about. However, Avis is appalled that the glasses and dishes have to be rinsed, that pots and pans shouldn't be put in, and all things considered, they don't clean that well. Another discussion that takes place between Avis and Julia is one that would not take place today: the scarcity of fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables during the "off season." Now-a-days most everything is available year round. They shared their struggles with cooking food within the "seasons" and offered each other alternatives to fresh foods, frozen (not so good) and canned (not so good always either). This is a wonderful book of letters that shares more than the growth of a long distance friendship. As Always, Julia follows the publication of Julia's ground breaking cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Through the eyes of these two savvy, well read, well traveled, and very opinionated women we see the politics of the time, the McCarthy era, as well as their thoughts on American "fast food," how to make a beurre blanc, and the perils of the frozen turkey. As Always, Julia is a valentine to every cook, wanna-be cook, chef, and food lover out there. It's also a valentine to a friendship that survived decades. I can't recommend this book enough. As Always, Julia is a wonderful read and it will make a fabulous gift to anyone who loves food and believes in enduring, unselfish friendships. Buy several, one to read and the rest to share with friends! If I gave stars, this is a sweet 5 out of 5 stars! Source: This book was provided to me by the publisher at my request and in no way affected by review.
Who would have guessed that Julia Child was a control freak? Judging by her own letters, it seems that she was often in various stages of irritation at her two co-authors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book that launched her career. One co-author didn't do her share of the work, although in her defense, it's unlikely that any of them realized when they began, that they were embarking on what would be a 20-year-long project that was anything but smooth. Her other colleague was a hard worker, but something of a perfectionist, often second-guessing Julia's meticulous research. It's amazing the book was published at all. Julia became pen pals with Avis DeVoto, a reviewer of mysteries and wife of Bernard DeVoto, a writer and editor. Julia had written to Bernard about an article he had written and he asked Avis to answer the letter. Julia and Avis hit it off immediately and began a correspondence and friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Julia was an expert at French cooking, but she knew little about book publishing and oddly, little about American cooking. She had never cooked when she lived in America, and had learned everything she knew about cooking in Paris, so she had peculiar gaps in her knowledge, such as that Americans keep their fresh eggs in cartons in the refrigerator, not in a bowl on the counter. Avis was able to keep such clangers from getting into the book, as well as steering Julia to editors who would be open to the idea of such an ambitious cookbook. Avis also acted as Julia's stateside researcher, answering questions such as whether cake flour was available, or just all-purpose flour. Avis alerted her to new trends in American cooking, such as the use of mono sodium glutamate (MSG) in the form of sprinkle-on Accent. They wrote about politics as well, with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his hunt for communists the topic of the day. Julia and husband Paul moved from Paris to Marseilles to Germany to Oslo during the 1950s, and she wrote Avis how they were adapting to each new home and how their attempts at language learning were going. Julia loved getting to know new places, but her heart always belonged to Paris. After two years of letter writing, Avis and Julia finally met in France, and they met a few more times over the years, until the Childs finally returned to the States for good and could see the DeVotos on a more regular basis. The letters span the years from 1952 to 1961 and are remarkably interesting despite their share of mundane matters such as the weather and who had what seasonal disease. Julia and Paul went to a play while they were visiting New York in 1957 and were impressed by the "young male lead, Richard Burton...he is English, I believe." In a prescient letter dated 1952, Julia told Avis "I'm enjoying [teaching French cooking to Americans] immensely, as I've finally found a real and satisfying profession which will keep me busy well into the year 2000."
This is an excellent book. It gives real insight into the personalities of Avis and Julia. Avis is much the better letter writer- more intelligent and better read. More passionate about life. Julia seems more uppercrust and slightly constipated, however, that is probably more a function of her class and the period in which she grew up. A very readable and entertaining book.
I ordered this for our daughter as a Christmas gift from my husband and myself and she is enjoying reading it right now!
Please, don't waste your time by reading it. Instead, if you like awesome books and not boring books then read Charlie St. Cloud. Charlie St. Cloud is a great book and it iinspires me very much and you will be inspired to the book too. I would llike to make this 0 but it won't let me