“Food, Friendship & the Making of a Masterpiece”

One of the books I have been reading during my free time is “As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto Food, Friendship & the Making of a Masterpiece,” edited by Joan Reardon I have been familiar with Child’s work for a while, but have never taken a serious look at her work.

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The book is, as the title indicates, a collection of letters in correspondence between two women. Amazingly, their friendship and business partnership sprang out of a chance connection. Julia Child frequently read pieces written by Avis’s husband, Bernard DeVoto, including one about the disdain he held for the trend in American cutlery: Stainless Steel. In admiration for the piece, Julia (among other admirers, or businesses who hoped to prove him wrong) sent Mr. DeVoto a knife in the mail. Avis was, at the time, acting as his secretary, and responding to some letters for him. The letters between the two women continued, and rapidly developed into a friendship, and a shared passion for French cooking, and therefore, the work in progress, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

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I simply adore reading “As Always,” It is such an insightful read. I am learning about cooking, about relationships and social events of the time, about the personal affects that McCarthy had on many people. The letters are so detailed, varied, and anything but fluff. It is amazing to me that the two women did not meet until half-way through the collection of letters. They have such a fondness and respect for one another, that it seems as though they have been friends for a long time.

We also found that episodes of Julia’s television show are available on PBS.com! We watched the episode on French Onion soup, and were entranced. I learned so much about  cooking from these products. It is really transforming my life as a cook. She causes you to look at food, ingredients, wine, reactions, results, etc. from the perspective of the relationship that those things have with each other. I am really excited to continue studying “Mastering the Art” as I return home, and entertain others.
Click here to watch an episode

So far, we have poached several eggs using her methods, and last night, we tried our first full recipe: Garlic Soup. Chris has a bad reputation for being well-meaning in regards to the soups that he made in the past. He was falsely accused of making garlic soup that was the terror of everyone around him. In reality, it was cabbage soup that struck fear into the hearts of his friends, and neighbors. But because of this urban legend, I could not resist from trying the recipe.

We planned on making the dish all day, and followed the recipe to  a “t.” The introduction to the recipe explains what we were to expect:

Enjoying your first bowl of garlic soup, you might never suspect what it is made of. Because the garlic is boiled, its after-effects are at a minimum, and its flavour becomes exquisite, aromatic, and almost undefinable. Along the Mediterranean, an aigo bouido is considered to be very good indeed for the liver, blood circulation, general physical tone, and spiritual health. A head of garlic is not at all too much for 3 pints of soup. For some addicts, it is not even enough.

We made a half-batch, so only used half of the head of garlic, though I accidentally added the full amount of olive oil (3Tbs isn’t too bad, and I omitted oil from the toast, so I figure that it evened out). I found her prediction to be spot on. The soup was delightful, light, and intriguing. You don’t actually eat the garlic, but instead, the cloves are boiled, and they and the herbs are strained out before serving, leaving a clear broth. It is served with crunchy slices of French Bread, a bit of Swiss cheese (we used Compte which I L.O.V.E.) and one variation calls for poached eggs (which we executed masterfully). 

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Boy, this blog sure does have a lot of pictures of me smiling with a plate of food in front of me!

The only point we had any question with is when the authors say, “Gradually strain in the rest, beating, and pressing the juice out of the garlic.” I understood the straining part, but as far as beating and pressing juice out of the garlic, it did not go as  planned. When I attempted to press the garlic and extrude any droplets of flavor, the whole clove smashed into a smooth paste. Is that what she meant? I panicked, and did a Google search, and even a Google image search for the answer. Was I supposed to scrape the paste from the underside of the strainer into the soup? Mon Dieu, no answer was to be found. So, I made an executive decision, and went with the next step, “serve immediately.”
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As indicated, it all turned out well in the end, but as previously mentioned, the soup is really more of a broth, and while magnificent, was not filling. So, we finished the meal with liberal amounts of bread, butter, and wine. I will definitely make this soup again, maybe tonight, but from now on, I will serve it as one course in the meal, in addition to a more filling course so that the diner will have want for naught.

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5 responses to ““Food, Friendship & the Making of a Masterpiece”

  1. Julia Child is one of my two favorite women of the 20th century. The other is Elizabeth Zimmerman (a master knitter). and I met them both! Brian and I went to a fundraising coffee for Julia about 25 years ago. She was amazingly tall, even next to Brian. I have most of her cookbooks. One of my favorites is the French Chef cookbook from the TV series. I have used many of the recipes and they are mostly quick, because she did most of the programs in “real time”. I have never had one go wrong. The best I think is the first volume of Mastering etc. Her descriptions are so exact. If she says “The steam will begin to rise. . .” and you look at the pot you are stirring, behold! The steam is rising. I have also read the book of letters you are reading now and enjoyed them.

    Her first TV series was in the early sixties when I was first married. I couldn’t really cook much of anything (no exaggeration) and I don’t know who is more grateful for Julia–Brian or me.

    Nana

    • Thank you for this comment, it is so fascinating! I am jealous that you got to meet Julia Child. Reading her letters makes me feel as though she is talking to me directly. She is such an inspiration. Chris fondly remembers hearing Papa talk about “Julia” on a first-name basis.

      As far as Elizabeth Zimmerman, I don’t know much about her, but the name rang a bell. I did a quick search, and found an article written by a friend and former co-worker, Kat Parks, about Elizabeth Zimmerman. She did a lot of research, and was published in the Wisconsin magazine of history. Here is a link to her article: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wmh/archives/search.aspx?area=browse&volume=95&articleID=50838

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