In the movie Julie & Julia, I wanted to learn more about Julia Child’s story than Julie Powell’s. So, I checked out from the library My Life In France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme (her grand-nephew). The writing in this book is amusing and lively. Julia Child’s personality shines through with some paragraphs ending with her delightful word choices such as Hooray! or Yuck!. I enjoyed reading about her awakening in France–how she learned french, cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu and life with Paul (her husband).
However, what I found most captivating in this book was the massive amount of thought and work that she put into writing “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for an American audience. She truly did revolutionize the cook book.
Here are just some bits and pieces of her process that I found fascinating.
“We experimented with recipes, tools, and ingredients, and made several useful discoveries. In working with piecrusts, for instance, we tested French versus American Ingredients. To our horror, we discovered that French flour has more body than it’s US counterpart, and that the French needed a third less fat to make a nice crumbly crust. Why was this? I wanted to know. We supposed that, in order for U.S. flour to last forever on supermarket shelves, it must have been subjected to chemical processes that removed its fats. The French flour, in contrast, was left in its natural state, although it would go “off” more quickly and become maggoty. In order to make our French recipe work for an American audience, we tested different proportions of flour-to-butter, flour-to-margarine (a substance I abhorred and referred to as “that other spread”), and flour-to-crisco; then we tasted the crusts hot and cold. Based on our experiments, we adjusted our ratios. It was labor-intensive, but a thoroughly satisfying learning process.” 125
“I had to iron out all these questions of how and why and for what reason; otherwise, we’d end up with just an ordinary recipe–which was not the point of the book. I felt we should strive to show our readers how to make everything top-notch, and explain, if possible, why things work one way but not another. There should be no compromise!” 133
“Paul and I came up with a new way to illustrate the making of recipes: rather than the standard depiction of a cook working away at a table, we thought, why not illustrate, say the trussing of a chicken from the cook’s sandpoint?” 184
One term that I will take away from this book is “the operational proof”: it’s all theory until you see for yourself whether or not something works. This term works well in life.
Thank you Julia for sharing part of your life.