Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Judith and Julia

Last night, I went to a another delightfully entertaining panel at the American History Museum -- part of their Food-focused After Hours series. This installment featured food history writers Alex Prud'homme and Sara Franklin as they discussed the renewal of American regional food culture after Julia Child's debut as The French Chef.

A self-identified foodie, I hadn't realized until this talk how little I knew about Julia Child, and I was surprised to recognize myself among the younger generation of folks who had come to learn about the joyful and daring food celebrity primarily through the book (and later movie) Julia and Julia. Okay, admittedly I cannot resist Meryl Streep in anything, so of course I would love her take on Julia, but I wondered: how accurate was her portrayal? Pretty accurate, it turns out. Julia was enamored with all things food, I knew, but until last night I had no idea that this ranged from a broad range of foreign delicacies to American regional specialties to the latest kitchen gadgets. What J&J didn't show was Julia's -- and Judith's -- interest in regional home cooking and the stories behind the food. Did you know that Julia had worked on a TV series about food prepared in the original American colonies? The series never aired, but I can only imagine the history, and no doubt the hilarity, that might have come about had Thirteen Feasts for Thirteen Colonies ever transpired. (And, professionally speaking, I would have loved to use some of the recipes in my FoodPrints lessons on colonial food traditions. Alas.)

Starting in the late 1960s, it seems, food luminaries including Julia Child and her editor Judith Jones, along with James Beard and others, began to look away from Europe and toward their own country for inspiration, exploring the rich heritage of American regional cooking with a new sense of appreciation and curiosity. It was the birth of the Farm to Table movement. Who knew? Judith especially was captivated by the DIY cooking (and everything else) culture, was intrigued by regional food cultures across the U.S., and was a vehement opponent of processed foods. Sounds like my kind of lady.

After the talk itself, we were free to wander through the museum's recreation of Julia's kitchen, which was fascinating, and nibble on a variety of tasty vittles based on recipes from famous cookbooks including the oft-cited Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What a lovely -- and informative -- evening! I came away with a few additions to my goodreads list, including the Taste of Country Cookbook, which was edited by Judith Jones, and My Life in France, co-written by Alex P-H and Julia about her self-described period of the "awakening of the senses" in the early 60s. Looks like I have my summer reading list started...if summer ever gets here!

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