Yesterday I heard a story about Julia Child that I just have to share with someone. Who better than you?
Julia Child was an icon. She may have singlehandedly converted the United States from a land of meat, potatoes and mushy vegetables to a country where you can get some of the best food in the world.
When I think back to some of the meals I was served as a child, I’m a little horrified. Lots of red meat, creamy mashed potatoes loaded with butter, limp green beans and maybe, if it were a special occasion, a jello mold!
While in high school, I had take Home Economics to prepare me for my ultimate job as a “homemaker.” (It was mandatory. The boys had to take Shop to learn how to do manly things.) One semester was Sewing class, because, after all, every woman should know how to do a hem-stitch. I took home a nifty apron from that one. It would serve me well when I practiced my new skills from the second semester. It was devoted to cooking, where we learned to make real culinary delights. English muffin pizzas. Green bean casserole. Actually some of you may still be eating that one for Thanksgiving dinner. (It’s so easy to make. A couple of cans of green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a little milk and a can of Durkee Fried Onions on top. Pop in the oven, cook a while, and serve.)
But my favorite was tuna casserole. Combine a couple cans of tuna, a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup (are you noticing a trend here?), a little milk and half of a big bag of potato chips, crushed up. Put in a casserole dish, and crumble the other half of the bag of chips on top. Stick in the oven, cook a while, and enjoy.
Oh, yeah, I was totally prepared to be a homemaker with recipes like those. Of course, girls never aspired to be “chefs.” Everyone knew chefs were men. Women just cooked.
And then it began to change. Julia Child went on public television in 1963 to introduce French food to American viewers.
With an army of minions on the floor behind the counter with her, like little kitchen elves to hand her things and take away things no longer needed, she cooked. She showed home cooks that fine cooking was something they too could do. Little girls who watched the show with Mom dreamed about becoming chefs. Other chefs took to television in droves to show us their style of food. And the country was off on an unprecedented culinary adventure. We became “foodies.”
Everyone knows Julia’s story now thanks to the movie Julie and Julia. But this is a story about Julia that very few people know.
My mother-in-law lives in an independent living place nearby. It seems that years years ago, before my MIL moved in, Julia Child’s brother and his wife lived there. And naturally, Julia came to visit The family reserved the private dining room available at the facility for such special events. And it was a special event indeed. It was the 1980s, and Julia Child was quite a celebrity by then.
The kitchen staff went into a tizzy. Julia Child was coming. What to prepare? They normally cooked rather ordinary food for the seniors living there. But this was Julia Child. Could there be anything more intimidating than cooking for Julia Child?
They planned and came up with a menu befitting one of the country’s foremost food authorities. I don’t know the menu, but I know it included such things as locally grown beef, fish that were swimming that morning, fresh vegetables, truffles, carefully prepared reductions, exquisite sauces, the whole nine yards. They chopped, stirred, and sauteed. They outdid themselves. Literally.
The dinner hour came, and the group including Julia arrived at the dining room. After they were settled, servers came around and presented menus featuring all these gourmet treats. When it was Julia’s turn to order, she said “I’ll just have an omelet, thank you.”