Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #3 – Mastering the Art of French Cooking 1&2 by Julia Child et al.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the delightful Mrs. Child (and written whilst watching a special about how special she was on PBS):
Let’s get this straight – I don’t cook. It’s not that I can’t, I just choose not to. I’m lucky in that I married someone who loves to cook (to the point where he went to culinary school, and actually got to meet Julia Child – just ask him to tell you the story). The main reason why my husband loves to cook is because of his mother. She taught him everything she knew, and she learned most of what she knew from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. He inherited her copies of the books, and graciously let me touch them. The best things I found in the books were little touches of the mother-in-law that I never got to meet. In volume 1, page 276, the recipe for Carneton a l’Orange (Roast Duck with Orange Sauce) is covered with little Sunkist stickers. You young people may not know about the stickers, but those of us of a certain age remember the clear little stickers they used to put on our oranges. There were also handwritten notes, menu plans, and changes to some recipes. The stickers and notes really brought home to me Julia Child meant for these books to be used, and to be loved.
Volume 1 takes the reader through the items one needs in a kitchen, there are definitions of the cooking terms, and descriptions of the basic ways to cut things up. Then we dive in to soups, sauces (and you’d be surprised how many there are), eggs (which are much harder to cook than you’d think), fish, meats, veggies, “cold buffet,” and desserts. Volume 2 covers more soups, breads and baking, meats, chickens, charcuterie, veggies, and desserts (extending the repertoire).
Many of the descriptions are quite entertaining. Take, for instance, Tournedos Rossini (filet steaks with artichoke hearts, foie gras, truffles, and madeira sauce): “A platter of tournedos Rossini takes the filet steak about as far as it can go. Were you living in France during the midwinter, your foie gras and truffles would, of course, be fresh. You may use canapés rather than artichoke bottoms as a bed for the steaks, but it seems too bad to compromise at all in this dish.” Well, of course the fois gras and truffles should be fresh. Old fois? Oh, please. The description alone makes me want to move to France in midwinter.
For those of you who love to cook, these books are a must-have. Please, go to a used book store, and find copies that have been as well-used and well-loved as the ones that grace the bookshelves next to my kitchen. Look for ones that have hand-written notes. You’ll be inspired. I was. Maybe one day I might even try to make something.