As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto Hardcover – Nov 17 2010
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"An absorbing portrait of an unexpected friendship."
"The spirit of the indomitable Julia Child lives on in Joan Reardon’s AS ALWAYS, JULIA, a saucy soup-to-nuts compilation of the correspondence between Child and lifelong friend Avis DeVoto. As Julia said, ‘Life itself is the proper binge.’ Let’s live it up!"
– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair, Dec. issue
-Booklist, starred review
"This epistolary testament to a close friendship will surely appeal to Child fans."
- Kirkus Reviews "Witty, enlightening and entertaining, these letters serve as a compelling companion volume to Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
- Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Culinary historian, cookbook author, and biographer Joan Reardon is the author of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table, M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans, Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher, and Oysters: a Culinary Celebration. Reardon, who has a PhD in English literature, won an IACP Award for culinary writing, publishes and edits a quarterly newsletter for Les Dames d'Escoffier Chicago, and serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica magazine.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Each additional book I read increases my respect for her and her cooking co-authors. The amount of work to convert French cooking ingredients to an American home kitchen of the 1950's - cuts of meat, poultry and fish, close substitutions, oven types, cooking ware types, etc., and then all the recipe variations, is amazing. No wonder it took a decade to complete.
And yes, she collected a large selection of cookware and utensils, but most of her cooking was done in what we would consider today a rather inadequate kitchen. All it took was passion and determination, and the support of her wonderful husband Paul..
And for all the people who criticize her for her recipes being too rich - Julia never ate large portions, like the French. Remember quality, not quantity. And she lived to a ripe old age.
And for all the people who criticize her for using too many pots and pans for a recipe - like any good cook, she washes up as she goes along.
Her writing takes you back in time when US woman were geting out of those card board frozen dinners/t
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you're interested in Julia Child the person (and My Life in France wasn't enough for you, whether or not accompanied by the Julie & Julia movie), then "As Always, Julia" is a no-brainer, because these were the letters shared by two intelligent and opinionated women who were confiding in one another, not talking to a microphone. And confide they did: about Avis' child-raising and Paul Child's job as well as the difficulty of finding fresh shallots. It is, more than anything else, the story of a real life friendship, and better than any epistolary novel you can imagine. You will know these women well, at their most personal, such as Avis writing, "I like every part about growing older except what happens to your feet." (It's hard to imagine anyone compiling such a collection now, with all of us writing e-mail -- if that -- and only packrats like myself keeping copies of everything for decades.)
But the book is interesting for several other reasons.
Watching the creation of a masterpiece: Mastering the Art of French Cooking was an instant classic, and it was the result of years of hard work. But the words "it was the result of years of hard work" does not begin to capture the number of cooking experiments Julia (and Simca) did, or contract negotiations, or research into the equipment that Julia could expect a typical American housewife to own. She experimented with pressure cookers, for instance, to find out if they were okay for making chicken or duck stock. "First time the [pressure cooker] brew was so horrible I threw it away." Then, after adding the vegetables only at the end, "Again it was loathsome so I threw it out." Many ducks gave their lives for such research, and the Childs often found themselves "bilious" after all these experiments.
Would-be writers (or any creator waiting for her ship to come in) may be heartened or inspired by the knowledge that even Julia had self-doubts. She wrote in 1953, "There is so much that has been written, by people so much more professional than I, that I wonder what in the hell I am presuming to do, anyway."
A snapshot of foodie history: My mother was never excited about cooking, and I don't think she owned a copy of MtAoFC. But I do remember shopping for groceries in the 1960s and early 1970s, when cookbooks had to give detailed explanations about what cilantro is, or how to make your own coconut milk. It was worse in the 1950s, and much of the Avis-Julia correspondence is about what was (or usually wasn't) available, from decent jarred chives to fresh clams anywhere but the coastal cities. They also debated the wisdom of getting those newfangled dishwashers, Waring blenders, and other devices that, they started out agreeing, nobody really needed.
A "daily history" of the McCarthy era: Nowadays, we tend to think of the time when Senator McCarthy held sway as a bizarre interlude in American history, but few of us remember it personally. Julia and Avis were extremely political women; one constant theme in their letters was the current political landscape, which they actively abhorred, and their letters become a chronicle of living through that time. "Oh god I wish this madness would subside, as I know it will, but it is exhausting watching all this go on," wrote Avis in 1953. "I do not enjoy watching the Senate floor turned into a bear-pit." There's so much political discourse, in fact, that it might lower the book's value for some readers. (Or raise it for others, if you're more political than I.) While I care about their views (or at least their passions) it often was more than I needed to know. But I could comfortably skip ahead through those parts.
A view of intelligent, accomplished women in a pre-Betty Friedan world: Both Julia and Avis were upper-class women who saw themselves as "housewives" but simultaneously were engaged in serious endeavors. Avis was active in Boston-area intelligentsia (Bernard DeVoto had taught at Harvard), in politics (dinner guests included the Schlessingers and Kennedys), and in book publishing (not the least of which was her initial introduction of Julia to book acquisition editors). Julia was part of the government agency's social scene throughout Paul Child's career, not to mention her own cooking accomplishments in the 40s and 50s. This book is a picture of the years before "Women's liberation" were coined, including social mores. The poet May Sarton, a friend to both Avis and Julia, has a "special relationship;" the editor's footnote explains this meant that Sarton was lesbian. It was indeed a different world, and I'm grateful for a peephole into it -- and even more grateful not to live in it.
As you can tell: I've really enjoyed this book. I think you will, too -- and not just for foodie reasons.
But much as I appreciated Julia as an excellent instructor and enjoyed her television appearances, I had no clue how intelligent, witty and warm hearted she was until I read these letters. In addition, what a pleasure it was to meet her friend, Avis DeVoto, every bit as charming and erudite as Julia. How extraordinary that these two "met" when Julia sent a couple of good French knives to Avis's husband, the writer Bernard DeVoto, after reading his article complaining about the lack of quality in American kitchen knives. That simple gift was the seed of a friendship that is beyond heartwarming to read about.
For those of us who remember the late `50's, these letters also remind us of the turmoil surrounding the McCarthy witch hunts and the latter hearings, years that can only be described today as "bizarre." But it reminds us of how easy it is for just one person to create an atmosphere of suspicion and hearsay so poisonous, that, for awhile, it can intimidate an entire country.
When I first began reading this rather large book, I thought I would keep it by my bedside and read a few letters each evening. Ha! "Bet you can't eat (read) just one!" Instead, I promptly gave in and let the rest of the world go by while I devoured every word until the end. I can't remember the last time that happened.
History, humor, inspiring and unforgettable personalities -- what more can you want in a book?
Judging by her own letters, it seems that she was often in various stages of irritation at her two co-authors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book that launched her career. One co-author didn't do her share of the work, although in her defense, it's unlikely that any of them realized when they began, that they were embarking on what would be a 20-year-long project that was anything but smooth. Her other colleague was a hard worker, but something of a perfectionist, often second-guessing Julia's meticulous research. It's amazing the book was published at all.
Julia became pen pals with Avis DeVoto, a reviewer of mysteries and wife of Bernard DeVoto, a writer and editor. Julia had written to Bernard about an article he had written and he asked Avis to answer the letter. Julia and Avis hit it off immediately and began a correspondence and friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.
Julia was an expert at French cooking, but she knew little about book publishing and oddly, little about American cooking. She had never cooked when she lived in America, and had learned everything she knew about cooking in Paris, so she had peculiar gaps in her knowledge, such as that Americans keep their fresh eggs in cartons in the refrigerator, not in a bowl on the counter. Avis was able to keep such clangers from getting into the book, as well as steering Julia to editors who would be open to the idea of such an ambitious cookbook.
Avis also acted as Julia's stateside researcher, answering questions such as whether cake flour was available, or just all-purpose flour. Avis alerted her to new trends in American cooking, such as the use of mono sodium glutamate (MSG) in the form of sprinkle-on Accent.
They wrote about politics as well, with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his hunt for communists the topic of the day. Julia and husband Paul moved from Paris to Marseilles to Germany to Oslo during the 1950s, and she wrote Avis how they were adapting to each new home and how their attempts at language learning were going. Julia loved getting to know new places, but her heart always belonged to Paris.
After two years of letter writing, Avis and Julia finally met in France, and they met a few more times over the years, until the Childs finally returned to the States for good and could see the DeVotos on a more regular basis.
The letters span the years from 1952 to 1961 and are remarkably interesting despite their share of mundane matters such as the weather and who had what seasonal disease. Julia and Paul went to a play while they were visiting New York in 1957 and were impressed by the "young male lead, Richard Burton...he is English, I believe." In a prescient letter dated 1952, Julia told Avis "I'm enjoying [teaching French cooking to Americans] immensely, as I've finally found a real and satisfying profession which will keep me busy well into the year 2000."
On February 12, 1953, Julia Child wrote her new pen pal, Avis DeVoto, to describe a dinner Julia and her two colleagues in their new Ecole des Trois Gourmandes had attended the night before with famed Parisian gourmand Maurice Curnonsky ("the Prince of Gastronomy"). "At the party," she wrote, "was a dogmatic meatball who considers himself a gourmet but is just a big bag of wind. They were talking about Beurre Blanc, and how it was a mystery, and only a few people could do it, and how it could only be made with white shallots from Lorraine and over a wood fire. Phoo. But that is so damned typical, making a damned mystery out of perfectly simple things just to puff themselves up." She concluded, tongue in cheek, by writing: "I didn't say anything as, being a foreigner, I don't know anything anyway." Two pares later, she's rhapsodizing over the kind of kitchen she'd like to have if she were rich: "I am going to have a kitchen where everything is my height [over six feet], and none of this pigmy [sic.] stuff, and maybe 4 ovens, and 12 burners all in a line, a 3 broilers, and a charcoal grill, and a spit that turns."
That's Julia to a T, always unbuttoned in her opinions, wobbly in her spelling, bursting with energy, savoring whatever life offered her. She wasn't yet the world authority on French cooking she would soon become but she already knew where she was heading and she knew how she wanted to get there -every recipe tested, adaptations made to American materials, tastes and equipment, the `secrets' of French cuisine made clear and obvious to even the neophyte cook. (She commented once about another French cookbook that it should spell out what weight hen to buy for coq au vin -a five-pounder, which is what the recipe called for, would be an old hen: it wouldn't cook in forty-five minutes as the recipe stated; it'd still be tough as leather.)
Julia hadn't finished her immortal Mastering the Art of French Cooking yet, but Avis and she were talking about it. Avis lived in Cambridge, Julia in Paris. Avis hoped to get Julia a decent publishing contract with Houghton Mifflin, a publishing house with which she had contacts. The letters continue through 1961, by which time Mastering had been published, not, alas, by Houghton Mifflin, but by Alfred Knopf. Bernard had died unexpectedly in 1955. Julia and her husband Paul had paid for Avis to visit them in France. The flurry of letters back and forty continued unabated but by that point the continuing themes of their correspondence are in place. As much fun as their letters are to read, at this point there are few new revelations. But who cares? These are first class letters by two first class people, and who would not want to know more about the forging of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I?
A warning: There is a lot about cooking in these letters, typically gone into in great detail. Julia asks Avis for American ingredients (dried spices, for example) and cooking equipment and counsels her how to make dishes, Avis corrects errors and un-Americanisms in Julia's prose. Other topics pop up repeatedly, most notably, in the earlier portions of the book, their caustic commentary on the Red Scare, Senator Joe McCarthy, and the spineless elected officials who time and again failed to confront him. These are two tough (but very warm) ladies. It's a treat to be let in on their intimate and prolonged conversation with each other.
As Always, Julia was a fascinating look into Ms. Chilld's personality and politics, as well as her views on cookery. I found the progression of her friendship with Avis to be a great read. I was afraid that I'd be bored just reading letters between two women, but what women they were!
I also had no idea that Mastering the Art took so many years to write and edit and that a major publisher made the really dumb mistake of turning it down, wow!
I found Julia to not only be a pioneer in the modern American kitchen, but a truly lovely and extremely bright woman. She was an avid reader, writer and very involved in the politics of the time.
I would recommend this book for anyone who would like to know more about the fascinating person who was Jullia Child. I rate the book a solid 4.5 stars. The editing was excellent as well.
Please note that I received an E-ARC copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review. I'm a little disappointed to see it's not available for Kindle yet, but online it says that the book is due out 12/10/10, so that may be the Kindle release date.
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