Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Books That Make Us Hungry: The Way to Cook by Julia Child

Rachel here: For several years now, I have lived in a house that has Julia Child cookbooks in it (I don't recall any in my mother's stash from growing up). In my head, though, they have always been John's. Sure, this is partly because he has bought them and received them as gifts; it is also partly due to the esteem he holds for his books and Julia in general. I think the real reason, though, is that John is hands-down, without a doubt a better cook than me. Since he loves all things Julia Child so much, I think I relegated her cookbooks to a shelf in my head reserved for cookbooks for those who can really cook. What I'd neglected to consider, though, until the other morning, is that John hates pretension and would never love a cook or cookbook that was as inaccessible as I'd preemptively decided all things Julia must be.

Anyone who's ever realized their morning slipped away while they watched old Julia Child cooking shows on PBS knows that this is a woman who cooked for the love of food and people. I knew this, and yet still considered her cookbooks off limits. The other morning, though, over a cup of coffee and my breakfast, I found myself completely ensnared by her The Way to Cook for over an hour. Like Alice B. Toklas (who I blogged about here), Child winds a narrative around food that is both sensuous and sensible, hilarious and hunger-inducing. Most importantly, though, after spending time with the book, I felt like I could actually attempt most of the recipes in it. Ingeniously organized to facilitate the acquisition of a true understanding of food (for instance, foods that cook similarly are grouped together, so instead of looking up pork chops and veal chops separately she teaches you how to cook one and then informs you that you can apply the same techniques to the other), Child even goes so far as to inform you which are the easier recipes and which are more involved, thereby also guiding you through the learning process. I really felt like I could approach her cooking, though, when I saw her note on cornbread. On page 59 she writes that for "cornbread baked in the traditional square pan...I usually use the recipe on the Quaker cornmeal box." *Swoon* While she advises elsewhere in the book to withhold the sugar in cornbread if making it as part of a stuffing, I found this little passage incredibly revealing and exciting. Whereas so many cookbook authors' egos would have necessitated their own twist on cornbread, Child possesses and displays the humbleness to say, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Even if the rest of her book weren't so expertly concocted, this mentality alone would induce me to follow her lead.

Anyway, have any of you embarked on your own Julia Child culinary adventures? If so, we'd love to hear about them. In the meantime, though, I'd highly recommend this book for your own collection or as a gift to a burgeoning cook (I am thinking every college graduate should get a copy).

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