Do you ever hear a suggestion for something that you immediately recognize as missing from your life? So it was for me when I read Elizabeth's recent GR post about MLiF. I heard a little bell ring.
Child's saucy, buttery French food went out of fashion a long time ago among my foodier friends, and yours too, I imagine. But even if the food is not your style--trout stuffed with minnows? pressed duck? well, more on that later--there is still much to admire about the woman's life and work. And in the end, it's not really about the food--it's about the cooking.
I saw something of my own life in the quick, consuming passion for French cooking that overtook Julia Child. She went to France with her husband for the first time in her late 30s, not knowing the language, not knowing the food, not knowing how to cook. In short order, she was a changed woman. Well, believe it or not, I didn't know a thing about gardening as recently as 2005 when I hit my mid-thirties. (Yeah, some of us have more to show for our consuming passions than others...so what!)
I could on and tell you how this book is very well written, includes vital, vivid details of a life writ large that gives color to a lost world, an era gone by... but what makes this biography really memorable and fun is the food and the cooking. I found the food and the cooking astonishing.
Here is Julia cooking for a farewell party:
"The pièce de résistance for the evening was a mammoth galantine de volaille, which took me three days to create and had been adopted from a recipe in Larousse Gastronomique. First you make a superb bouillon--from veal leg, feet, and bones--for poaching. Then you debone a nice plump four-pound chicken, and marinate the meat with finely ground pork and veal strips in Cognac and truffles. Then you re-form the chicken, stuffing it with a nice row of truffles wrapped in farce and a fresh strip of pork fat, which you hope ends up in the center. You tie up this bundle and poach it in the delicious bouillon. Once it is cooked, you let it cool and then decorate it--I used green swirls of blanched leeks, red dots of pimiento, brown-black accents of sliced truffle and yellow splashes of butter. The whole was then covered with beautiful clarified-bouillon jelly."It's intriguing to note that eating this food daily made Julia herself feel ill on numerous occasions. The word she used is bilious. It was all about portion control.
I also have to quote the part about pressed duck. I found this fascinating.
The duck itself is a special strain bred from a domestic female "covered" by a wild male, which produces handsome dark-feathered birds that are full-breasted and toothsome. They are killed by being smothered, so as to keep the blood inside the body (an example of the lengths the French will go to for a special meal). [The chef] roasted two of these ducks on a spit for us, all the while basting them with a wonderful duck-blood sauce he'd prepared at a side table. The birds became mouth-wateringly brown on the outside and roasted very rare on the inside. When they are done, he deftly carved off the ducks' legs and wings, rolled them in mustard and crumbs, and sent them back to the kitchen to be grilled.Whoa!
He very carefully peeled the skin away from the breast, and carved the meat into thin slices, which he sprinkled with finely minced shallots. These would be poached in their juices, a little wine, and delicate seasoning, in order to point up the natural flavor. Next the chef wheeled a great silver duck press up to our table. It looked a bit like a silver fire extinguisher with a round crank-handle on top. He cut up the carcass, put it into the canister of the press and turned the big handle on top. As the pressing plate descended slowly inside the canister, we could hear the cracking of bones, and a stream of red juices dribbled out of the spout into a saucepan. Adding a dollop of red Burgundy wine to the press, the chef turned the crank again, to squeeze some more. He continued like this until the carcass had finally rendered its all. It was a fabulous ritual to watch...Finally, it was time to eat..."
Let's end with Julia doing something less...fabulously gruesome. Here she is making an omelette.
Watch and learn, people.