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Cookbooks

Rambling on Julia Child and Good Cookbooks Generally

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Rambling on Julia Child and Good Cookbooks Generally

DanaB | Mar 22, 2003 10:19 PM

I was just browsing through my tattered volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (it’s volume 1, but was inherited from my mother and is copyrighted 1964, so it preceded the publication of V II and hence is simply called “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with no volume # on it). I pulled it out to reference the Salade Nicoise recipe (chapter 9, “cold buffet”), as I plan to make the dish tomorrow for an Oscar party.

When perusing this book, I often find it hard to stick to the task at hand, because it is simply so readable. Am I alone in this sentiment? Tonight, I found myself once again floored by the book, appreciating anew the reasons I liked it in the first place. It’s useful, well written, entertaining, educational, and inspiring, all without color pictures. How many books are there out there with this degree of staying power?

In particular, when looking at the blanched green bean recipe required for the Salade Nicoise, I was lured into the “Legume” chapter, and read all about artichokes and asparagus (as they’ve been on my mind from the threads on this board) and then ventured into the “pea” section, which made me incredibly eager for fresh spring peas–Julia’s description of the virtues of young, fresh spring peas reminded me of MKF Fisher’s “P is for Peas.”

Moving forward from the Salade Nicoise section are the pates and mousses, and I read through Julia’s treatment of pates. I’ve tried the mousse recipe from this book but never the pate, as it is a bit intimidating. Was wondering if anyone out there had tried it, and to what result?

Looking through the book also called to mind when I learned to cook, at about 14 or 15, after my mom threw in the towel on cooking one night in frustration, because between school, work, etc., she couldn’t get the family to sit down together at meals anymore. One day, she said, fine, I’ll buy the food, but you figure out how to feed yourselves! After getting bored of PB&J sandwiches, I eventually ventured into the kitchen myself, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the book I picked to learn from, because there were so many explanations of just how to do it. The first recipe I made was Poulet Poele a l’estragon (Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon). I picked the recipe because we had all the ingredients at home– a small chicken, butter, carrots, onions, dried tarragon, salt and pepper. I followed the instructions exactly (including trussing the chicken, which I had never heard of before) and while the final results were far from perfect, the dish tasted delicious. I was hooked on cooking from that moment on.

I also have to say that since then, I have loved reading about cooking, and have valued cookbooks, such as Julia Child’s, which are descriptive of technique, rather than simply listing recipes. Got lucky and fell into the good stuff from the get go, you might say ;-)

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