March 18th, 2014
“Life itself is the proper binge!” This quote of Julia Child’s has been painted on my Aunt Sukey and Uncle John’s kitchen wall for as long as I can remember. They are farmers who have a mail-order, grass-fed lamb business in Western Pennsylvania, Jamison Farm, and they were some of the first in the “slow food” movement.
I’ve grown up listening to Uncle John’s colorful stories about Jacques Pepin, Jean-Louie and Daniel Boulud. As a hungry college grad living in New York City, Uncle John took me to the opening of Daniel’s newest restaurant at the time, DB Bistro. And a favorite party trick, for anyone willing to listen, he will play a cd of an old answering machine message left by none other than Julia Child, offering a bit of free advice on the lamb stew they’d sent for her to taste.
Julia Child is a house-hold name, but when I saw the audiobook “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz, read by Kimberly Farr, I realized I didn’t know much about the legend herself. Wow! Did you know Julia Child was completely uninterested in food and cooking until she was in her thirties? Or that after her war-work (where she met her husband Paul), they moved to France and she couldn’t speak French? Julia Child’s life-story is nothing if not a lesson in dedication and determination – even if she didn’t “find herself” until well into her adult life.
As for my Uncle, on a recent visit to the farm I asked him more about Julia and he confirmed that yes, she called many “Dearie.” He has graciously sent me a section of his yet-to-be-published memoir, “Coyotes in the Pasture, Wolves at the Door,” which describes the first time he met Julia Child:
“We had joined the ‘International Association of Culinary Professionals’ and attended our first conference in 1992. After a day of lectures, we were charged up, having fun, and ready for a great evening of food and wine in this new universe of rubbing elbows with the elite of the food business.
During the day’s activities, I had befriended a Canadian Butcher named David Brown. I wanted to talk with him as we were encountering a problem selling to Fancy Restaurants. Most only wanted the rack and loin section which are the most tender and expensive. We were left over with Lamb Legs, Shoulders, and Shanks, and needed to sell them.
David launched into a professorial lecture of how to break the lamb to most profitably utilize these lower priced cuts. I was trying to figure all this out as I was a Farmer and he was a Meat Cutter. As he went on, the noise from the small group behind us was getting louder and louder. This was some party crowd, these Foodies, but they could tone it down a little, after all I was trying to learn something. As I started to ask him about a cut, someone from the noisy and apparently nosey group behind us asked, ‘Julia, where does the Rack of Lamb come from?’
With that, a large “Formidable” Julia Child swung out of her group, turned her back to me and said, ‘Now Dearie show them where the Rack is.’ So there I am, a humble sheep farmer from Pennsylvania, facing all six feet two inches of the backside of the most important person in the Food Business. I am speechless. She then comically, imperiously, but definitely twists her upper back to me and demands in her unmistakable voice, ‘Show them where the rack is.’ So I spread my two now vertical hands about eight inches apart and reach up to place them horizontally at the fifth and thirteenth rib of Julia Child’s back. Then she says, ‘Show them where the saddle is.’ Just as I work up the nerve to attempt this now interesting demonstration, at least half of this Cocktail Crowd circles around us, cheering, laughing and yes, still drinking. I showed them where the saddle was. Julia, Sukey and I began a close, personal friendship that evening that lasted her lifetime.”
I had to ask where the saddle is – lower back, between ribcage and hips – imagine, putting your hands by Julia Child’s derriere!
“Dearie” gives an insider’s education to the history of the food movement in America and as well as the publishing, cookbook and television industries – but the book is also an honest depiction of this icon of cookery. Did you know Julia’s favorite hors d’oeuvre was goldfish crackers? Or that she loved to drop hefty swear words in her octogenarian years? This book will delight and inspire. And yes, CCPL has copies of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” as well as episodes of the PBS show “The French Chef.”
What is your favorite biography?