Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Julia Child with the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor

I've just joined a group I should have belonged to ages ago: the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.  Long on my "to do" list, real life just kept getting in the way.  I was often unable to attend monthly meetings, and I could read the newsletter online.  And so, procrastination and inertia ruled ... I never got around to connecting with these wonderful people who share my passion - to degrees that others sometimes consider to be overly zealous (a polite way of saying "boring!") - for all things food-related.

But this is my year to reach out, to try new things, to accomplish goals, to meet new people, to move beyond my comfort zone, and to have excellent adventures.

So, I'm now a dues-paying member of the group and attended my first meeting recently!

Jan and Dan Longone, esteemed and revered in the food world for their knowledge of antiquarian cookbooks and wine (among many other talents and gifts), presented their personal remembrances of their dear friend Julia Child.  I had met Jan just a few days earlier, while doing research, and she has graciously offered to continue working with me as I delve into my work.  She personally invited me to attend this meeting and to join the group ... how could I refuse such a welcome???  The right moment had come.

I grew up watching "The French Chef" with my mother.  And when the Smithsonian Institution opened a permanent exhibit of Julia's kitchen in 2002, Jeremy was inordinately patient as I stood gawking, remembering, reminiscing, and just communing with the famous space that had been completely rebuilt at the museum. So if my first meeting with the Culinary Historians was one dedicated to Julia Child, this was most fitting!

Julia - at the meeting, everyone referred to her by her first name alone, as though we were all personal friends despite most of us having had no relationship other than holding her dear in our hearts - was represented by a cutout (pictured above) that one of the group's members had acquired many years ago.  She brings Julia out for special occasions, like this meeting that paid such loving tribute.

Dan and Jan both spoke with such love for Julia, and told wonderful stories about her.  Julia Child was truly an icon, and yet was so generous of spirit and "a lady," according to Jan.  Despite being very famous, she would introduce herself to groups rather than waiting for them to approach her worshipfully or expecting that they already knew who she was; she identified herself by name in greeting new people.  Julia also wrote "thank you" letters - a lost art these days - personally offering gratitude for gifts or work on her behalf ... she showed appreciation for any and all kind gestures.

Julia even maintained a listed phone number, of all things!  And if someone called her directly with questions about recipes, particularly on holidays like Thanksgiving (before the days of the Butterball hotline), she would answer patiently with genuine and sincere concern.

One interesting quirk that Jan told us about is that Julia didn't like to share dishes; instead, she felt you should simply order something yourself if you wanted to try it.  And she gently chastised Jan at one point, when Jan felt she was too busy to sit on the board of the then-forming American Institute of Wine and Food; Julia pointed out that she, herself, was busy, but that this was a cause worth dedicating the time to.  Needless to say, they both became board members!

At the end of her life, Julia wasn't able to eat much.  But someone made a batch of onion soup from Julia's own recipe, to encourage her to eat.  According to Jan, this turned out to be Julia's last meal.

Julia was so wonderful, so haymish (a Yiddish word meaning "warm, welcoming") that everyone loved her.  In fact, Jan noted that not liking Julia Child was "like not liking ice cream or chocolate!"

Lovely desserts were also brought in Julia's honor, prepared by group members from recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Malakoff Tortes with either strawberries or raspberries, as well as a Queen of Sheba cake made with lots of chocolate, butter and rum ... a perfect way to remember Julia and her fondness for such rich ingredients!

The Culinary Historians take the summer off from meeting, but then gather in August for an annual picnic - the theme of which will be a celebration of Julia Child's 100th birthday, featuring a potluck filled with dishes prepared from Julia's own recipes - before another year of monthly programs.

My heart will still be with them, though, as I prepare an article for the group's quarterly newsletter, Repast, about The Molly Goldberg Cookbook. I was even able to finally meet Randy Schwartz, Repast's esteemed editor, with whom I've been corresponding for a few months.

This was a lovely afternoon in so many ways!


Jenn said...

I love Julia - and I love that you all talked about her like she was an old friend... I think that truly is what she is to a lot of people.. she was in there house daily :)

Cranberry Morning said...

I would love to see Julia's kitchen at the Smithsonian! Burned into my memory is Julia posing a chicken on the countertop. She was a hoot!

Congratulations on your new membership.

Debra said...

I love this post! I truly have a sweet spot for Julia Child. I would love to go see the exhibit at the Smithsonion.
I think this club sounds amazing and I bet you fit right in!

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

What a great group to connect with! Sounds like a lot of fun :)

Carla said...

Sounds like a great time. Keep us posted. :)

Jean | said...

Mary, how I would have loved to be there! I told a little Julia story in this post ( I know it's not "the done thing" to put a link to one's own blog in a comment, but I thought it would be better than a great huge long comment! Hope you don't mind? She was a gem. Can't wait to hear more about this group!

Debra Kapellakis said...

Good for you to get to enjoy yourself and cross something off your to do list! :D

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