FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

A New Kind of Cookbook

Soon after leaving the Cordon Bleu, Julia Child began thinking about producing a cookbook, a new kind of book that would be a serious tool for teaching Americans to think about cooking the way the French did—with love and dedication and a willingness to put in time and work. With her French associates Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle, she embarked on what became a ten-year endeavor resulting in the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961.

Guided by her belief that a recipe should be written so the cook knows the potential problems that might arise, Julia and her editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, transformed recipes from simple lists of measured ingredients and general instructions to complete explanations of what to do, tool-by-tool and step-by-step. Mastering the Art of French Cooking’s success paved the way for other books written for ambitious and adventurous cooks. It became a classic and was the first of fourteen cookbooks Julia produced throughout her career.

Three Hearty Eaters

Three Hearty Eaters

In 1952, Julia and her French associates, Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle, organized a cooking school, L’École des Trois Gourmandes (the school of three hearty eaters), for Americans in Paris. The gourmandes vowed to produce a cookbook of classic French cuisine for aspiring American cooks, and teaching allowed them to work out the recipes and methods.

Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Badge

Paul Child designed the insignia badges for L’École des Trois Gourmandes. Julia later wore her badge in America at cooking demonstrations and during her first television series, The French Chef. Gift of Julia Child.

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Kitchen Contradictions

The idea was to take the bugaboo out of French cooking.

—Julia Child

Mastering the Art of French Cooking arrived in America in 1961, the same year a French chef arrived to cook in the Kennedy White House. When New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne announced that chef René Verdon’s first meal featured “trout cooked in Chablis wine and served with sauce Vincent,” interest in French cuisine soared. Julia’s cookbook, followed by her television series The French Chef, tapped into an American public open to wider cultural experiences.

Still, not everyone was clamoring for complicated French cuisine. Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, published in 1960, appealed to another, growing segment of the population—busy women who wanted to cook without spending all day doing it. Bracken’s recipes were easy to prepare, both from scratch or by using canned, frozen, and other convenience foods. Its take-it-easy message and humorous approach made the book an instant success, eventually selling over three million copies.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1

This is the only cookbook that explains how to create authentic French dishes in American kitchens with American foods. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961

Gift of Julia Child

 

The I Hate to Cook Book, more than 180 quick and easy recipes

The I Hate to Cook Book, more than 180 quick and easy recipes

New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960

France Meets Texas

France Meets Texas

In a drama reminiscent of other cultural clashes in 1960s America, René Verdon resigned his post as White House chef in 1965. A disagreement with a new food coordinator from Texas, hired by President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson to cut costs, was the final straw in a larger discord. The Johnsons favored the foods of their native Texas—barbecue, spoon bread, fried chicken, and chili—over the French cuisine Verdon had been engaged to prepare for the Kennedys. He told the Washington Post: “You can eat at home what you want, but you do not serve barbecued spareribs at a banquet with the ladies in white gloves.”