Friday, July 31, 2009

French Cooking School in a Book

Since the new movie is out in theaters about Julia Child and the young woman, Julie, who attempts to learn cooking by using Child's book, I thought I would review one of Julia Child's famous cookbooks today. The book from my collection is Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. It was originally published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., but my copy is from the thirteenth printing and is dated 1966.

You might wonder why someone, such as myself, who is so devoted to Southern and "down-home" cooking would own this book. It is not for the very detailed French recipes which include organ meats and every kind of French wine, but the warm memories I have of seeing Mrs. Child's cooking show on PBS. I think her show preceded Mr. Rogers and that's how I was introduced to it...accidentally.

Even as a child I loved the passion that Julia Child showed for preparing food. She made cooking look like it was within the grasp of anyone who was willing to give it a try and not be afraid to mess up once in a while . After all, the famous Julia Child messed up "on camera" and laughed about it! On one show, a buttered chicken slipped from her grasp, and she chased it around the counter with her hands, laughing all the while. I remember her dropping things off the counter or being covered with flour; it didn't matter to her...she was cooking and sharing what she loved with others. I guess the other part of what made her so appealing to viewers was her "un-star-like" quality. Today, other than Mario and Paula, we have people who look like models who happen to have a cooking show. When Julia came on TV it was an unexpected treat; like the "Susan Boyle" of her day. While commercials and print ads of the 60's featured Barbie Doll-sized women in frilly aprons trotting around the kitchen in heels, Julia did not fit the mold; she was a tall, less glamorous-looking woman who was a master in the art of cooking. She inspired many...including a little girl who had just started her 4-H Cooking Project. Thank you, Julia!

As I've already said, this book is not the one that I choose to cook out of because the recipes are for foods that we don't normally eat. I don't cook with wine; if I feel that it cannot be omitted, I usually substitute another liquid such as apple juice. I do wish that I'd consulted this book when I roasted a leg of lamb a few weeks ago. Every one liked it (except Ben) but I felt that it could have been better seasoned during roasting.

If you are making something that you've never attempted, this is a wonderful book to reference. It gives the complete list of ingredients and cooking utensils needed down the left-hand side and the detailed instructions, broken down into steps, on the right-hand side. It would be a great book for the beginner just for its descriptions of cooking methods, alone. If you never make one recipe from this cookbook, but just read it as cooking information it would be well-worth your time and money.

In the front of the book, Julia lets the reader know what is needed, as far as equipment, to stock a kitchen so you don't waste money on items that will not last or will be unnecessary. She gives instructions and helpful illustrations on methods such as trussing a chicken. And in typical Julia-fashion, she gives us not only the instructions for making white sauce, but what steps to take if your sauce turns out "too lumpy"; "too thick"; or "too thin"! She includes a primer on knife skills with illustrations and says,"a knife is considered sharp if just the weight of it drawn across a tomato slits the skin." She also says that knives should be washed and dried by hand as soon as you're done using them.

I would call this a practical reference book for your kitchen. It's a very inexpensive alternative to cooking school. The methods and information are solid, even if French food is not commonplace at your house. Bon Appetit!

Pg. 191 Crepe Batter (French Pancakes)

1 C cold water
1 C cold milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 C sifted all-purpose flour
4 TBSP melted butter
a rubber scraper

Put the liquid, eggs and salt into the blender jar. Add the flour, then the butter. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, dislodge with a rubber scraper and blend for 2 to 3 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

The batter should be a very light cream, just thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. If, after making your first crepe, it seems too heavy, beat in a bit of water, a spoonful at a time. Your cooked crepe should be about 1/16 inch thick.

Join me at Momtrends, Grocerycartchallenge and DesignsbyGollum for the recipe swaps today.


  1. I love crepes, but I don't have a recipe. THANKS!!! for the recipe. If you have the time come by and visit my blog. have become a follower maybe you can do the same. THANKS!!! Geri

  2. Thanks for your nice comment. I think crepes are really good with strawberry preserves.

  3. I've actually had my students make these after studying a unit on France. They had a ball:) I hope you will join me at for Crock Pot Wednesdays. The details for that and the Mister Linky are already posted. The first giveaway item has been announced and you can expect the additional ones over the next few days. The date of the first event is August 5. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I can't wait to see the movie! I have the cookbook probably for the same reason you do.....all the PBS memories. I remember one show where she had had one two many sips of her wine and was trying to deal with this giant was hilarious! I agree, though, the cookbook itself has such solid information in it that it is definitely worth owning. :)