Category Archives: Posts

An Extra Slice…

By Tallulah Maait Pepperell

Selected illustrations from the cookbook Dra. Oetkera przepisy dla skrzętnych gospodyń [Dr. Oetker’s recipes for industrious housewives] (Poland, 1930s). Left to right, top row: Bundt cake (baba), chocolate (marble) Bundt cake; middle row: cheesecake (sernik), spice cake (piernik), hazelnut torte; bottom row: chocolate and coffee torte, poppyseed torte. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Earlier this month, I was given a chance I would have been mad to pass up. A week before, Lisa Smith forwarded an email from Sean O’Hanlon from Love Productions, asking for recipe and food historians who would be interested in putting together some historical bakes and appearing on The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice. I was a little unsure, due the fact that I’m only a second-year undergraduate, and I wouldn’t call myself a food historian at all, but with some gentle encouragement and some serious Fear Of Missing Out, I applied.

I had never made a historical recipe before, but I had one on hand that I had wanted to try. A recipe for English Biskotts from the seventeenth century, it was easy enough to make in my student accommodation, but the measurements were so complicated that I spent half my time trying to work out what the end result would be. This was the perfect excuse.

Friday was a pretty frantic day of baking, trying to assemble a recipe that–perhaps–had not been tried for close to four centuries, trying to make it edible, tasty, and historically accurate at the same time. In the end I made two tin-loaves worth of what ended up like very strange, but also delicious, old English biscotti.

To entertain myself, I took a few of them into the university, asking for reviews from brave members of the History Department who were willing to trust my baking skills. While I did not find the biskotts very tasty, my willing guinea pigs seemed to enjoy them. The reviews came back positive: they reminded people of gingerbread, salted caramel, and evoked memories of Christmas.

I wasn’t expecting anything back from the producers but by the next week I had a reply; they were interested in having me on the show! I was asked to come to London on Saturday, 14th October, bringing with me my biskotts, my “Production Guest” ticket, and a stomach full of butterflies. I made my way to the ITV studios on London’s Southbank, arrived half an hour early, was told to come back later. I was  finally given a wristband and escorted upstairs with all the other audience members and guests to watch a preview of the latest episode before filming.

In the studio, I was informed that sadly I was not going to be interviewed for the show, but they managed to fit me in the front filming audience instead of the background audience! I took my seat with two very lovely guests and settled in for filming. I was in the back row but still had the chance to see Jo Brand, Stacey Solomon, Joe Wilkinson, and Richard Osman do their thing. Filming is a tiring job, especially when you’re asked to fake-cry over Liam leaving (some of those were real tears though), clap until your hands hurt, and eat leftover cake! It’s a tough job, but I was glad I could help.

By the end of the day I was tired, aching, and full of cake, but it had been a day I was so glad I hadn’t passed up. There’s something special about being able to sit behind the scenes and watch a show come together, and even help in your own way. Thank you so much to Lisa for recommending I do it, Love Productions for inviting me on, and–if you look hard enough–you can maybe spot me in the background! (Hint: short hair, purple cardigan, looks a bit star-struck the whole way through, and if you need a clue check out the picture below).

Audience at Extra Slice filming, 14 October 2017.

 

Tallulah is a student at the University of Essex and worked as an assistant on our ‘What is a Recipe?’ Virtual Conversation in the summer of 2017.

How an American Became ‘The French Chef’

By Juliet Tempest

There can be no better description of Julia Child than “meticulous.” Indeed, Amy Vidor and Caroline Barta describe her thus in their delightful post this month. They review the history of Child’s success in circulating French cuisine in the U.S. As they discuss, Child held the highest respect for the integrity of a recipe, which enabled her cookbooks to become the first authoritative American “translations” of French food. Yet her enthusiasm for these recipes eclipsed even her exacting nature in developing them, allowing her to connect with her audience and thereby introduce French cuisine into American homes—through the sense of “hospitality” to which Vidor and Barta refer.

Child, Paul. “Julia Child on WGBH.” Credit: Biography of Julia Child, PBS, 15 June 2005.

Child removed the cultural and political implications of French food, as Ashley Armes has argued (133). Here I add that the theory of cognitive dissonance explains the mechanism by which she accomplished this. Psychologist Elliot Aronson describes dissonance as mental discomfort associated with hypocritical cognitions or actions (107). People tend to rationalize such hypocrisies away, either through avoidance or re-description of beliefs. To cook French food, Americans of Child’s day would experience dissonance on two levels: due first to an ambivalent political relationship with France, and second to a cultural inferiority complex. Julia Child mitigated both sources of dissonance through her accessible persona; the audience could identify effortlessly with Child because of her humanizing imperfections and comprehension of the American psyche.

The Omelette Show from The French Chef.

Granted, Child did not succeed on personality alone. She possessed ample qualifications to teach French cuisine, as Vidor and Barta point out. After publishing the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child gained rapid visibility as the star of the television program The French Chef (Pillsbury 135).

Child wanted to teach authentically French cuisine to the authentic American (Ferguson 5). Her comprehensive instructions therefore reflected while elucidating the complexity of French food. With the advent of microwaveable meals, one might have expected Child’s economizing competitors to capture the American audience. Many of them tried to propagate French cooking through shortcuts, like canned foods; these trendy hacks highlighted their Americanization of French food, however (Armes 122). It would have been a dissonance-creating admission of inadequacy should Americans prepare anything less than genuine French food. Child’s approach did not require such damage to Americans’ positive self-concept.

Around that time, a 1969 New York Times Magazine article implied that France still overshadowed America in culinary achievement (Armes 120). Like a younger sibling, the U.S. has long aspired to live up to France’s example while cultivating an individualized identity—a dynamic present since perhaps American emancipation from the British Empire, made possible by the intervention of the French. Despite this historical affinity for France, the moment when Child managed to popularize its cuisine hardly seemed ripe. Charles de Gaulle’s nationalist tendencies fed tense relations with the U.S. over the decade he served as president from 1959. Based on the unflattering media coverage that ensued, France appeared to lose its prominence in every arena, save the culinary (Armes 91, 101, 109-110, 120).

This separation of cuisine from other aspects of French culture is largely attributable to Child. Her predecessors had employed French cooking as “a tool for cultural education” (Armes 118). Loathe to submit to pedantic lecturing, let alone about emulating a country critical of them, Americans would not take up French cooking and associated cognitive dissonance within this framework. They needed Child to re-cast adoption of other food cultures, French specifically, as an American enterprise, one whose political implications featured national strength. Child celebrated how Americans “‘borrow from cuisines from all over the world. We take what we like from another culture and add it to our own’” (Algert 155). France then was not condescending to teach the U.S. to cook, just as de Gaulle was governance; rather, the U.S. exhibited agency in electing to learn.

Beyond this ideological shift, Child herself made French cooking all the more approachable. A slightly disheveled eccentric who preferred not to rehearse and (consequently perhaps) dropped food on air, Child demonstrated implicitly that the least coordinated among us could still master the art (Armes 129; “Profile”). She reduced any cognitive dissonance around assuming a challenge beyond one’s abilities for anyone previously too intimidated to attempt French cuisine. Indeed, psychologists Roger Marshall, et al. argue that the more unrealistic a spokesperson’s image, the more dissonance will be created through customers’ identification with the product represented (566). That everyone could imagine Child in his own kitchen reinforced the connection to her and the food she prepared.

Child’s accessibility might not have eliminated all potential cognitive dissonance. The theory nonetheless contains the mechanism by which she could still become an American culinary icon. Viewers who watched The French Chef yet whose negative perceptions of France persisted required some way of reconciling this apparent hypocrisy; they might instead re-evaluate their beliefs about Child more positively to justify their viewership. Thus for uncertain cooks and Franco-skeptics alike, Julia made learning to cook French food worthwhile.


References

Algert, Susan. “Julia Child at 91 Comments on American Culinary Culture.” Nutrition Today. 39.4 (2004): 154-156. WilsonWeb. Web. 6 Apr. 2010.

Armes, Ashley R. “Image of Nation, Image of Culture: France and French Cooking in the American Press 1918-1969.” MA Thesis. Texas Tech University, 2006.

Aronson, Elliot. “Dissonance, Hypocrisy, and the Self-Concept.” Cognitive dissonance: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology (1999): 103-126. PsycBooks. Web. 24 Apr. 2010.

Child, Julia and Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Knopf, 2006.

Child, Julia, Louise Bertholle, and Simone Beck. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Vol. 1. New York: Knopf, 2001.

Ferguson, Kennan. “Mastering the Art of the Sensible: Julia Child, Nationalist.” Theory and Event 12.2 (2009).

Marshall, Roger, et al. “Endorsement Theory: How Consumers Relate to Celebrity Models.” Journal of Advertising Research 48.4 (Dec. 2008): 564-572. EBSCOhost. Web. 24 Apr. 2010.

Pillsbury, Richard. No Foreign Food: The American Diet In Time and Place (Geographies of the Imagination). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. Print.

“Profile: Julia Child, who brought the art of French cooking to the United States, has died at age 91.” All Things Considered. Host Michele Block. Natl. Public Radio, 13 Aug. 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Apr. 2010.

Juliet M. Tempest is an aspiring anthropologist of Chinese foodways who holds a B.A. in Economics, Finance, and Translation & Intercultural Communication from Princeton University. Her research has focused on the effects of culture on trade and finance, in China specifically, though (simultaneously and) subsequently evolved into scholarship of food studies. She formally completed certificates in Cuisine & Patisserie de Base at L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu in Paris, an internship at the organic Buena Vista Farm in New South Wales, and a seminar on “Reading Historic Cookbooks” at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute in Boston. She has recorded and translated cooking class recipes through interviews with a classically trained Yunnanese chef and served as a Mandarin interpreter for disbursing farmers market vouchers to low-income individuals in DC.

A Tale of Two Omelettes, Part 2

By Amy Vidor and Caroline Barta

A good French omelette is a smooth, gently swelling, golden oval that is tender and creamy inside. And as it takes less than half a minute to make, it is ideal for a quick meal. There is a trick to omelettes, and certainly the easiest way to learn is to ask an expert to give you a lesson. — Julia Child.

In our last post we traced the origin of the omelette recipe (or at least one of the origins) to François Pierre de La Varenne, but what we did not expect in our research was to draw a straight line to Julia Child. Through our research, we discovered that not only did Child own two 1712 volumes of La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier Fran FRANÇOIS, but also she carried on the style and type of cuisine pioneered by La Varenne’s incipient textual project.

Child’s two volumes of La Varenne’s text can be found within her significant personal collection of 5,000 cookbooks, which are now catalogued at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Marylène Altieri, Curator of Books and Printed Materials, and Honor Moody, Rare Book Cataloger, informed us that Child rarely marked any cookbooks dating before 1900 (even with an ownership signature). A rare exception is an annotated copy of Larousse Gastronomique E, “but otherwise she did not [generally] mark her collection of research books. On the other hand, she marked her own publications with many corrections for future printings”, especially Mastering the Art of French Cooking  (hereafter MAFC).

Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Credit: Harry Ransom Center.

When we further discovered that the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin held Julia Child’s editorial correspondence, we could not resist the opportunity to dive into the behind-the-scenes creation of MAFC, one of the most iconic cookbooks ever published. Starting from its 1960s publication, this best-selling cookbook introduced French cooking into countless homes.

1950s America was not far removed from the restrictions and rationing of wartime (or the generational memory of Depression-era food shortages). Like their medieval and early modern forebears, those responsible for feeding themselves and their families prioritized sustenance and ease of preparation.

The post-War generation was naturally enamoured with convenient and cost-effective processed foods, such as Jell-O and frozen TV dinners. While time-saving kitchen appliances like refrigerators and electric mixers made daily cooking quicker, home cooks across the country needed help transforming the everyday chore of cooking back into an educational, pleasurable experience, as La Varenne had once done.

Enter Julia Child, a chef who helped introduce the idea of gourmet home cooking for modern audiences. Rather than settling for convenience, she advocated for cooking as a meticulous process that allowed room for error and fostered hospitality. She revived interest in taste over function, preaching the value of simple, local ingredients and flavors developed with care and attention.

Arnold Newman
Photograph of Julia Child in her kitchen for McCall’s Magazine, France, 1970. Credit: Harry Ransom Center.

While her husband was stationed in Paris, Child decided to attend Le Cordon Bleu. Shortly after, she met French chefs Simone (“Simca”) Beck and Louisette Bertholle at Le Cercle des Gourmettes, a culinary club for women in Paris. Child’s eventual bestseller, co-written with Beck and Bertholle, drew inspiration from her close friendships with these women.

L’École des Trois Gourmandes: Louisette Bertholle, Simone (Simca) Beck, and Julia Child, 1953. Credit: Harry Ransom Center.

In 1952, the trio started L’École des Trois Gourmandes, an informal “school” primarily aimed at American women living in Paris who wanted to learn about French cuisine. The lessons were held in Child’s kitchen. Although the school “closed”  in 1953 when Child moved to Marseille, their collaboration was the foundation for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a 734-page encyclopedic cookbook published in 1961.

In effect, this trio had translated the collaborative kitchen environment developed over centuries in France for home cooks across the world. Once again, a chef’s decision to share knowledge with the world, using the medium of a book, inspired generations to attempt “professional” skills from the comfort of their home kitchen. By creating a systemized text to train the next generation of home cooks, they continued the cultural exchange began by La Varenne in 1651 (for more on early modern cooking, particularly female alliances in the kitchen, see previous RP post by Amanda Herbert).

A letter from Julia Child to Judith Jones, 31 October 1960, p. 1. Credit: Harry Ransom Center.

The voluminous Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. collection in the Harry Ransom Center archives includes the editorial correspondence between Julia Child and her Knopf editors Judith Jones and Carol Brown Janeway. Looking at pages of contracts, book-signing notices, and editorial letters revealed the work of active editors. At their best, an editor ventriloquizes purpose back to the author, creating a loop of meaning that frustrates a sense of singular authorship. They also facilitate translations of works into other languages.

A letter from Julia Child to Judith Jones, 31 October 1960, p. 2. Credit: Harry Ransom Center.

Judith Jones, Julia Child’s primary editor, began her career at Alfred A. Knopf as a French translation reader. She was quickly promoted to editor, ultimately spending 50 years at the publishing house. She recently passed away at the age of 93, and is remembered best for her dual passions for cooking and editing. These shaped her editorial collaborations with not only Julia Child, but also chefs like Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters, and Claudia Roden. It also inspired her to write her own cookbooks and blog, including The Pleasure of Cooking for One.

When adapting manuscripts for new audiences, cookbook translators often prioritize word-for-word accuracy, useful equivalencies across different measurement systems, and cross-cultural labeling of ingredients. Caution is advised, as altering formatting and spacing of the text also can change meaning.

In a letter dated November 6, 1975, Carol Brown Janeway related Child’s feelings about the British “translation” of MAFC:

Julia [Child] has always been very dissatisfied with what [British editors] did…they entirely changed the layout of the book which reduced to nonsense her whole method of teaching recipes.

Child was meticulous in her kitchen pedagogy, providing exacting instructions interspersed with diagrams for proper technique. The original MAFC progresses deliberately: beginning with basics such as knife skills, followed by tips selecting and using ingredients like wine, and building to the most simple type of recipes, soups. Just as La Varenne had done three centuries earlier! When the British editors rearranged the layout, they disrupted this meticulous process, transforming the book from a process of skill-acquisition to a collection of recipes.

Notwithstanding the potential difficulty, MAFC was rapidly translated into numerous languages including Finnish, Danish, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Korean, Dutch, and Spanish, and a second volume was ordered for 1970.

If all this talk about food makes you hungry, head to MAFC, Volume 1, to whip up a delightful omelette. It’s what Julia would want you to do.

Julia Child’s French Omelette Recipe

Makes 1 serving

2 extra-large or 3 large or medium eggs

Large pinch salt

Several grinds black pepper

1 teaspoon cold water (optional)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra to garnish

Several sprigs parsley, to garnish

Combine the eggs, seasonings: In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, pepper and water, if using, until just blended. Set aside.

Cook the omelet: Place a nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the butter and tilt the pan in all directions to coat the bottom and sides. When the butter foam has almost subsided but just before it browns, pour in the eggs. Shake the pan briefly to spread the eggs over the bottom of the pan, then let the pan sit for several seconds undisturbed while the eggs coagulate on the bottom. If adding any fillings, such as sauteed vegetables, do so now. Start jerking the pan toward you, throwing the eggs against the far edge. Keep jerking roughly, gradually lifting the pan up by the handle and tilting the far edge of the pan over the heat as the omelet begins to roll over on itself. Use a rubber spatula to push any stray egg back into the mass. Then bang on the handle close to the pan with a fist and the omelet will start curling at its far edge.

Unmold the omelet: Maneuver the omelet to one side of the pan. Fold the third of the omelet farthest from you over on itself. Lift the pan and hold a serving plate next to it. Tilt the pan toward the plate, allowing the omelet to slide onto it and fold over on itself into thirds.

Presentation: Spear a lump of butter with a fork and rapidly brush it over the top of the omelet. Garnish with parsley.


Sources

Beck, Simone, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Knopf, New York, 1961.


About the authors

Caroline B. Barta is a third-year PhD student in English Literature at the University of Texas Austin. Her work researches questions of literacy, access, gender, and cultural commodity. She received her Masters in English Literature from Boston College (2015), and her bachelors in Great Texts and Classics from Baylor University (2012). She considers recipes useful textual artifacts, revealing how women especially retrieved and shared practical literacy in their households and kitchens.

Amy Vidor is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She completed her Bachelors’ degrees in English and French from the University of Southern California (2012) and her Master’s degree in History and Literature at Columbia University (2014).  Her work analyzes how female testimony and textual inheritances complicate cultural memory. Her research areas include francophone and anglophone literature.

A Tale of Two Omelettes, Part 1

By Amy Vidor and Caroline Barta

La Varenne’s Ham Omelette

(Recipe #76)

Simply take a dozen eggs, and break them, saving only half the egg whites. Beat them together. Take your ham, and prepare as necessary (chop / dice / etc). Mix it with your eggs. Then, take some lard, melt it, and throw it in your eggs, making sure not to overcook the mixture. Serve.

The omelette lulls the novice cook into complacency. While it only requires a few ingredients, it demands skill, confidence, and timing to pull off with panache. One eggshell in the mix, an overly heated pan, or the unsuccessful flip, and the entire effort falls flat. Cooked to perfection, it represents the quintessence of modern French cuisine. It draws together fresh ingredients, developed for flavor. Simplicity and balance marry creamy texture and delicate, fluffy eggs.

Ever curious archivists, we wondered where the omelette made an early impression. We’ll be honest; we were a little hungry that brainstorming day. While this seemingly humble dish has become a brunch and Tuesday evening staple in our repertoires, the hunt was on to find its initial publication in a historic cookbook. A bit of determined searching later, we found a likely early contender.

Le cuisinier françois… Paris: Chez Pierre David, 1652.

In his 1651 cookbook Le Cuisinier François  (hereafter LCF), François Pierre de la Varenne helped transition France away from an Italian-style of cooking requiring expensive imported spices into its modern form. La Varenne was not solely responsible for altering the state of cooking, but he was the first to put these innovations in writing.

LCF contains over eight-hundred recipes divided by courses, soups and broths, starters, second courses, and small dishes. The first recipe describes “La manière de faire le Böuillon pour la nourriture de tous les pots, soit de potage, entrée, ou entre-mets [the manner of making bouillons for stews, soups, main courses, and small dishes]…” Beginning with the basics—seasoning broth—La Varenne built upon foundations to introduce dishes like bisques and pottages.

Instructing cooks to prepare locally-sourced ingredients in a recognizably “French-style” reinforced a sense of transferable cultural heritage connected to food. While the English and Italian cookbooks of its time offered primarily recipes more akin to potions or subsistence-level fare, this book emphasized the development of flavors in seasonal, taste-based dishes. Instead of tending toward preserves and the extension of foodstuff, La Varenne introduced foundational flavoring methods still in use today. La Varenne printed the earliest instructions for the roux, the béchamel sauce, and notably, the omelette.

LCF presupposed readers understood proportions, could adapt ingredients when necessary, and could interpret directions like “heat” or “boil” to suit their “kitchen” environments. By prioritizing the combination of  ingredients for flavor and texture, alongside instructions for presenting the dish in an appealing fashion, La Varenne established a new format for cookbooks. His legacy thus relies both on its place in the history of cooking in France and its status as printed object.

La Varenne, a commoner, started cooking as an apprentice in a local kitchen, participating in the guild system as a cook and eventually rising to the rank of kitchen clerk for Louis Chalon du Blé, Marquis d’Uxelles (1619-1658). As kitchen clerk for the Marquis’s household, La Varenne was responsible for all food service. His rise to this status was exceptional, as the role of kitchen clerk was traditionally reserved for nobility.

His humble roots and unprecedented success perhaps inspired him to share his passion with the general public, who he addressed so fondly throughout his career. In LCF he includes a letter which reads:

Dear Reader, in recompense all that I would ask of you is that my book be for you as pleasurable as it is useful.

By encouraging utility and enjoyment, La Varenne made cooking more than just a necessity, but a skill that could be elevated to an experience in even a modest household.

Cooking in medieval and early modern France had been largely a profession that relied upon oral transmission of secret knowledge through the guild system. Membership within the trade guild established apprenticeships and monitored job opportunities for individual cooks who worked in the large houses of the French aristocracy.

For two centuries prior to La Varenne’s text, perhaps in part due to the control enforced by the guild system, French cuisine languished, with no new cookbooks coming to market. Both English and Italian cookbooks dominated. In placing acquired knowledge in a sustainable, replicable form in the printed book, LCF circumvented time-honored traditions of gaining information. By presenting professional secrets to an open marketplace, this text suggested cooking was within reach for whomever had the means to purchase the book.

This quite naturally spurred controversy within the cooking community and sparked conversations about how much information should be shared. Despite the controversy—or perhaps because of the controversy—given England’s own rocky political situation in the 1650s, LCF was the first known cookbook translated from French in English in 1653. It remained a bestseller in both forms into the eighteenth century. Within the first 75 years, LCF had gone into 30 editions (Scully 11). Its ground-breaking translation, titled The Frenchy Cook, went into 61 editions before 1754.

While moveable type dated back to Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1440s, the seventeenth century encouraged the spread of print culture as general costs went down. Texts like LCF could be more easily exchanged, copied, and even translated for travel across the channel, especially as cities such as Paris and Amsterdam served as printing hubs.

Polly Russell, curator at the British Library,  explains that La Varenne’s cookbook was marketed to ‘every private family, even to the husband-man or labouring-man, wheresoever the English tongue is, or may be used.’ And the cookbook remained an international bestseller until the French Revolution!

To be continued…

From an English translation of La Varenne: The French Cook (London, 1653), p. 95.

Sources

John Crerar Collection of Rare Books in the History of Science and Medicine

La Varenne, François Pierre de, Le Cuisinier François (1651).

La Varenne, François Pierre de, and Scully, Terence. La Varenne’s Cookery : the French Cook ; the French Pastry Chef ; the French Confectioner. Blackawton, Totnes, U.K., Prospect Books, 2006.


About the authors

Caroline B. Barta is a third-year PhD student in English Literature at the University of Texas Austin. Her work researches questions of literacy, access, gender, and cultural commodity. She received her Masters in English Literature from Boston College (2015), and her bachelors in Great Texts and Classics from Baylor University (2012). She considers recipes useful textual artifacts, revealing how women especially retrieved and shared practical literacy in their households and kitchens.

Amy Vidor is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She completed her Bachelors’ degrees in English and French from the University of Southern California (2012) and her Master’s degree in History and Literature at Columbia University (2014).  Her work analyzes how female testimony and textual inheritances complicate cultural memory. Her research areas include francophone and anglophone literature.