As Always, Julia

Back in February (phew, it’s been a long time since I’ve written), my boss lent me AS ALWAYS, JULIA, the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto: penpals, confidantes, ‘business partners’, lifelong friends.

It turns out  I knew far less than I thought about Julia Child. I have her two volume MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING in my row of cookery books in the kitchen and her name has been called up throughout my life as a doyen of cooking, a master in the field – a staple for most Americans, at least of my grandmother and mum’s generation. I also had a vague image of a tall, well-built, attractive, Nordic looking woman standing with an apron in front of a table, brandishing a rolling pin.

But that was the extent of my knowledge. Having now read Julia’s intimate and revealing letters with her penpal – to become dear friend – Avis DeVoto, I have peered into slices ofher  inner life and fashioned a clearer picture of who she actually was as a person. With her ubiquitous pearls, strong manner, loud voice, commanding presence and steely determination, she is a woman I admire, battling as she did to get through Le Cordon Bleu school of cooking in Paris and start a French cooking school for Americans with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. She then started to write what are now two of the best-selling cookery books in the world, carrying on the writing and cooking through many moves – her beloved husband Paul worked for the US government and was frequently moved – from Paris to the south of France, to Germany, to Norway.

Avis, from home in Cambridge, MA, expertly worked her many contacts in the political and publishing circles in Boston, to secure HarperCollins as a publisher for Julia, Simone and Louisette. Coming from a publishing background, myself, many of the letters read like good industry goss. It was fascinating for me to see life as it was in mid-20th century Boston – a life not too dissimilar to that of my father’s parents. The story keeps pace through the tragic and sudden death of Avis’ husband and HarperCollins dropping Julia, but Avis securing the eventual publisher Knopf.

After finishing the book, I had to, of course, watch the film retelling: Julie and Julia, starring the wonderful Meryl Streep and equally stunning Amy Adams. It is a film worth watching – my husband would say if only for the ‘onion scene’ – even if you haven’t read the book.

Now, I’m off to the garden to enjoy the sun, on one of the first proper spring weekends this year! Hurray for sun and flowers and warmth.

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