Julia and I shared a sense of humor, and appetite, and she thought I looked like Paul, which probably helped our collaboration. As for me, I was grateful for the chance to reconnect with her and to be part of such an interesting project. Some writers find that the more they learn about their co-authors the less they like them, but I had the opposite experience: the more I learned about Julia Child, the more I came to respect her. What impressed me most was how hard she worked, how devoted she was to the "rules" of la cuisine française while keeping herself open to creative exploration, and how determined she was to persevere in the face of setbacks. Julia never lost her sense of wonder and inquisitiveness. She was, and is, a great inspiration.
Another great inspiration has been our editor, Judith Jones, who worked with Julia for more than forty years. With patience and a deep understanding of our subject, she was indispensable in helping to shape this book. Judith's assistant, Ken Schneider, was also a great help.
On August 13, 2004just after our conversation in her garden, and only two days before her ninety-second birthdayJulia died of kidney failure in her sleep. Over the next year, I finished My Life in France, but every day wished I could call her up and ask her to clarify a story, or to share a bit of news, or just to talk. I miss her. But through her words in these pages, Julia's voice remains as lively, wise, and encouraging as ever. As she would say, "We had such fun!"
This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in
life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the
many pleasures of cooking and eating. It is also something new
for me. Rather than a collection of recipes, I've put together a
series of linked autobiographical stories, mostly focused on the
years 1948 through 1954, when we lived in Paris and Marseille,
and also a few of our later adventures in Provence. Those early
years in France were among the best of my life. They marked a
crucial period of transformation in which I found my true
calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such
fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.
Before I moved to France, my life had not prepared me for what I would discover there. I was raised in a comfortable, WASPy, uppermiddle-class family in sunny and non-intellectual Pasadena, California. My father, John McWilliams, was a conservative businessman who managed family real-estate holdings; my mother, Carolyn, whom we called Caro, was a very warm and social person. But, like most of her peers, she didn't spend much time in the kitchen. She occasionally sallied forth to whip up baking-powder biscuits, or a cheese dish, or finnan haddie, but she was not a cook. Nor was I.
As a girl I had zero interest in the stove. I've always had a healthy appetite, especially for the wonderful meat and the fresh produce of California, but I was never encouraged to cook and just didn't see the point in it. Our family had a series of hired cooks, and they'd produce heaping portions of typical American farefat roasted chicken with buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach; or well-marbled porterhouse steaks; or aged leg of lamb cooked medium graynot pinky-red rare, as the French doand always accompanied by brown gravy and green mint sauce. It was delicious but not refined food.
Paul, on the other hand, had been raised in Boston by a rather bohemian mother who had lived in Paris and was an excellent cook. He was a cultured man, ten years older than I was, and by the time we met, during World War II, he had already traveled the world. Paul was a natty dresser and spoke French beautifully, and he adored good food and wine. He knew about dishes like moules marinières and boeuf bourguignon and canard à l'orangethings that seemed hopelessly exotic to my untrained ear and tongue. I was lucky to marry Paul. He was a great inspiration, his enthusiasm about wine and food helped to shape my tastes, and his encouragement saw me through discouraging moments. I would never have had my career without Paul Child.
Excerpted from My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme Copyright © 2006 by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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