julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

  

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“When I first started out, everything was done by hand. I think it’s very important for the home cook—that’s what I’m interested in—to have things like the food processor…to make fish mousse in a few seconds.” – Julia Child
Julia Child started cooking in the late 1940’s when she and husband Paul were living in France. As you can imagine, mechanical kitchen tools and utensils were few and far between in France in 1949, so every time-consuming task in la cuisine classique was done by hand.

Did you hear me?

BY HAND.

Does anyone even know how to do things by hand anymore? I think I’ve made cookies from scratch maybe three times in my life – and each time it was the same recipe. Things are so much easier today, between pre-packaged food, re-heatable dinners, and updated kitchen appliances. Think about how much has changed in the last sixty years, and how spoiled we’ve become. In 1949, there was no Magic Bullet; no food processor; no non-stick pans and cookie dough didn’t come in a refrigerated tube.

Here, a mortar and pestle are used to grind pesto.

Julia crushed herbs and nuts into fine powders in a marble mortar and pestle (we would just use a blender today); she mixed dough in a bowl with a wooden spoon (we would toss it into the electric mixer). Recipes that today would take us minutes to create took her hours – and yet, she still loved spending that time in the kitchen because she felt there was no better place to spend time. But don’t get me wrong – just because she was an advocate for learning la technique, Julia had no problem adopting new labor- and time-saving technologies in the kitchen, so long as they produced classical results. If these new and improved kitchen tools didn’t contribute to the production of good food, then she had no problem sticking to the old method. Laura Shapiro, author of Julia Child: A Life wrote, “Cooking, for her, was not in conflict with progress. Rather it was, or could be, in partnership with it.”

Today's food processor has revolutionized kitchen prep work.

Imagine the changes in technology Julia witnessed during her cooking career. In 1946, the Waring Blender made its way into homes; in 1953, Saran Wrap was produced for household use. That same year, the TV dinner found its way into American freezers, and it wasn’t until 1971 – 10 years after the first edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out – that the food processor was marketed for home cooks. Today, if we come home too tired to cook, we pop a meal in the microwave and can have dinner on the table in five minutes. If Julia Child came home too tired to cook…well, too bad. We’ve got it pretty easy, huh?

And yet, much like a farmer takes pride in the land he works because of the investment of himself in his efforts, I would imagine a cook who creates food by hand can enjoy the fruits of her labor to a greater extent. So I plan to follow Julia’s example and utilize the old way – handmade. Except, of course, when I can feel her tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “For crying out loud, kid, this would go much faster if you’d use the ol’ food processor!” (These moments are called out in italics throughout MtAoFC.)

So today I challenge you, dear reader, to avoid taking the easy route. Instead of popping some bread in the toaster, fire up the broiler in the oven. Rather than sticking that tomato under the SlapChop, give it a fine dice with a knife. Don’t opt for bottled lemon juice – squeeze your own. Do one thing today by hand, if for no other reason than to enjoy the taste of your meal a little more. As Julia says, “The treasures of the table, and of life, are infinite!”

Toujours bon appetit!

-Jessica

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