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Decades before the Cooking Channel or “food celebrities,” Julia Child captivated her television viewers with “The French Chef.” The woman who brought fine cuisine into the homes of average Americans transformed the way this country thought about cooking and eating. A new biography says the mark she left went well beyond the kitchen. Her biographer describes Julia Child as an early feminist who taught women to find pride in their work and to take charge of their lives. Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday. To talk about her life and legacy, Diane sits down with Bob Spitz, the author of the new biography, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child.”
Excerpted from “Dearie” by Bob Spitz. Copyright © 2012 by Bob Spitz. 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.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Today would have been Julia Childs' 100th birthday. The author of a new biography calls her one of the most influential women of the 20th century. It's an extraordinary for a person who showed little interest in cooking or any career as a young woman. But when introduced to French cuisine in Paris, Julia Child found her passion. Bob Spitz is the author of a new book titled, "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child." He joins me to talk about her unlikely rise to fame, and her mark on American society.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you have been fans of Julia Child who appeared on this program several times. We'll have a few excerpts from those interviews. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Bob. It's good to have you here.
MR. BOB SPITZIt's wonderful to be here, Diane.
REHMThank you. Thank you. You know, I talked with Julia Child several times, and just had a wonderful time with her each time we were together. How did you first meet her?
SPITZYou know, I was in Italy in 1992, and I was doing a number of articles for magazines at the time, and I got a call from a friend at the Italian Trade Commission who said, we know you have a little extra time, would you mind being an escort for an older woman? And I said, you know, I don't do that kind of work. That's not my business.
SPITZAnd they said, it's Julia Child, and I said, I'll be right over.
REHMOf course. Of course.
SPITZShe was in Italy, and wanted to try Sicilian food, so she was going to make a tour. She was 82. She didn't get around so well at that point. Her knees were bothering her, and she wanted a young arm to lean on and, you know, it was just the most extraordinary experience for me, because for three-and-a-half weeks, we did nothing talk about food and her life, and that was the inception -- that's when I really knew that I was one day going to write a biography of this woman.
REHMYou knew that one day you'd write a book.
SPITZI did. And as I left -- as we left Sicily and got back, I told Julia. I said, you know, I'd like to do this and she told me she was in the middle of another biography. She called me three weeks later and she said, I think we need to rekindle your interest. She said, I'm not having a very good time, and when the book came out, she said it made her feel as if she -- this was her quote, "I'm already dead." So she wanted -- she really wanted somebody to capture her extraordinary exuberance, her wonderful independent spirit, and I think that Julia, even at that point, realized that she had a legacy to leave and she was very careful of her brand.
REHMAnd of course, that legacy was not just food and food preparation, but let's go back to the beginning of how she began. She had no thoughts of having a career early on.
SPITZNot at all. She wanted a career, but not in food. She thought she would be a great woman novelist. She graduated from Smith, and she was really a lost soul. Her grades weren't great, but she felt she had something unique to give. That's what she wrote in her journal. She felt that she was a unique person. She didn't know what it was or how she would bring it out, but her Smith class, while those women were really smart women, there were two options for them. One of them was marriage, and the other was the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, believe it or not, with a Smith diploma, and half the class did one and half the class did the other.
SPITZJulia was not going to settle for that. Marriage wasn't an option at the time. She had been unlucky in love. She had been jilted by a two-timer, and she was too tall to attract men at the time.
REHMI was about to say, you should describe her.
SPITZYes. She was, you know, when I met her, I'm six feet tall. Julia was much taller.
REHMSix feet two at least.
SPITZOh, no. No. She was...
SPITZ...six three and a half, yes.
SPITZAnd she was shorty in the family. Her brother was 6'5", and her sister Dorothy was 6'6", and her mom used to say...
SPITZ...I've given birth to 18 feet of children. But even that was an exaggeration.
SPITZIt was more like 19 feet of children.
REHMWow. And so...
SPITZShe was large.
REHMShe was large. She was clearly large. What about her childhood? She really was -- because she was so tall...
REHM...she was kind of an outsider.
SPITZShe was an outsider because of that, and she was also a very pampered young woman. Her father was very wealthy. She grew up in luxury in Pasadena. She lived right off what they called Millionaire's Row, but her father was a millionaire, and she went a tony girls' school, and when she was growing up, she kept saying to herself, I'm nothing more than a social butterfly.
SPITZAnd for Julia Child to feel that way about herself, it was daunting. So she...
REHMShe said when she attended Smith College, you say she minored in partying...
REHM...and was much more interested in where she could find alcohol.
REHMAnd it was during prohibition.
SPITZIt was. Julia knew the location of every speakeasy around Smith College, and she was one of the few women who had a car in those days. Her mother drove very early, and Julia drove too. And so she would pile all her friends into the car and they would run off and hit the local speakeasies.
REHMHow did she wind up at the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services after Smith College?
SPITZWell, she spent about a year in New York bumping around trying to find herself, and then she went back home and didn't know what to do, and when the war broke out, she wanted to get involved in the war effort, so she made a beeline for Washington, and the OSS was hiring college grads in those days. They wanted the smartest kids there, and they were hiring women, and that, in those days, was something that Julia really needed.
REHMHiring women as?
SPITZAs -- well, secretaries to begin. But, you know, Julia tried to join the WACs, she tried to join the WAVEs, she was too tall. But the OSS would take her. She next found herself on a troop transport with 2800 soldiers and eight women bound for India. She got sent to Ceylon and wound up working for Wild Bill Donovan, who was the head of the OSS. She ran what was called the registry. Now, when I talked to Julia, and Julia was telling me what she did, I said, Julia, hold on a second. Were you a spy? And she looked really thoughtful, and she said, well, I guess I was. But I'm not so sure if that's the case. Julia new the placement of every American spy...
REHMEvery single spy.
SPITZ...in Southeast Asia.
SPITZAnd she knew their movements, and she gave them their code names. Was Julia a spy? I don't think so, but she was in the spy business.
REHMShe met her husband Paul Child.
REHMHe was working for what?
SPITZHe was also working for the OSS. He operated what they call the war room, and the war room was the room, just what they say it is, where all the generals came to place troop movements. Paul was a fantastic artist, so he put up the maps, he did what all little kind of dioramas so that you could see where people were moving, and that was his specialty. So they finally met.
REHMAnd fell in love.
SPITZYeah. Not immediately. Paul wasn't -- he was attracted to Julia's legs. He loved those long legs. Paul was a real connoisseur of women, always had been. But he thought Julia was flighty. He wrote to his brother Charlie, and he said, that woman doesn't have much going on upstairs. She has a great sense of humor, but I suspect there might be something more there.
REHMIsn't that interesting? I met him the first time...
REHM...she came here to be on the program, and as I recall, he was not as tall as Julia.
SPITZOh, no. No. He was much shorter.
SPITZPaul was about 5'8".
SPITZAnd together they cut quite a figure, they really did.
REHMI should say.
SPITZYeah. But that never bothered him at all.
REHMHow do you think he inspired her?
SPITZWell, you know, it was easy really. Paul was a sophisticate and intellectual, and all the odder because he was an autodidact. He didn't get to go to college. His brother Charlie was sent instead, and provoked a sibling rivalry that lasted their entire lives. But Paul was an amazing reader. He read wonderful philosophy, and art. He also knew people like Sitchen. They took photographs together. He knew the Hemingways. He knew the Gertrude Stein Salon in Paris. May Sarton was a friend of his in Cambridge. And so Paul was a real intellectual, and Julia wanted to gobble that up.
REHMAnd she became totally enamored of food in Paris.
SPITZWell, even before. It was that lunch in Rouen. She always called it that lunch in Rouen changed her life. Paul -- the day they hit France, Paul drove to Rouen. He had Michelin guide, and he knew the restaurant he wanted to take her to, and that was it. Julia had that lunch, and it's just as you saw in the movie. She ate that sole, and her life changed with the first forkful.
REHMIt's really extraordinary because up until that point she really had not imagined the kind of drive and career push she could have for herself. Bob Spitz is the author of a new biography titled "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child."
REHMAnd welcome back. Bob Spitz is with me. He's the author of a brand new biography of Julia Child. It's titled "Dearie" and in fact, today is the 100th birthday of Julia Child. If you go to Google today, you will see a portrait of Julia Child working, as she always did so beautifully with food. How did that concentration on food and food preparation -- how did she begin to pursue that, Bob?
SPITZWell, even in France, Julia was lost at the beginning. She tried making hats. That -- she was going to be a hat maker of all things and that didn't last long. So Paul said, Julia, you know you love the French food so much, why don't you concentrate on that? So she went to the culinary -- to the Le Cordon Bleu and enrolled in a place that didn't really want her there. First of all, she was an American and second of all, even worse, she was a woman.
SPITZThe Le Cordon Bleu appealed to two different kinds of people. One was nannies and house maids and the other was GIs who were on the GI bill who wanted to learn how to cook and then go back to the United States and become short order cooks or open up a standard golf course.
REHMOf course, yep.
SPITZAnd Julia found herself in a class with 10 GIs, but a fabulous chef, Chef Bugnard, who was her mentor. He realized right away that this woman had something on the ball. She loved cooking. She fell in love -- for the second time, she fell in love with Paul and now she fell in love with cooking. He saw it in her and he brought it out.
REHMAnd then she moved to a partnership with two other women.
SPITZShe did. She was at a government function. Paul was in the foreign service in Paris and he had a lot of obligations at night and Julia was dragged along as, you know, the attaché's wife...
SPITZ...exactly, a role that Julia hated of course because she was starting to blossom and understand her own worth. But at this event, she met a woman named Simone Beck. Simone was a native woman from the North of France who was a fabulous cook and had been working on a little booklet with a friend of hers, Louis Bertholle, to try to teach French cooking to Americans. It was nothing more than a pamphlet and they thought, well, you know, it wasn't going to so well. They needed somebody else in there and they wondered if Julia would like to join forces with them. Well, Julia almost leaped in her lap. It was exactly what Julia was looking for.
REHMBut when and how soon did the idea of creating this master of French cooking book come to their minds?
SPITZWell, Julia realized right away that these two women really didn't know very much about how to write a big book. And she had an ambition now to write a big book, to be the all inclusive book. And it was really her spurring them on. she realized that Simone, who was called Simca, had fabulous family recipes and they could plum the entire French repertoire and Julia set out to do it. She set out to bring French cooking to America.
SPITZShe sensed that, you know, people weren't eating well in America. They were, you know, eating fast food, convenience food, casseroles made with hot dogs and, you know...
SPITZ...frozen food, always -- you know, everybody was -- frozen or canned vegetables in those days.
REHMOf course, of course.
SPITZAnd Julia sensed that people might want to cook. So her ambitions grew and grew and grew. And as she got involved she fell so in love with French recipes that she decided this should be the be all and end all of cookbooks.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. She was so thorough. She went over and over those recipes. She called in friends to test those recipes. How long did it take to produce that cookbook?
SPITZIt took them between eight and ten years.
REHMThat's what I thought.
SPITZYes. And Julia did it -- I mean, every day she cooked all day long. She was relentless. And I've tried to recapture this in the book too because I wanted people to understand how much effort went into mastering the art of French cooking. If she wanted to make a roast chicken she made 50 of them because she had to know what they did...
REHMExactly how they worked.
SPITZ...she had -- she called it the scientific proof. She wanted to know how they cooked at different temperatures, at what position you should put them in in an oven, if you should truss them, if you should stuff them. And then she wondered how it would cook in an electric oven in America. I mean, there were all different things that she wanted to make sure she knew before she finalized her roast chicken recipe.
REHMAnd what about finding a publisher for this book?
SPITZWell, it was an odyssey, it really was. It was an adventure for her. She -- they had a publisher. It was a very small one. They were completely incompetent. And then Houghton Mifflin gave them a contract for $750. When Julia delivered the first 800 pages -- and I understand this 'cause I've been in the same position as her -- they panicked and they said, this is a masterful book and we're rejecting it. It broke her heart. This was almost eight years into the project -- because they said it was too difficult, for one, too big. They couldn't publish it. And they felt that it was too challenging for women.
SPITZAnd then Judith Jones walked into her life and salvaged it. And of course, it wasn't too challenging for women.
REHMAnd who ultimately ended up publishing it?
SPITZIt was Knopf -- Alfred Knopf, yeah...
REHMThat's what I thought.
SPITZ...who really didn't want to publish the book himself. He had no faith in it but he wanted to give Judith Jones her chance. She was a young editor and he thought, well this will probably sink her. He told her also that if a book called "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" really found an audience he would eat his hat.
REHMMy gosh, and of course...
SPITZYeah, I hope he put ketchup on it.
REHM...and of course, what happened when that book came to America is that a wonderful writer and chef himself, Craig Claiborne, wrote about this extraordinary book and said how glorious it was.
SPITZYes. He wrote a piece in the Times and the book took off from there. Then James Beard got involved and everybody else fell in line. And that little book that they didn't expect much of started to steamroll.
REHMNow let me reach to you a couple of emails. The first from Sally who says, "I'm about one-quarter of the way through reading "Dearie" and thoroughly enjoying it. I had no idea she was such a firecracker in her early life. How wonderful for all of us, that she found French cooking a subject that acted as a funnel for the whirlwind of her passion and intellect."
SPITZYeah, firecracker. Boy, I'm going to use that from now on. Isn't that fabulous?
SPITZYeah, she was a wonderful spirit.
SPITZAnd she -- another email says, "Just to throw a bone to Paul Child, I've always been enthralled by their relationship. If I could make a TV comparison, I think in a lot of ways, Paul Child was the off-screen Desi Arnaz, to Julia making a reference to Lucille Ball. He says first he introduced Julia to French cuisine and kind of nudged her to cook it for him. He also designed the set for the show and took the photographs and I believe drew the illustrations for the mastering books."
SPITZYes, he did. He was completely selfless where it came to Julia. Paul gave up his entire identity for her and that was a remarkable identity. This was a man who not only was a great photographer and a great artist, but a wonderful painter. And he did woodworking and glass sculpture. He could do everything. He was so frustrated but Julia gave him this impetus to just pull back, be in her shadow and to be Mr. Julia Child. And he never regretted it. He really loved being there for her the whole time.
REHMShe had a sense from the beginning of the power of television. Talk about how that show came to be.
SPITZWell, you know, it was almost a mistake at the time. She was invited onto a book show very much like this just to talk about her book. And she said, I'll come on but only if I can cook an omelet. Now this show had never had a demonstration in their life. They really -- it was a show that like many educational TV stations in those days only had a professor on from the local college who talked about his class or maybe the symphony orchestra occasionally.
SPITZBut Julia came on and cooked an omelet and the phones lit up. They just -- people loved it. They couldn't believe that there was this great demonstration from a woman who looked seemingly ordinary. You know, she had a funny voice, she wasn't a glamour puss, she could've been, you know, a maiden aunt or the woman across the lawn from you. But she just was so natural in herself that people embraced it. And the station at the time WGBH realized that they had something on their hands. Not only that. People don't realize that Julia Child launched PBS. She launched educational television.
REHMShe once said she had -- she was too stupid to know how dangerous what she was about to do was.
REHMDescribe that first episode on WGBH.
SPITZWell, you know, she didn't know what she was doing at all. They set up the set and it was really funny because it was an electric stove. And every time she touched the electric stove -- of course she was wearing the mike -- she got a jolt. The more she leaned on that stove the bigger the jolt was. But Julia just smiled right through it. She had a script and she rehearsed once or twice at home but she'd never been on TV. The minute the cameras went on Julia became Julia Child. She just was perfect. She knew how to do it.
SPITZPaul critiqued her. He said, Julia, you blink too much and you take too many breaths on that first show. And she watched it again and she corrected it, but she really just -- she was spontaneous.
REHMShe was a natural.
SPITZShe was a natural. And the half hour went by and when it was over she was done. Everything had been taught. It was all wrapped up neatly. That's how instinctive she was.
REHMAnd she learned from each episode.
SPITZShe did. This was a woman also remarkable because she had no media training. She never tried to correct that warbly voice. She didn't have a battalion of stylists. I think she wore the same three blouses for 40 years on TV. She was kind of frumpy but it was the whole package that caught fire. Everything was just perfect.
REHMBob Spitz. He's the author of the new biography. It's titled "Dearie: the Remarkable Life of Julia Child." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to -- you to hear a little something. This is an interview I did with Julia Child back in 1985.
REHMYour energy level, I mean, you manage to maintain a schedule that would tire a great many people.
MS. JULIA CHILDWell, that's because I eat properly, red meat and gin or whatever.
REHMAnd she did.
SPITZYes, she did. She -- you know, she ate everything. And people always said, you know, how can you keep your trimness from eating that kind of food. And she just ate in moderation.
REHMBut, you know, the other element that she introduced on television, she always had a glass of wine that she, while she was cooking, well let's have a sip of wine now.
SPITZRight, absolutely. People had never seen wine on TV. They didn't drink wine with food in America. And so she got a reputation for being a drunk. People would always say, oh she's such a lush. Julia wasn't a lush at all. She had a sip of wine maybe while she was cooking and then she had a glass with dinner and people just didn't understand that. That meant she was drinking too much.
REHMBut do you -- you have talked about her truly as an early feminist. Talk about why you feel that way.
SPITZWell, I'll tell you there are some obvious reasons later but a woman the other day say to me, you know this is a woman -- you call her a feminist, but this is a woman who really -- she taught housewives to cook. And I said -- and this is true. I said, Julia wanted American homemakers to be bold and inventive. She wanted them to step out from behind the stove and take some bows in the family. And if you don't think that's an early form of feminism you'd be absolutely wrong.
SPITZJulia was the kind of woman who every time she went into a restaurant she'd march straight back into the kitchen and she'd say in her voice as loud as she could, how many women are in this kitchen? She wanted to know because she felt that the -- that women got short shrift. No women cooked in American restaurants back when Julia first debuted on the air. They just didn't. It was a complete man's world and she kept urging women to get out there, to be professional cooks, to really, you know, indulge themselves and to cook with joie de vivre. That was Julia's initial -- I think initial thrust of feminism.
SPITZBut then later, you know, she was a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood and she spoke her mind. It was at a time when, you know, Dr. Spock had been -- had gotten into trouble for his political views. Anita Bryan, on the other hand, got -- saw her career ruined. Julia knew that and she didn't care. She still was a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood for a long time. And her fans didn't love it. Some didn't like it at all but they accepted it in Julia where they wouldn't with other people. She was that beloved.
REHMI think the other element of thrust of feminism that she put forward was you can be what you choose to be. Be prepared to work but be prepared to take on responsibility.
SPITZAbsolutely. And Julia was very serious about what she did. You know, people underestimate her because of her character. They thought she was a comic and maybe she didn't sense that cooking was taken so seriously. She took it very seriously. And when another cook didn't regard food the same way she did, you could see the lights in her eyes go out. Just ask Julie Powell.
REHMAnd I'm talking this morning with Bob Spitz. He's the author of the new biography of Julia Child. It's titled "Dearie." And today, of course, we celebrate the 100th birthday of Julia Child. When we come back, your calls, more clips from Julia Child. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. During the break Bob Spitz, who is the author of the new biography of the remarkable Julia Child titled, "Dearie," we were talking about the fact that -- I confessed to him that I learned to cook first with Fannie Farmer. And then moved to Craig Claiborne, whose wonderful articles appeared in the Sunday New York Times and of course then the "New York Times Cookbook" came out. For me Craig Claiborne simplified cooking. The steps were shorter. I didn't get the unnecessary detail. When I finally got to Julia Child I found her a little too complex.
SPITZYeah, "Mastering" is a really complex book. Julia saw herself, first and foremost, not as a cook, but as a cooking teacher. So when she wrote the book, she made sure that she was going to be as thorough as possible. And I think that some people who get those books even today are daunted by those recipes.
SPITZI always tell them that Julia's "French Chef Cookbook," which came out afterwards, is kind of a cliff notes version of that.
SPITZEasier to cook from.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. We'll go to Sandy, Utah. And good morning Erica.
ERICAHi, good morning.
ERICAMr. Spitz described Julia as looking a lot like the lady across the lawn. And she actually was that for me. She was my neighbor. And I grew up on Irving Street in Cambridge, three doors down from her.
ERICAAnd I just wanted to share what an incredibly generous, lovely person she was. I remember knocking on her door to sell tickets to my school fair and she, of course, bought the tickets. And then insisted that I come in and try something. She was experimenting with coconut milk. And she insisted that I try it. And I mean I would never otherwise have gone near coconut milk. And I was like 10 years old, but she just got me so enthused about it. It was wonderful. And my dear mother had the guts to invite her and Paul to dinner.
ERICAAnd we just we remember it was a big deal. And I remember standing at, you know, above the stairs watching them as they came in. And remember what my mother served. She didn't serve anything from the cookbook, at that point, but she...
ERICAYeah, and Julia was just so complimentary of my mother's cooking.
ERICAAnd I remember specifically what Mom served for dessert, which was a very homespun -- we had moved to Cambridge from the West. And she did a store-bought sherbet with some fresh fruit thrown in and then froze it in a mold. And it was a very sort of church supper kind of dessert.
ERICABut Julia was so complimentary and insisted on getting the recipe and said oh, it's just so lovely and fresh.
REHMOh, how lovely. Yeah, what a great memory.
SPITZYou know she was like that with almost everybody she met. She always encouraged people, never really criticized at all. And one of the great things that people didn't realize is that you could call Julia Child at home, anybody could. Her number was listed in the Cambridge phonebook. And she took calls all the time. She answered her own phone.
REHMI love it.
SPITZThanksgiving, that phone rang from 1:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 at night. Cooks called her from all over the country.
REHMAll over the country.
SPITZThey'd say Julia, I don't know what to do here. The turkey's been in the oven for four hours. And she'd say honey, you just put that right on the counter. Nobody's ever eaten warm turkey anyway. Don't you worry at all. And then she'd take the next call. It went on all day long.
REHMAnd here is just one more clip from an interview, again, in 1985.
CHILDI’m interested in gastronomy and the beauty of food and the -- as well as health, too. But if you're gonna have nothing but stir fry that's the death knell to real cuisine.
INTERVIEWERHave your own eating habits changed substantially in the last 20 years?
CHILDWell, they've changed in that I used to never gain an ounce. And now I have to watch my food very much. I'd be a Mrs. 6x6 if I ate desserts, for instance.
SPITZClassic Julia. You know, when we were traveling in Sicily I asked her how she kept her weight, 'cause she was in great shape all her life. And she said -- she made a big presentation. She showed me, when our dinners arrived, she made a line down the middle of the plate. She said I always divide my plate in half and I eat half. So she ate that half and then when she was done she ate the other half, as well. Julia believed if you ate everything in moderation, it didn't matter what you eat. You know, people always complained that she used butter and cream in her recipes. And she did, but her portions were small.1
SPITZShe would not give up those fabulous ingredients. She thought people ate too much and they shouldn't eat -- you could anything you wanted, as long as you ate in moderation.
REHMAll right. And Sam in Louisville, Ky. has a comment. Good morning.
SAMHey, good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
SAMI'm actually kinda glad that this is the one that I was able to get in on. I tried to call in before and couldn't get through.
REHMWell, I'm glad you're with us.
SAMI'm a professional chef here in Louisville. And my dad managed restaurants for 30 years. My mom was a caterer for over 30 years. I grew up surrounded by food. And I grew up watching Julia Child. My mom loved her show. And my uncle was traveling somewhere and picked up a first edition, that's signed by Julia Child of the "Joy of French Cooking." We didn't know what we had at the time. Now it's covered in wine and cream and butter and stained and everything.
SAMBut I had an old book dealer tell me that that might actually make it more valuable, that it's been used and loved that much. But I really just wanted to make a comment of how profound of an impact she had. She was able to instill in me a passion for food that I hadn't really seen before. I didn't know many other 10-year-old kids that knew what duck confit was at that time.
SPITZWherever I've gone in the last couple weeks to talk about Julia I keep meeting people who have such a personal attachment…
SPITZ…like Sam does to Julia. Everybody either tells me that they watched their show or their mother did. I learned how to cook because my mother watched Julia Child. My mother was a mediocre cook. And, Mom, if you're listening today, sorry. I’m sorry. But she was. And she watched Julia Monday nights with a pad on her knee. Took down the recipe. Tuesday night we got that dinner on our table. And my mother became a very good cook.
SPITZSo people like Sam…
SPITZ…all over the country have that same feeling.
REHMThanks for calling, Sam. Here's an email from Tom in Cincinnati who says, "I'm a young person. I did not get to see Julia on television, but I am now an international cuisine enthusiast. I owe that to the generation of television food personalities, which all, without hesitation, cite Julia Child as an inspiration. Is it true that the entire Food Network owes its creation to Julia Child?"
SPITZOh, no doubt about it. She lit the fuse and the fireworks are still going off today. She was the first cooking show that was a huge success. Everything followed.
REHMAnd she even went onto explain how to cook spinach.
CHILDAnd now we're going to chop the spinach. Now, first what we're going to do is to squeeze the water out of it. Now, this is essential if you're gonna make lovely tasting braised spinach. You just squeeze it like that. And you can save all of that juice for a sauce or -- I mean, not a sauce, for a soup. Or you can drink it. There isn't very much taste in it. This is something that often horrifies Americans 'cause they've been, I don't know, sort of buffaloed into doing nothing about a vegetable. And just the idea of squeezing it just seems like sacrilege.
SPITZYou know it's like someone was just talking to you and…
SPITZ…being your friend.
REHMAnd you know, this idea of holding, handling food…
REHM…like squeezing spinach. I make a stuffed tomato, stuffed with spinach and pine nuts. You have to squeeze that spinach 'til every drop of water is out.
SPITZJulia taught us not to be afraid of not just eating food, but handling food, as well.
SPITZI mean it was the whole package. She really knew how to do it.
REHMAnd let's go to Nancy in Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.
NANCYGood morning. It's so nice to talk to you again.
REHMOh, Nancy, it's good to hear from you.
NANCYThank you. I am daunted. I'm Nancy daunted Pierce. That's a wonderful book, but it is difficult. A friend of ours got together with me and we made an orange duck. And that was quite a process from the court bouillon on through. And so what my husband said in taking out the garbage, it was the best smelling garbage he ever had. And also, I must say that her recipe for crepes is the only one to use. Other crepes are tough. Her crepes are light and really wonderful.
SPITZYeah, the scientific proof, as Julia always said.
REHMYou know, the idea of making crepes for American women, certainly at the time, was daunting.
SPITZYes. And not just crepes, but souffles. When Americans heard souffles, it was something that they never attempted. Julia did it on her second or third show. And it's the only show where she ever dropped anything. She was doing a potato souffle and she flipped it -- oh, it wasn't -- it was a potato something or other, right?
SPITZAnd she flipped it on…
REHMA pancake or something like that.
SPITZYes, onto the counter.
SPITZAnd she said, you just pick that up and put it right back in the pot. (laugh) You're in your kitchen, who's going to see?
REHMWho's going to see?
SPITZBut, you know, things like that, Julia taught us not to be afraid to give it a try.
REHMLet's go to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning. I'm a longtime enjoyer of your program and supporter. And I'm happy to talk to Mr. Spitz.
CHRISMy mother was one of the nine women on the U.S.S. Mariposa, Eleanor Thiry.
SPITZOh, I know her name. Yes. Her name appeared in Julia's letters.
CHRISYes. And I inherited, when my mother passed, all of her wartime letters and diaries.
CHRISAnd I've enjoyed looking over them, reading about what life was like on a ship with several thousand soldiers. And when they first went to flan. And, you know, my mother always said they had to look in their desk drawer every morning carefully because a cobra might have crawled up into it.
CHRISAnd it was quite an exciting, you know, life for people like that. When Julia and Paul married, of course, they were in France. And my parents were in New York and weren't able to send anything, but when Julia and Paul came to Cambridge my mother and father sent them a set of Revere Ware metal pots, the copper-bottom pots, which I think they used for many years. So…
REHMThose are the same ones I have used all my life.
SPITZYou know one of the interesting things is I saw some of your mother's letters to Julia. And they were quite remarkable. And I actually used some of them in research for the book. Those women were very brave women in those days.
REHMI should say. Chris, thanks so much for calling. We have one last clip that I want you to talk about.
MR. DAN ACKROYDWelcome, I'm Julia Child and today we're gonna make a holiday feast, le fit (word?). And we're going to start with half-boned chicken or pollard demi de sauce.
REHMAnd, of course, that was Dan Ackroyd.
SPITZYes. You know it's really funny. Julia didn't really care for parodies that were done of her because everybody went for the voice. And Julia didn't think she had a funny voice. But she loved Dan Ackroyd's parody. She had a video of it and showed everybody that video who came to the house.
REHMWhy do you think she loved that so much?
SPITZYou know, because it took risks. It was kind of macabre. Dan went way over the top. He wasn't very respectful. And Julia would re-enact Dan dying in the kitchen. She would fall over her counter…
SPITZ…and say save the liver. And then she'd crack up. Dan told me, by the way, when I interviewed him for the book, that Senator Al Franken wrote that script and was underneath the table pumping blood throughout the whole thing.
REHMOh, that's hysterical.
SPITZAnd that Dan's aunt, his Aunt Helen was considered the Julia Child of Canada. And so he grew up watching Julia Child and eating great French food.
REHMAnd to Boynton Beach, Fla. Good morning, Albie.
ALBIEHi Diane. Hi Bob.
ALBIEI'm really enjoying listening to this wonderful show on Julia.
ALBIEI did the photography, almost all of it, for Julia's book, From Julia Child's Kitchen, back in 1975. And I had what I thought was an interesting story to tell you about how kind Julia was. My daughter Vanessa was in the sixth grade. And in her English class, she was assigned the topic of cooking with wine. And she came home and said well, how do I get any information on this? And I said, well, let's call up Julia. And why don't you interview her and then you can take notes and write it and read it to the class.
ALBIEAnd I called up Julia and she said fine, but she said just you have to make sure, Albie, you promise you'll destroy the cassette tape after, you'll record over it. And I said fine. So she interviewed Julia for about five minutes. And she wrote the paper. And then on Monday in front of the class she read her paper. And her English teacher, Mrs. Porens, said Vanessa, I think you owe me and the class an apology. Someone in the sixth grade does not interview Julia Child about wine. And she said I did, too, interview her. And then the bell rang and she came home really mad. And I said, well, I haven't destroyed the tape yet, why don't you -- I don't think Julia would mind the circumstance if you would take the tape cassette player into class and play it.
ALBIEAnd everyone will know you interviewed her. So she did that on Monday. And after it was over she stood up and said, well, Mrs. Porens, I think you owe me and the class an apology.
SPITZGood for her.
ALBIEAnd Mrs. Porens apologized.
SPITZPerfect. Yeah, that's -- Julia did come to the rescue of a lot of people. And she was a really, really generous woman.
REHMThe book we've been talking about is titled, "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child," written by Bob Spitz. Here's a final email from Rebecca. She said someone told her this story. A person was at the Smithsonian looking at Julia's kitchen. A young woman and a little girl walked in and the woman bent down to her child and said, you're in a holy place.
REHMThat's a lovely story. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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