Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.
After the obligatory, monosyllabic babble, the first recognizable words out of my three daughters’ mouths were pâte brisé, flambé, and bon appetit! At a time when all the other neighborhood children identified with Big Bird and the rest of the delightful characters on Sesame Street, my progeny preferred the company of the middle-aged, wonderfully eccentric Julia Child. The girls would sit transfixed around the television set as she demonstrated how to whip up one fantastique meal after the other. They became devotees and insisted on watching every time Julia Child appeared on WGBH Boston.
After each show my daughters would pour over Julia Child cookbooks, even before the youngest could read. The eldest bookmarked the pages of interest using multi-colored recipe cards – yellow for appetizers, green for salads, blue for main dishes, and pink for desserts, while the youngest made her selections known in red crayons and fruity-scented purple markers. Here too, their early word recognition included more French and technical culinary terms than the mundane English vocabulary of their activities of daily living.
They became full-fledged connoisseurs and I enjoyed overhearing them discuss the subtleties of food preparation and ingredient selection, such as whether one or two teaspoons of cinnamon improved the flavor of homemade applesauce, was our gingerbread recipe better than the one served at Sturbridge Village, and were farmers’ market eggs superior to store-bought ones when making a mile-high lemon meringue pie?
When I learned that Julia Child was promoting her new book, The Way to Cook, one Saturday morning at a mall in Cambridge, it was out of the question not to go. We found her sitting alone at a table in the mezzanine, with her cookbooks stacked off to the side. The girls rushed over and began peppering her with questions about her shows and the reasons she did this or that. She was terribly amused by their enthusiasm, made them feel completely at ease, and generously spent the entire morning talking to them about French cooking and baking as no one else appeared at the table during that time.
We purchased several books that she graciously signed along with an older paperback copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which my youngest carried around with her in lieu of a baby blanket. To this day, all three still have a penchant for Julia Child’s legacy that was her cooking, but especially her panache and joie de vivre. They have indeed mastered the art of French cooking – surtout the youngest!