When I was a child and saw Julia Child on television, I thought of her as a silly woman with a warbly voice. Little did I know she was paving the way for Americans to find their way and make their mark on the world food scene. She took the mystique out of classic French cooking making it approachable to home cooks and getting them excited about cooking. This was monumental in the post-war fifties when housewives did the cooking and were being inundated with the concept of processed food. Cooks on TV were practically nonexistent and the popular cookbooks came from food manufacturers pushing products like Jell-O and Spam. There was none of the care or craftmanship she learned in France at Le Cordon Bleu, something she found distressing. She kept bumping into shortcuts and convenience food. It has been said, she considered the stuff she read in women’s magazines pure drivel. One example, noted in her biography, “Dearie” written by Bob Spitz, was an editor’s suggestion for a “Harvest Luncheon” menu that included a recipe for Twenty Minute Roast which featured slabs of Spam slathered with orange marmalade and a layer of Vienna sausages broiled with canned peaches. YIKES! This was quite a contrast to Julia’s duck a l’orange. She was determined to change the ways of American cooking and change she did by introducing and promoting the concept of “not just cooking but cuisine”.
Through many decades and food trends she soldiered on sharing her enthusiasm for good food through television and her cookbooks. She worked tirelessly into her nineties, changing with the times but never wavering in her passion. I believe she is an American treasure and I treasure her legacy.
I like to think Julia and I share some things in common. Our passion for good food and its careful preparation, a commitment to life long learning and sharing our knowledge with others, our favorite meal of roast chicken, pearls, baguettes and our love of potato leek soup to name a few. Although she is no longer with us, I feel connected to her through cooking; a sisterhood, if you will.
Recently I made her recipe for our favorite soup and today I am so pleased to share it with you. It is adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.
Potage Parmentier—Leek and Potato Soup
Serves 6-8 people
3-4 cups or 1 lb. peeled potatoes, sliced or diced
2 quarts of water
1 T salt (Julia had no tolerance for the trend of using fancy salts)
4-6 T of whipping cream or 2-3 T softened butter
2-3 T minced parsley or chives
- Simmer the vegetables, water, and salt together, partially covered, for 40-50 minutes until vegetables are tender.
- Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork, or pass through a food mill (I used and immersion blender and pureed them).
- Correct seasoning, then set aside uncovered until just before serving, then reheat to the simmer.
- Off heat and just before serving, stir in the cream or butter by spoonfuls.
- Pour into a tureen or soup cups and decorate with herbs.
This soups smells and tastes divine. It is a versatile soup base; add water cress and you have a water cress soup or chill after adding cream for vichyssoise. I served it cold this summer and it was a big hit. It makes a great Summer accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. In Winter, it warms you up and makes you feel loved. I have been making this for years and it has always been a family favorite.
Julia’s 40 year culinary career had a major influence on how we cook and eat today. She was known for many things including her ample use of butter and cream. Moderation was her mantra. She has been quoted as saying, “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-o.” I couldn’t agree more.
I can only hope my culinary career lasts as long as hers and that my passion remains as strong. I will never forget her or the gifts she left us. Food trends come and go but Julia’s recipes will always be relevant. Thank you, Julia, for all you gave. You live forever in our dishes. Bon Appetit!