In honor of Julia Child's birthday (she would have been 100 today), I am re-posting something from May, 2008, part of my Motherload series I was writing then. Now that this tired blog has had its own birthday—6 years!—don't be surprised if you run across some retreads here now and then.
THE MOTHERLOAD PART 5
Julia Child was quite a cook, wasn't she? She was likely the first
"celebrity chef" that got people interested in cooking beyond making
macaroni and cheese and tuna casserole for the family dinner table. She
hosted popular cooking shows and wrote cookbooks that still serve as
culinary bibles, but she was so much more.
born into a privileged class—the "leisure class," she called it—in
Pasadena, California in 1912 in an age when women weren't expected to do
anything but reproduce, be an accessory to their husbands, and roll
bandages for a cause. She floated through school and went to Smith
College in Massachusetts, the family alma mater. She excelled at sports
there and had a high time at speak easies. When asked what she wanted to
be, she was always quick to point out that she wasn't expected to want
to be anything. Women were either brood mares or secretaries, she
recalls, but she wanted to be neither. She moved to New York City to
work as a writer, hoping to become a novelist. She wrote advertising
copy making $18 a week, and she performed in a Junior League theater
where she wrote her own play about a large princess. After the bombing
of Pearl Harbor, Julia wanted to join the navy, but a woman over six
feet tall was too big for them. So, she joined the Office of Strategic
Services instead and worked on projects like a shark repellent and a
signaling mirror for shipwrecked sailors. The OSS offered their team
members a chance to serve in India, and since Julia longed to travel,
she signed up without hesitating. She met her future husband on that
assignment, a husband who would later take her to Paris and introduce
her to French cooking. That's when she discovered food. Before that
time, Julia had never given much thought to cooking, having grown up in a
household full of staff including a chef. "All my mother knew how to
cook was baking powder biscuits, codfish balls, and Welsh rarebit," she
Had Julia Child been born to a conformist,
her life would have been very different. She might have become one of
those "brood mares" she balked at, and she would have lacked the
independent spirit that made her 91 years so full.
Carolyn "Caro" Weston was one of ten children born to wealthy parents
with heritage traced back to eleventh century England and ancestors who
settled the Plymouth Colony. Her mother was a member of the Daughters of
the American Revolution, and Caro was slated to follow suit. She had
other ideas, though. She was an outstanding athlete at Smith College
where she played golf, tennis, and basketball. After graduating, Caro
took on the role of taking care of her sister—her parents had died
young, and the sister needed the dry air of the West to treat her
tuberculosis. The two spent time in Colorado and California, and Caro
embraced the new life she found in the rugged territory with gusto. Out
west, she could shed the tight restraints of her wealthy New England
upbringing and would even learn to drive. Women were not encouraged to
drive then because it was seen as a moral threat, causing them to stray
from their husbands. And men told them the rough suspension would damage
their reproductive systems. So, when Caro became the first woman in the
States to get a drivers' license, it was notable.
went to the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and met her husband, a man who
tolerated her independent spirit and did not interfere when she set out
to raise her children to be free of unnecessary social restrictions.
"See the world before settling down," she told them, and do what you
want. She set her own example by not marrying until the age of 33, which
was nearly unheard of in those days.
In an era when
women were raised to be keepers of the home with no goals outside of
raising children, Caro fought the restrictions and the corsets and
raised her children to be more—to want more, to go looking for more, to
do more. She allowed them to explore their world and their options
without once saying, "that just isn't done," or "that just isn't
proper." She was a champion of the women's suffrage movement, an early
feminist, an adventurer, and a mother who passed her insatiable appetite
for life to each of her children.
inherited her mother's quest for more—always eager for new adventures,
new tastes, and new experiences. As is written in her obituary,
"She taught us to relish food and wine as a way of appreciating life's
bounty." She owed that to her mother, and so do we all. Bon appétit.
Note: go here to explore the Smithsonian exhibit of Julia's kitchen.