TOM PUTNAM: Good evening. I’m Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. On behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library colleagues, I thank all of you for coming and acknowledge the sponsors of the Kennedy Library Forums, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and our Media Sponsors: The Boston Globe, WBUR, and NECN.
This forum is offered in conjunction with one of our special exhibits on display in our museum: Jacqueline Kennedy Entertains: The Art of the White House Dinner. One of the many changes Jacqueline Kennedy made upon becoming First Lady at age 31 was to replace the then-White House chef, a former navy cook who had endeared himself to Mamie Eisenhower not through his cooking, but for his flair in decorating elaborate cakes which she delighted in presenting to charity bazaars. Mrs. Kennedy turned instead to René Verdon, a French-born American five star chef. In the Kennedy White House, the art of entertaining definitely included fine cuisine.
Our special guest this evening, Judith Jones, knows something about that topic. A legendary Senior Editor and Vice President at Alfred A. Knopf, Miss Jones has helped shape modern cookbook publishing, bringing towering figures such as Julia Child, Edna Lewis, and Marion Cunningham into print, though that is only a portion of her story. As a very young editor in Paris, she was responsible for Doubleday first publishing The Diary of Anne Frank in the United States, and later went on to edit a number of distinguished authors, including Anne Tyler, John Hersey, and John Updike. Of Mr. Updike, she notes that while his early books were racy for their times and daring in print, Mr. Updike himself eats very plain.
In her new memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, on sale in our bookstore -- and there will be a signing directly after this conversation -- Miss Jones shares her fascinating life story with special emphasis on her own love of cooking. It was not destined to be so. Raised in part on Depression-era New England fare, she described meals with her grandmother being served on a regular, weekly schedule. Wednesday night was macaroni and Velveeta and Friday, the dreaded boiled salt cod and potatoes. Moreover, she was trained by her parents not to talk about food at the table. It was considered crude to do so, she writes, like talking about sex.
But times change and she opens her book recounting her 90 year old mother announcing she had an important question and wanted an honest answer. Tell me, Judith, do you really like garlic? Her mother looked crestfallen, Miss Jones writes, when she answered, yes. But to her, garlic represented everything alien and vulgar. Her mother simply could not understand the wayward path her younger daughter had taken.
Our moderator this evening is Sheryl Julian, food editor for the Boston Globe and co-author of The Way We Cook. After studying at the Cordon Bleu in London and Paris, Miss Julian had dreams of becoming a pastry chef and owning her own shop. Friends here in Cambridge gave her the opportunity to run the Legal Sweet Shop for two weeks. It was the perfect cure. She’s been writing about food ever since.
It is fitting that we meet during this week when sharing a special meal connects us annually with family and friends. Let me conclude with two images from The Tenth Muse, both involving Evan Jones, Judith’s late husband, fellow editor, and co-author of three books on cooking. The first is on the eve before Miss Jones was due to undergo major surgery. Evan Jones, himself recovering from a recent illness, arrived in her hospital room with a candlelit feast, including pate, cheese, baguette, and wine. When the rather conservative doctor walked by, he did a double take and then smiled, offering his nod of approval. And it was Evan who posted an Alfred North Whitehead quote on their refrigerator door. “Cooking is one of those arts which most requires to be done by persons of religious nature.” Toward the end of her touching memoir, Miss Jones notes that the word religion springs from the root religare, meaning to bind, to tie fast, to reconnect. And concludes, “Isn’t that what we do when we cook? We connect, again, to the earth, the source of our food. And we bind to one another in the sharing of it, the breaking of bread together, the celebrating of life.” Please join me in welcoming Judith Jones and Sheryl Julian, and bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving to all.
SHERYL JULIAN: Thank you. Very nice. Judith, let’s start in 1961. You and Julia Child have been corresponding for several months about Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She and her husband Paul had just moved to the big house on Irving Street in Cambridge. You were addressing one another as Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Child. She walked into your office at Alfred Knopf. What did you picture and what was she like?
JUDITH JONES: Well, we had gotten to know each other quite well through these letters, in spite of the fact that we still addressed each other formally. But I wasn’t fully prepared for the impact of this woman. Not only was she about 6’2” and had this wonderful voice, but she just said whatever popped into her head. And Paul, her husband, was with her, and I felt more nervous about him because my office is usually quite messy, and there was something of precision about him. You could see that he was very much her enabler. And now and then he’d say things like, “Submit it to the test, Julie.” So I always felt afterwards, when he came I’d get several people to help me neaten up the office so he would think I was a little more efficient, perhaps.
But Julia was just immediately so likeable and unique. And the fact that this big Smith College girl with the tweed skirt and a sort of tight perm and this big, wandering voice had written about French food, this fascinated me. And, of course, I fell in love with the manuscript. I had fallen in love with it.
SHERYL JULIAN: And I’ll bet you do a better Julia Child than anyone else who ever knew her, because you were so close.
JUDITH JONES: Well, people have their own versions.
SHERYL JULIAN: In The Tenth Muse you write that at the time you were a French editor at Knopf. What authors were you working on?
JUDITH JONES: Well, Alfred Knopf, the House of Knopf, was very much a Mom and Pop … little, almost a hobby rather than a business in those days. And Blanche was very much a full partner. And she was extremely interested in bringing books, particularly from France, right after the wars. So she was the first to publish Camus and Stein and people like that. So I worked with the translations, which was very challenging.
SHERYL JULIAN: Very exciting. Describe the American food scene at the time.
JUDITH JONES: Well, when I got back from a three week vacation in France -- which turned into three and a half years there -- and I was just full of my love of French food, and Evan and I loved to cook together and go to the market. And we came back here and it was like a wasteland. You’d go to the supermarket and you couldn’t even find a leek. They’d never heard of the leek, or a shallot, or fresh herbs, even parsley. You couldn’t get fresh mushrooms. And most of the winter you had iceberg lettuce and those overgrown turnips and things that got boiled to death. So that was an immediate challenge. How was I going to cook all these delicious French things when you couldn’t get the ingredients?
SHERYL JULIAN: In your cocotte that you brought back.
JUDITH JONES: Yes, I brought back what they call a cocotte, which was -- this is a cast iron pot, all beautifully enameled. Well, I bought it at the flea market, and I carried it home because I just had to have that connection with French cooking.
SHERYL JULIAN: Mastering had been refused twice by the Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin when it landed on your desk at Knopf. It was obviously a massive manuscript unlike any other cookbook. What made you think that Americans who were delighted with frozen food and quick meals at the time would go for it?
JUDITH JONES: Well, the gentlemen of Houghton Mifflin called Julia Child in after they read the second version of it -- the supposed revision. And they said to her, “Mrs. Child, no American woman is going to want to know that much about French cooking.” Well, it just so happened that I did. And I felt, if I feel this way, there must be others out there. I also had this sense that the time was right. In fact, Julia often said to me, “Judith, you and I were born at the right time.” And we were! What was happening was that, for the first time, a secretary on a small salary could go to Paris on an economy flight and sit down and have a real French meal in a bistro. The GIs had come back from Asia and Europe, and their taste buds were awakened. They were ready for something more. And I think that was a profound factor. And also the fact that the Kennedys, when they were in the White House, they changed the way a dinner should be given. And had a French chef, René Verdon, and delicious French meals that were cooked with finesse. And it was just in the atmosphere at that time. And I don’t know, but you follow your bias, your hunch in publishing. At least it was easier when, in those days -- we’re more of a big business now and we have to look at profit and loss -- but in those days you could just say, if I believe in it, why won’t other people?
SHERYL JULIAN: So can you tell us the story of calling Craig Claiborne at the New York Times to ask him to review Julia’s new book?
JUDITH JONES: Yes, I was very nervy. I called people like James Beard, who I’d never known, and Craig Claiborne was then the Food Editor of the New York Times. I called him up, and he said in his quiet southern voice, “Well, let’s have lunch together and talk about it.” So we sat down to lunch and, being the good reporter that he was, he was finding out about me. And I told him how my husband and I had a little outdoor grill. We had a tiny little penthouse apartment on East 66th Street, and we would grill outside. And people would hang out the windows and sometimes wave to us, and say, “Good luck.” And you could see they were all envious.
Well, Craig loved the story. And he said, “Would you let me write a story about you and Evan cooking together? Have me up for a meal? I’ll bring a photographer, and I promise I’ll take a look at that, what is it? Manuscript on French cooking?” So he did, and he wrote a wonderful story. It was a broiling hot summer day, and we had to fire up the grill, and we made I think there were … a roast lamb. And we’d recently been in Wales, and I did a little dish of cockles and mussels. So Craig wrote a pretty nice story.
SHERYL JULIAN: He wrote two wonderful stories. First he wrote about you and then …
JUDITH JONES: And then, about a month later, when Mastering was launched, he ended up saying this book will become a classic.
SHERYL JULIAN: So that brings us to the subject of your great good luck. What does it take to turn luck into many, many successes? One after another?
JUDITH JONES: I mean, as I look back on my life, I was sort of struck by the fact that there were so many coincidences, so many pieces of luck. But if you don’t act on them, nothing happens. And, for instance, the reason I stayed in Paris three and a half years was, when I was supposed to go home, I was sitting in the Tuileries Gardens and I was looking up at the beautiful light of Paris and the smells of cooking in the evening. And just thinking, I cannot leave this place. And I had hooked my purse over the bench I was sitting on. And I got up, put my book under my arm, which sort of feels like a purse, and I walked about a block and I realized I’d left it behind. Freud would not have called this an accident. And I went back and sure enough it was gone. My passport was gone, my ticket home, my travelers checks. In other words, little Judy Bailey had no identity. And I could have sort of boo-hoo-ed, and told my parents to send me a ticket. But I thought this is an act of fate. Listen to it. Follow it. And I did.
SHERYL JULIAN: Time to make lemonade. There was another moment like that in Julia’s life when she did her first TV segment in Boston to promote Mastering, and the station received 27 letters. I read that that was the most mail they had ever received. Can you describe that day and what happened?
JUDITH JONES: Well, as I remember it, it was a sort of literary show. A couple of gentlemen talking about the books they’d read. And they asked Julie to come on, and she thought, well, if I’m going to be on television, I better bring along an omelet pan.
SHERYL JULIAN: And the station, the station was WGBH.
JUDITH JONES: The station was WGBH, yes. And so she brought an omelet pan and a little Bunsen burner, and a dozen eggs, and pretty soon she was showing the men how to make the perfect French omelet, flipping it onto a plate. And this station got all these letters saying, get that woman back on television!
SHERYL JULIAN: And then you write about her going on “The Today Show” and she had no television, so she had no idea what it was. She had no idea what the impact was; she made her omelets all over again. When you cooked with Julia in her Cambridge kitchen, was it intimidating? I went to dinner there. And when I went, she always handed me a whisk and a difficult task. I thought it was sort of a test of some sort. Is that what would happen?
JUDITH JONES: I never felt it was a test, because she sort of treated me as kind of devil’s advocate. She would sometimes test to see if I understood her directions for making a puff pastry, and she’d set me up at this big marble table she had, gave me this huge, heavy rolling pin, and I had to smear the ice cold butter into the flour dough. And I just did it to show her how difficult it was, and how much she had to explain. It was a bit more of a partnership in that sense. But we would work sometimes eight, ten hours a day, stopping and having only corn beef hash for lunch. Several times. But even the corn beef hash, she told me how to put a little beef broth in so that it cooked down and caramelized, and you’ve got that nice brown … Anyway, around 10:00 she’d say to Paul, “Come on Paul, why don’t you make the drinks and set the table? And Judith …
SHERYL JULIAN: 10 p.m.? Oh dear.
JUDITH JONES: 10 p.m. And so she’d say to me, “Judith, why don’t you make a nice little potato dish.” So I did my version of Potatoes Anna, which was a very loose version, and she’d look over my shoulder a little bit. You know, “What are you doing?” But when she ate them, she said, “These are delicious.” And she made the main course. And we’d pour the wine. And we fell into bed at about midnight. And the next morning at 6:00, I’d hear thump, thump, thump. Paul and Julie are doing their morning exercises.
SHERYL JULIAN: You went on to publish many more unknown authors. One was concert pianist Michael Field and a volume on leftovers. I wonder if your colleagues had not thought that you’d gone off the deep end. Culinary Classics and Improvisations it’s called?
JUDITH JONES: We called it Culinary Classics and Improvisations because leftovers was such a dirty word. And, of course, with Michael Field, he was such a showman. His leftovers took more time than the original dish, they were so fancy. So it didn’t seem as though I was eating leftovers.
SHERYL JULIAN: Okay. You were looking around for another gifted cook, you write. How did you meet Middle Eastern expert Claudia Roden?
JUDITH JONES: Well, that was a nice coincidence, too, because Evan’s brother, who was a foreign correspondent, was posted in Jerusalem. And he wrote us a note and said, “We’ve been hearing about this wonderful cookbook, everybody’s been cooking from it. I’ll bring you a copy when I next come.” And it was Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food. And it was really a revelation. It was our first introduction to Middle Eastern food. And I think one of … I discovered something through her, and later through Madhur Jaffrey and several others of that ilk: that very often people who had been really abruptly torn from their childhood roots were very wonderful writing about cooking and remembering it and recreating it and learning it, because they didn’t learn until later in life. So they were very good for the “you and me” in our kitchens, because they inspired us and also enabled us, because they recounted their own experiences learning. And I found that that kind of writer was really better than the professional. They brought something very special to the writing of these books.
SHERYL JULIAN: And then came Marcella. Marcella Hazan. I interviewed her twice at restaurants in Boston. And the second interview, the owner himself had to start waiting on us because her demands were so outrageous. What was your experience?
JUDITH JONES: Well, I don’t like to tell tales out of school, but I did bring it up in the book because it was just an example of someone I worked with that couldn’t allow the collaboration because she couldn’t … One, she had no respect for Americans. We were all idiots. And two, she couldn’t really take constructive criticism. So I remember one day we were working up in her apartment, and I said, “You know, I made this recipe. And there were pools of fat around the pasta and I think that maybe, for Americans” -- it was just the beginning of a fear of fat mania, too -- I said, “I think for Americans, maybe butter and olive oil, you should pull back a little bit. And it tasted a little bit better.” And she turned to Victor, her husband, and she said, “Vat did she say?” I always said Marcella made a point of not learning English so Victor could intervene. So I just quietly got up and put my coat on.
SHERYL JULIAN: But they haul you back.
JUDITH JONES: They did haul me back, but not for long.
SHERYL JULIAN: So let’s go back to France in the late 1940s. You’re in your 20s in Paris. You’re working for a publisher, Doubleday, I believe. And you’re told to send a rejection letter for the manuscript of Anne Frank’s Diary.
JUDITH JONES: Well, that’s a little off. I was told to take care of a whole pile of rejections that Frank Price -- who was my boss -- that he’d read them and there’s nothing we wanted there. And among these manuscripts was an advance copy of a book in French. And on the cover was Anne Frank’s face. And it just drew me in. So I sort of curled up on the sofa and I started reading it, and I didn’t stop all afternoon. It got dark. And when my boss came home, he said, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “We’ve got to send this to New York. They have to publish it.” And he said, “What? That book by that kid?” But you know that’s publishing. You’ll find hundreds of stories like that. People, they’re just getting rid of things too fast, and they don’t look beyond.
SHERYL JULIAN: Well, I think you have proven that you have a knack. It was around the same time you met Evan Jones and began a lifetime in the kitchen with him. It sounds like your dinner table was a coveted place to be. Tell me what a typical evening would be like at a dinner party at your house at the time?
JUDITH JONES: When we were in Paris? Or back in New York?
SHERYL JULIAN: No, back in New York.
JUDITH JONES: Well, I so much wanted to reproduce what was just an ordinary French meal. And we’d go to some length sometimes. I mean I tell the story about how we had this wonderful sausage -- it was actually our first dinner together -- and we asked … It was called boudin blanc. We asked what was special about it, and they said, “We only have it at Christmas time. It is made with beautiful chicken and veal and truffles and cream.” The whole recitation and we said, well, we’ll order it. Well, it was so wonderful, unlike anything I’d ever tasted. And when we got back, we couldn’t find boudin blanc, so I got a sausage stuffer. And fortunately I had published Jane Grigson’s The Art of Charcuterie. Sure enough, there was a recipe. And for years we made boudin blanc. So for a dinner, I wouldn’t say we’d have that every time, but I might’ve made a nice little paté. And I might have something like … on rare occasions, I might have made something like a [inaudible] with different meats. And a wonderful salad. And always cheese. Cheese with the salad or at the end of the meal.
SHERYL JULIAN: After the main course.
JUDITH JONES: And one little pastry maybe.
SHERYL JULIAN: Now, at the time in America as I remember it, there were many people who were taking a day to make a dinner party and cook out of Mastering. Did you hear about these people in sort of a cult across the country?
JUDITH JONES: It was kind of a cult and it happened among our friends. I mean people who’d never cooked a meal before, and suddenly having six people to dinner for a three course evening. And we’d begin to think, I wonder what Julia Child recipe we’re going to get tonight? And it did happen across the country. I was once in an elevator at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco (a big elevator) with Julia, and Julia said a few words to me. Well, her voice was unmistakable. And a man in the back of the elevator said, “That’s Julia Child. Hey Julia, what are we having for dinner tonight?” She was magical.
SHERYL JULIAN: One year, a particularly bad one in which you and Evan were both ill, you decided to rent a house in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont for six weeks, you write. And the place that you bought, which I had the privilege of going to last summer, is very remote. You have Vermont roots. I gather the house is near where you went as a child.
JUDITH JONES: Not too far. They’d come up from Montpelier, which is about 35 miles, and sometimes camp at the lake over in Greensborough. My father’s family. We have pictures of them in little camps and outdoor cooking.
SHERYL JULIAN: And you traveled from New York in the car, and you told that wonderful story about where you sat in the car, and that you were sitting on the -- not the trundle seat, but the …
JUDITH JONES: Oh, yes, yes, the rumble seat. Yes. My family had a little Dodge that we called the Little Brown Bug, and three people sat in the front seat. My sister always got the place in front. And I sat in back in the rumble seat with our cook, Edie. And it took two days. And finally when we got up north of Rutland, over Mendon Mountain, it would always rain. And we’d pull the ponchos over us and finally arrive at my grandmother’s house in Montpelier. And it was just heaven to get there.
SHERYL JULIAN: Did the house in Vermont remind you of those times and the place?
JUDITH JONES: No, because I think it’s a little more remote and rustic. But it always reminded Evan of Wales. He was a great Welsh chauvinist, as most Welch men are. We were renting it that summer and we just felt, we have to have this house. And fortunately the man who had built it was selling it. And it opened up a whole new aspect of food for both of us. We had a garden, and you had to put up with the vicissitudes of a very short growing season. We had a wonderful friend named Adele Dawson who was a naturalist, and she walked the land and the woods with us, and showed us all the wild things that you could pick. And we built a pond and we put trout in it. I’m afraid that the great blue heron murdered the trout before we got any for dinner, but anyway. We learned. And more recently, I’ve known this wonderful mushroom woman, Nova Kim, who just knows the forests and can lead you to mushrooms like a homing pigeon. And this greatly broadened my feeling about food and being in touch with the sources. There’s a passage I’d just like to read from Wendell Berry, because it sums up what I feel so strongly. As Wendell Berry wrote in The Unsettling of America, “If you take away from food the wholeness of growing it, or take away the joy and conviviality of preparing it in your own home, then I believe you are talking about a whole new definition of the human being.” That’s so lovely.
And I think, too, more recently books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma have awakened me to the fact that we have been very irresponsible about not attending more to the sources of our food, and have let the food industry really change the way we raise beef at the table; the way we milk our cows to death; raise poultry. And it is very, very shocking. And I think this led me to suggest to my cousin, who’s up on the same mountainside, who’s a farmer, that we raise a few cattle for the market. The girls. So we brought six pregnant Angus girls and had our first little six cows the next spring.
And I’ll have to tell you, the first one was born in early March and it was 37 degrees below that night. And my cousin, John, went out to bring the extra hay and he found this little calf on the ground almost frozen. So he and his wife brought it back to the house and they fired up the wood stove and they got out the hair dryer, they got out some of their sons’ jackets, and pretty soon this little creature was tottering to his feet and saying, “I’m hungry. I want my mother’s milk.” So they had to take him back out at 37 below and he found his mother’s milk and had his fill. And then his mother started licking him all over, which was the worst thing she could do because he was freezing again. So back into the car he went, and they built a little pen, and he spent the first couple of days of his life in the Reynolds’ farmhouse kitchen. So when he goes to market, I will at least feel that he’s been brought up with tender loving care. And it makes a huge difference.
SHERYL JULIAN: You’re a long way from the upper east side.
JUDITH JONES: I certainly am.
SHERYL JULIAN: And now tell us the beaver story. Your famous beaver story.
JUDITH JONES: All right. That pond we built. One summer a beaver decided that this was a nice place to build his dams and tear down trees, and, in other words, just ruin the whole pond within one summer. And at first we tried to ignore it. But when he was back the second summer and had really worked all around the pond so that all the trees were down and pulled in so he was going to build his little pavilion for his wife and little beavers, and he was stopping up the dam, which was about to overflow and flood the county road, so we realized he had to go. And a couple of farmers said, “Well, sit out there and kill him.” But who’s going to do it? And finally my son-in-law offered to hold a gun in my name, and he sat down dawn and dusk for three days and at the end of the three days one morning, quite early, I heard about four shots fired. And the next thing I knew, the beaver was being dragged up the driveway. And I looked out at it with its fur sort of glistening in the early morning sun, and I just felt something that I can only describe as atavistic. And I said, “We have to honor this creature. We’ll have to eat his liver for breakfast.” So we ate his liver for breakfast and it was delicious, just warm and lovely. And then we had his haunch for dinner, nicely braised, red wine. And then, I had done a cookbook with Angus Cameron, who was a great hunting and fishing man. He was a fellow editor. And in that book was a recipe for fried beaver tail. My husband had contributed the recipe. I don’t think he’d ever made it. And there was great controversy. Some hunters thought it was just a joke. Nobody would do it. And others thought it was one of the great delights. So sort of to defend Evan’s honor, he had died a few years before, I said, “I’ve got to make that fried beaver’s tail.” Well, if you’ve ever seen a beaver’s tail, it is pure, hard leather. So you scrape and scrape and scrape all that leather off. And inside is something that looks really like marrow. And the recipe said to take that out, poach it in a little acidic broth, and dry it, drain it, and then dip it in egg and bread crumbs and fry it. Well, I thought it was absolutely delicious.
The word that the French have is “huileux”, which means unctuous and isn’t a very attractive word. You think of Uriah Heap in Dickens, who was the unctuous man. But that’s what it tasted like -- that melting, almost buttery, pure fat. And I loved it, but I must say that my son-in-law and my step daughters, who may be somewhere in this audience, said, “Haven’t we had enough of that beaver?”
SHERYL JULIAN: And the problem went away?
JUDITH JONES: And the problem went away.
SHERYL JULIAN: Good. So I gather that you invite lots of writers up to Stannard Mountain. And Lidia Bastianich came with an entourage. What was that? Set that scene for us.
JUDITH JONES: Well, Lidia, at the last minute, called and said, “Do you mind of I bring my mother?” I said, “Not at all.” And then she said, “And my mother’s boyfriend?” I said, “Not at all.” So we gave them the guest house. And they were wonderful. It was like having the whole family there. And we were cooking, finishing recipes, and doing some photography, and Giovanni, who was the mother’s boyfriend, about 90 years old, sat there peeling the garlic for us as fast as we used it. And believe me, we used it fast. And her mother, Erminia (?), washed the pots and pans. And then finally, at the end of an exhausting day, we would set the table outside as the late sun went down and eat the dishes. And Erminia would tell us these wonderful stories about back in their homeland and how they had had to leave and how they came to America and how wonderful the American immigration people were to them. And it was just one of those magic moments.
SHERYL JULIAN: And her food is extraordinary.
JUDITH JONES: Her food is the best.
SHERYL JULIAN: You must have had to do a lot of swimming. You have to tell about when you swim and what temperature it is up there in Vermont in the Northeast Kingdom.
JUDITH JONES: Well, I’ve never taken the temperature. I’ve never dared take the temperature because I might be afraid. But I do swim starting probably about the end of July and I try to make it stretch to Labor Day if we haven’t had a frost. And it is a very icy pond, but you get used to it. It’s a great feeling.
SHERYL JULIAN: So you’re not one of those people who goes up and dips their toe in and says, “I can’t do it.”
JUDITH JONES: No, I dip my toe in and I get in very slowly.
SHERYL JULIAN: So you have all these cookbook successes. And you still keep a handful of fiction writers and poets. So who’s on your roster today?
JUDITH JONES: Well, I have a new book by John Updike coming next fall. We’ve just put him through, which is called The Widows of Eastwick. He is revisiting those witches. I have a wonderful book by Anne Mendelson, which we’re calling The Milky Way, on the whole subject of milk and how different parts of the world and different climates … who drinks soured milk, honor the yogurts and all the cultured milk, and what we have done to milk in America. And that’s an appalling story, too. It’s a wonderful book and she gets you to do little experiments with her as you go along. You taste butter, for instance, for the first time by just putting in on your tongue and thinking about it. Meditating. And letting that butter stick to you. And then you do the same thing when it’s warm. It’s a one-of-a-kind book. They’re each different.
A lot of people have asked why I didn’t write more about publishing or more about the authors I’d worked with. And I feel really that the relationship between an editor and the creative writer, who can be a very private person, that it’s sort of a sacred trust. And you don’t tell tales about it. You know, I told John Updike and he said to me, it’s sacred. It’s very different with cooking because cooking is much more of an outgoing thing, and I work with people who are primarily cooks. And I try to help them find their voice. And they have taught me so much. That this book is really a journey in food that I’ve experienced, they are very much a part of it. So I don’t feel I’m depraving something to write about them.
SHERYL JULIAN: Who are those cookbook authors who are also really lucid writers?
JUDITH JONES: Well, I think Madhur Jaffrey writes beautifully. I think Claudia Roden writes beautifully. I think that as far as making you understand food, Julia was the best. And she used wonderful, visceral words. Not in a “blend the first mixture with the second mixture” -- which is how recipes are written today -- but “slap it into a bowl, slap it around, massage it or toss it.” That’s what you want to know. And then you want to know what’s happening, what to expect. What happens if it suddenly starts curdling on you? And she’s right there with you. There’s nobody like her.
SHERYL JULIAN: Well, what is happening today? I know that there is a side to cooking, especially on television that people who are serious cooks don’t admire. But then again, Lidia Bastianich is on television and other good cooks. So what’s going on in America? A little bit of everything or …
JUDITH JONES: A little bit of everything, and I do think that the Food Network … you know, they advertise themselves now as, “We’re more than about food.” Well, what’s to be more than about food? Food is a fascinating subject. So they think they have to entertain. And I have a feeling we’re going to get sick of it and the pendulum is going to swing again. And as you say, it’s not all bad. Lidia’s shows are wonderful and so instructive and make me feel warm about food and wanting to do it. But I think we’re sort of in a bad patch now. Maybe too many cookbooks were published and there’s a glut. Maybe people weren’t tough enough about asking, does this book really make a contribution? Do we need a book about how to use an [obscure cooking instrument]? I mean, use a little imagination.
SHERYL JULIAN: Well, if we swung the other way, would it be people cooking again, inviting people in?
JUDITH JONES: Yes, I’d love to see more emphasis on home cooking. More strategies for working with ingredients, how to keep them, how to use foods again. Home cooking to me is a rhythm through the week, and it’s just a world apart from what goes on in a professional kitchen. And I think that young people are a little starved for that. I often have them say to me, “Well, I can’t cook from that book. It’s so expensive.” And you have three fresh herbs that are called for and you buy a packet that’s a $1.99 or something, and a few drops of truffle oil, which I think is a hoax anyway. They’re not thinking of the needs of the home cook, who has a budget, among other things.
SHERYL JULIAN: And time constraints. Two of the extraordinary home cooks who you edited were Marion Cunningham and Edna Lewis. Sort of opposite ends of the spectrum.
JUDITH JONES: Yes. I think of them as the two grand dames of cooking. And those respecting simple ingredients and finding pleasure in cooking mindfully. Just stirring something nicely and listening to the sounds. I think that more voices like that are needed.
SHERYL JULIAN: Marion Cunningham you found. She became the modern Fanny Farmer, of course. And you found her by accident, didn’t you? Through James Beard?
JUDITH JONES: Yes. The Fanny Farmer people, the candy company, had taken over the book. And it had become what I call a collection of box top recipes. And I think they knew it, because sales were falling, falling. And particularly Frank Benson, who was the President of the company, he talked to a number of publishers, and they said, “Well, we’ll do this, and we’ll do that, and we’ll have some color pictures, and things like that.” And he didn’t buy it. And I was asked to talk to him, and I said, “The only way to salvage this book is to absolutely re-do it from top to toe and create a new voice. I mean, Fanny’s gone, but create a Fanny Farmer-like voice, but for the end of the 20th century.” And it was Jim Beard, of course -- he always had the answer for everything -- who suggested Marion Cunningham. And all I knew was from his correspondence and his faith in her. She was a California woman, middle-aged, came to cooking very late. And he so believed in her. He just said, “She has the taste of American cooking.” And he showed me some of her letters. And she came east and met the Fanny Farmer people, and we were all sold.
SHERYL JULIAN: And Edna Lewis?
JUDITH JONES: Edna Lewis came to me because she was doing a book. She had a collaborator writing with her on the little restaurant that they had in New York. What was it called?
SHERYL JULIAN: In Harlem?
JUDITH JONES: No, it was on the West 40s. Tiny little restaurant. She’d been asked to cook there. She was a dark woman from Virginia, and her grandfather had started this little community they called Freetown. It was a community of farmers. And they raised, of course, their own food and shared the reaper and the harvester and so on. But the book that they had done was really more the restaurant recipes. And they were with another publisher, and I wasn’t really much interested in one more little restaurant book. But they did come to see me because the President of Random House had told them to because they had some questions. And Edna started talking. I got her to talk. I knew she had a story. You couldn’t look at her and not know. She made her own sort of African dresses out of batik material, and she’s very tall and she moves so beautifully, and big dangling earrings, and the way she laughed. I got her talking about her past and Freetown and I said, “That’s the story you should be writing. That’s the book I want.” So she said, “Well, we’ll try it.” And about a couple of weeks later, a chapter came back, and it was okay, but it wasn’t that voice. I said I was disappointed, and I said, “Edna, you’ve got to find a way of writing this yourself. You don’t need a collaborator.” And, fortunately, her collaborator got up and said, “You’re absolutely right.” And bowed out. Anyway, to make a long story short, Edna was working at the Natural History Museum and she had Thursdays off. She came in every Thursday afternoon and we’d talk. And I’d say, “Don’t do anything. Go right home and write it just as you told me.” And she did, on long legal pads. And that’s how we put the book together.
SHERYL JULIAN: So talking makes the best writing.
JUDITH JONES: It does. Well, she came from that Southern oral tradition, too. And she wasn’t self-conscious. But she wrote beautifully. I mean, she just needed a few commas and periods.
SHERYL JULIAN: And I understand that you travel with the writers.
JUDITH JONES: When I can. And I particularly have since Evan died because we always were on a trip in search of food. Which is such a wonderful way to travel, because you get into people’s homes and markets and ask questions. So I’ve been doing that with some of my writers. Nina Simonds.
SHERYL JULIAN: You went to China? Or around Southeast Asia?
JUDITH JONES: Far East, yup. And it was a lovely story about that, because we went up north in Laos to Luang Prabang. We were staying in a little hotel. And Nina Simonds talked to them about maybe putting on some local dances or some kind of little ceremony. And they said, “Oh, I think the women of the village would love to do that.” And so they had what they called the welcoming ceremony. And a dozen women brought different little offerings of food. And there was one woman who was really old, and she walked across the pavilion on her knees with a little offering, and she headed straight for me. And she said, “I want to give this to you.” And then she said, “And I want to thank someone so old for coming so far to meet us and honor us.”
SHERYL JULIAN: And you traveled to France with Joan Nathan?
JUDITH JONES: Yes, yes and I also went to Israel with her, which is a very moving experience. You just have the feeling that if they all sit down and eat together, everything would be fine.
SHERYL JULIAN: So today you are swimming in your frigid pond when you’re in Vermont.
JUDITH JONES: Well, not today.
SHERYL JULIAN: Right. And doing yoga to stay fit. And you’re surrounded by your children and your stepchildren and your nieces and your nephews and your devoted writers. You told me recently that you consider this your old age, and when you decide to stop working, you’ll enter what you call your “old, old age.” What do you picture?
JUDITH JONES: Well, I’m not going to do any of that before I have to. And even in my old, old age, I hope I’m cooking right up until the end. There was a wonderful, Italian saying. “Alla tavola non sem vecchio,” or something like that. My Italian isn’t very good. Lidia told me this. And it’s, “At the table, one never grows old.” And then Bre Alsalveron (?) said that while all the other pleasures may fade, you can have the pleasures of the table up until the end. So that’s what I believe in.
SHERYL JULIAN: I’ll drink to that. Thank you. [applause]
SHERYL JULIAN: So there are two microphones out. If anyone has any questions, Judith is happy to answer them.
Q: My wife and I were Julia Child’s debutees 40 years ago. And among other things, she always used a stirring paddle, not a spoon -- a flat, wooden paddle, and she recommended getting them at a place called the Bridge Store, which we found. We lived in New York at the time. And I got enough of them so that we’re still using them. They are excellent. They are the only way to stir. We’ve been back to the Bridge Store -- I wanted to get something like that for my children – and, alas, the Bridge Store is still there but it’s not the same Bridge Store by a long shot. They have, of course, a big website. But neither on the website nor in the store do they have these paddles, nor do the shop people even know what I’m talking about. I have searched for them up and down. I haven’t been to Paris looking for them. Is there any place? I wouldn’t mind ordering it from Paris. Where do I get such a thing?
JUDITH JONES: That’s a very good question. Do you know? [simultaneous conversation]
SHERYL JULIAN: They’re not at De Lauren in Paris? Well, you have to go to Paris.
JUDITH JONES: It’s surprising you can’t find them on a website. But try William Sonoma. They’ve gotten a little fancy but they might have some good wooden … I know exactly what you mean, with the flat (inaudible). I’ll be on the lookout for one.
Q: I presume you’ve been to New Orleans. And I’m curious what you may have to say about the food culture of New Orleans and, in particular, Cajun. But especially Creole cooking and food culture. And then secondly, when you were introduced, the introducer mentioned garlic. And that prompts me to ask a question about garlic, which is: I can remember people saying if you’re going on a date, you want to ask your date if they’re having garlic too before you go ahead and have something with garlic. And I mentioned this to a prominent political figure, who actually came from a family who had a restaurant, and he got very indignant, and he said, “Oh, it’s nothing about that. The garlic thing is a prejudice thing against immigrants, immigrant food, practices.” So I wonder if you could say a little about garlic and about that anecdote.
JUDITH JONES: Well, lets start with the garlic. I think part of it is that prejudice against the immigrant people smelling of garlic. I mean, in France or Italy or anywhere that uses garlic regularly, you wouldn’t have to ask whether your date had it, because they would’ve all had it. But Jim Beard used to tell a wonderful story about an opera diva who was Italian and ate a great deal of garlic, and the leading men said, “I cannot stand singing with her anymore. Either the garlic goes or she goes.” So the director of the Metropolitan Opera called and said, “You have to give up garlic or no longer sing with us.” So this woman just ate all the garlic she could over the weekend, because this was her last gasp, and she went in earlier in the week, and the director said, “Carmen. You smell absolutely clean.” And then Jim would do this sort of sniff sniff up his arm and he said, “If you eat enough, then you’re absolutely purified.” So there are no answers, but I agree with you about the snobbiness.
And the first question was more about …
Q: New Orleans. A lot of people feel, I think, that New Orleans is a very special place for food, obviously. And maybe it’s partly because of the French influence through what’s called Creole, although nobody really knows quite what Creole means.
JUDITH JONES: I think perhaps it really was the most interesting place in America when my husband and I were doing research for his book on American food. We went there a couple of times. And aside from anything else, it was like Europe. Just everybody was talking about food and in the markets and exchanging things. The French influence, the Creole. It was just a very wonderful mixture coming together of tastes. I think it’s one of the really original cuisines, don’t you?
SHERYL JULIAN: Well, and because it has its roots in the indigenous peoples.
JUDITH JONES: And they weren’t ashamed to cook that way. Many of our ethnic cuisines got buried during that terrible period when we were all so Puritan, but not New Orleans.
Q: Can you suggest anybody who writes well about that food? Either New Orleans or Creole or even Cajun cooking? Offhand?
JUDITH JONES: I’m trying to think. It was this Southern, historian writer. Do you remember? He wrote about New Orleans.
SHERYL JULIAN: Time to write a book proposal, someone!
Q: When you were traveling around America with Evan, did you see … I think a lot of people think that there is a cuisine in New England and there is a cuisine in California, and then there’s just one big mish-mosh. One big can in between.
JUDITH JONES: Which, of course, isn’t true.
Q: I apologize to all the Mid Westerners. Because the Mid-Western cooking is some of the best home cooking in the country. But what did you see when you were traveling? Did you see these distinctions?
JUDITH JONES: Yes, and the different ethnic pockets. I mean some of the Scandinavian influences in Minnesota. Highly Germanic in Wisconsin and Iowa. I remember once we were in Butte, Montana, and they had a thyme and fish celebration. And the food was fabulous. People bringing different dishes. Again and again, talking to people, we would hear this story of the second generation immigrant wanting to become American. Not wanting to identify with the ethnic foods of his parents. And eating just fast and easy and on the run, but more American that way. But I think we’ve overturned a lot of that because there is a real appreciation in us for all kinds of different ethnic strands, and the way we’ve sort of embraced some of the new immigrants that came in in the ‘80s when the Immigration Act passed. I think there’s no country like us in terms of that openness and trying everything. So there’s good and bad.
Q: If you had to recommend a cookbook to someone who had never ever cooked in his or her life, and knew absolutely nothing about food, do you have a cookbook you would recommend?
JUDITH JONES: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ll tell you why. Because there is no book that explains cooking and teaching you techniques. And for any form, you learn the basics and then you take off and pirouette on your own. But if you don’t learn the basics, you’re never particularly good. And the French cuisine is really the basis of Western good, refined cooking. You won’t go wrong. And you have somebody holding your hand the whole way.
Q: I have a feeling -- I think it’s a reality actually -- that America is obsessed with fat-free living. And it’s my observation that if you eliminate fat, you eliminate flavor. So do you think that this craze for eliminating fat in our milk, in our dairy products, in our poultry, almost everything we buy today is advertised as being fat free. And I personally like fat.
JUDITH JONES: Well, I think it’s crazy and I think it’s dangerous. Because you eliminate one thing like that and then you compensate with others. And I think taste is extremely important, and if you say this doesn’t taste good without any fat … I think we went overboard in the ‘90s actually, and I think we’re beginning to swing back. I mean, now butter and pork fat is considered much better for you than these hydrogenated products, or what Julia would call “that other spread.” She wouldn’t give it a name.
JUDITH JONES: I think her books are wonderful. I think she opened up Italian regional cooking to us in a way that nobody else had done before. I still find her a little rigid on certain things, but she’s a good cook. She’s a great cook.
JUDITH JONES: I think Lidia Bastianovich’s last couple of books have come close, very close. She has an Italian family cookbook. She has a recipe for risotto and as she was making it she was talking, and I said, “I wish we could get those thoughts down.” And she created what I call a little meditation along the way. And we did it in a different color so that impatient people can just skip it. But if you read those meditations, the stirring is so enjoyable that it goes by in a flash. It’s not time consuming. It’s creative and deeply satisfying. And I think that’s what she gets across in a very important message.
JUDITH JONES: Because we have pumped all these things into it, they compensate for what we’ve taken out. And what you want to get back to is non-homogenized, pure milk. And we’ve done that with so many products.
Q: Can you comment on the slow foods movement?
JUDITH JONES: Do you want to comment on the slow foods movement?
SHERYL JULIAN: Do you know about it?
JUDITH JONES: Yes, of course I do. I think that’s done an enormous amount to awaken people. It originated, I believe, in Italy, didn’t it? It’s an antidote to the fast food movement, and fast food taking over Europe, and getting people to concentrate once again on the real way of cooking, and the roots of the cooking, and paying attention particularly to local product. And it’s a good movement that has been spreading and getting the word out. So I think it’s very valuable.
SHERYL JULIAN: It actually, I think, prompted the locavore. What’s called the locavore movement, which is just eating locally, which you seem always to look at instinctively, rather than as a fashion today.
JUDITH JONES: And yet we can’t go so far in that direction. I mean, in Northern Vermont the growing season is very short. And if we had to be local all year long, it would be mighty limited. There’s always a balance.
SHERYL JULIAN: Like the pilgrims. Lots of beans.
Q: Speaking of Thanksgiving, could you share with us what you’re having for Thanksgiving dinner?
JUDITH JONES: Well, I think I’d like to do a goose, both because I love goose and also you can put away those pots of good goose fat for the whole winter to cook wonderful things in. Particularly potatoes, onions, and you can even make your own what they call confit, you know, cooking duck or goose in its own fat. So I think I’ll do that. And a nice squash dish. I’ve been so busy on the road. I never knew as an editor how hard writers work. It’s not enough to write a book. You’ve got to get out there and sell it. So I really have been so busy the last few weeks that I haven’t thought … I haven’t even bought my goose. So I hope there’s some still in the market. What are you going to have, Sheryl?
SHERYL JULIAN: We are having the standard American menu for the tastes that don’t like cumin, curry, chili peppers, or salt.
Q: My question relates to your switching roles. You had an illustrious career as an editor and you handled all sorts of books. But now you’re the writer, and you have a relationship with an editor. And I was wondering if you could talk about that experience.
JUDITH JONES: Well, it’s very humbling to begin with, because I’ve found myself making some of the same mistakes that I catch authors doing. You get stuck on a word you think is a wonderful word, and suddenly you’ve used it 20 times in one chapter. I had some hesitation when a younger editor at Knopf who loves France, has a European wife and a house in the Dordogne’s, so we share a lot. And he’s seen some of the pieces that I’ve written, and he was the one that urged me to do this book. And I had some hesitation about doing it with the very house I worked for, because it seemed a little chauvinistic or something. He said, “You’re wrong. I mean, for Heaven’s sakes, you’ve worked there 50 years. People will be behind you and that’s a pretty good feeling.” And it has been. It’s been wonderful to get out and talk to small booksellers, to talk to the people who buy books, to get a response, to get a feeling of what it is you’re all looking for. So to me, that’s been the real reward. And my editor was most encouraging, asking good questions.
SHERYL JULIAN: He wasn’t afraid of you.
JUDITH JONES: No. I’m not intimidating.
SHERYL JULIAN: Did he give you a “nice” on the manuscript?
JUDITH JONES: Tell that story. That’s so funny.
SHERYL JULIAN: When I was interviewing writers about Judith, when I wrote a story about her a couple of months ago in the Boston Globe, one of the writers … there was a big party to celebrate Judith’s 50th anniversary at Knopf, and all of the writers were sitting together. And one of them said, “It’s so gratifying to get the manuscript back and to see a ‘nice’ in the margins.” And another one turned around and said, “Well, that’s funny, I’ve never gotten a ‘nice’ in the margins.” And the third one turned around and said, “Neither have I.”
JUDITH JONES: Suddenly all your children were rebelling! That was a dangerous moment.
SHERYL JULIAN: So now that you’ve been around promoting the book and met some of the people who have learned to cook from the other books that you’ve edited, if somebody walked in tomorrow with the perfect manuscript, something to get you really excited, what would the subject be?
JUDITH JONES: I’m not sure I can pick a subject. I just do know that we need to be paying more attention to enabling and exciting people to cook again, because we’ve got to win them back. And it’s not something you can prescribe, or I’d go out and say, “Write this book.” It has to come from somebody who has a passion and is fired up and concerned, as Julia was. We had to bring French cooking to all of you. She was determined to. And she wouldn’t give up, even when the boys in Boston said, “Nobody in America is going to buy this.” So that’s what it comes from. It’s very hard to prescribe something.
SHERYL JULIAN: So that’s the common denominator among all your writers. That they have a passion for their …
JUDITH JONES: A passion. And I really ask myself, “Is this book going to make a contribution?”
SHERYL JULIAN: And do you think that many people in your position, many cookbook editors, have to ask themselves, “Is this book going to make money?” rather than “Is this book going to make a contribution?”
JUDITH JONES: Well, I think more and more we’re pressured that way. Publishing has becoming big business. And it’s not a business. It’s a horse race. It’s very hard to know. You can’t say what’s going to suddenly win the race or just even be out in front.
SHERYL JULIAN: But somehow, all of yours have won the race. And they have the passion …
JUDITH JONES: Oh no! I’ve had some that have bombed. I won’t mention them.
SHERYL JULIAN: Did you read the book closely or were you …
JUDITH JONES: I can’t understand why they have.
SHERYL JULIAN: So you take each one personally.
JUDITH JONES: Oh yes, oh very personally. Again, it’s like your children.
SHERYL JULIAN: Well, thank you all very much for coming. [applause] Judith is signing books if you follow the line to the bookstore.