The Mother of French Cooking in America

I grew up like most other kids, waking up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, but unlike most kids, after cartoons I would watch my cooking shows.

So it was inevitable that I would learn about Julia Child, in all her splendor, at such an early age.

I mean she was a rock star in my eyes. She wasn’t afraid to use butter (but didn’t take it to a gross Paula Deen level), she would nonchalantly whack any piece of meat with her cleaver, but, most importantly, she was such a goofball, and I was hooked!

And I wasn’t the only one. Today we celebrate what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday.

I think we all know a bit about Julia, the woman who brought French Cooking to American homes with her co-authored cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television cooking shows, but here are a few things you might not have known about the woman I call the Mother of French Cooking in America.


Did you know that Julia Child…

1. Worked with The Office of Strategic Services, which was the predecessor to the CIA. Some say she worked as a spy, and maybe cataloging highly-classified documents would fall under that position.

2. Was an inventor. During WWII she worked on developing shark repellant for underwater explosives, which were crucial in our fight against the German submarines.

3.  At 6’2, was the tallest student in her class at San Francisco’s Katherine Branson School for Girls, and was described by a friend at the time as being “really, really wild.”

4. Intended to become a famous woman novelist while attending Smith College, which claims Sylvia Plath, Nancy Reagan and Gloria Steinem as alumnae.

5. Was fired from home furnishing company W&J Sloane’s Los Angeles branch for “gross insubordination.”

Quotes from Julia:

  • “I can’t stand those over-sanitary people.” In response to letters from viewers criticizing her for not washing her hands.
  • “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O,” Julia advised after hearing concerns about the high levels of fat in French cooking.
  • “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
  • “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ”


And finally, here is a great piece from Los Angeles-based illustrator Ann Shen, complete with fun facts about Julia:


Cookbook Author Julia Child of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”-Biography.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child: America’s French Chef.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child Biography.” Accessed 14 August 2012.

Lunch in the Big Apple, Part 2

While looking into the online exhibition for Lunch Hour NYC I came across an interesting individual that I was surprised to have never heard of: Juliet Corson.

Ms. Corson, originally from Massachusettes, had a tough time earning a living in New York as a young adult. She made $4 a week, equal to $68 in today’s figures, working at the Working Women’s Library, where she would sleep. She began volunteering with the Women’s Educational and Industrial Society of NY, a training center for women, in 1873. There she was asked to teach a course on cooking, a topic she was not much familiar with. After studying cookbooks from Germany and France, she began teaching, and her class sizes exploded, prompting her to open the New York Cooking School.

Corson, always conscious of the plight of the poor as her experiences had taught her, charged fees on a sliding scale for her school. Her lessons were focused on making wholesome meals at the lowest cost, and soon she would publish her first cookbook, The Cooking School Manual of Practical Directions for Economical Every-day Cookery, and a pamphlet, Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Families of Six. In her obituary in the New York Times, Corson is credited for handing out 50,000 copies of her pamphlet for free at around the time when the great railroad strike hit in 1877.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine on Corson’s work

I’ve volunteered and worked at a non-profit that serves the homeless in California, and while working there I learned all about Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s work in NYC: during the Great Depression they opened up hospitality houses in abandoned buildings throughout the city to house the poor and homeless. My learning soon branched out to more current operations that taught the homeless culinary skills as a means for employment and self-sufficiency, and I am surprised that having dipped my toes into that realm, I had yet to hear about Juliet Corson, who seemed to have been doing something very similar to these establishments. I wonder if her work is as readily known as that of her contemporaries.


Finally, I wanted to include more photographs from the exhibition:

a lunch truck-painted entry way for the exhibition

display of luncheonette equipment & slang

an exhibition section in the form of a deli

menu from a Japanese restaurant

automat for serving up sandwiches and pies

oyster cart

pretzels on a stick in a basket


Corson, Juliet.” Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
Death of Juliet Corson.” New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2012.

Lunch in the Big Apple, Part 1

The New York Public Library has an exhibition right now that I would love to see. Lunch Hour NYC offers a glimpse at lunch in the city over the past 150 years. What an interesting idea.

During America’s colonial times, lunch was considered a snack that one might have at any time of the day, with dinner being the main meal at the middle of the day. With the onset of industrialization and in keeping up with the blossoming city, New Yorkers quickly adapted their meals at the behest of their employers to mimic what we now know as lunch.

Check out this video the NYPL put together on Lunch Hour NYC:

Pretty neat! And here is the original maker of those stainless steel hot dog stands that the Big Apple has all over its streets: Edward Beller:

“A hot dog comes out of boiling water, what can be so bad about it? It tastes so good.” Wise words from Mr. Beller? Perhaps, except maybe for our vegetarian and vegan friends.

how much deli food items cost, if priced fairly, in 1930

With so many immigrant communities throughout the city, is it any wonder that New York’s array of lunch items is so diverse? The following snip-its offer some insight into how several cultural foods have entered the smorgasbord that is NYC.

  • Virginia’s Thomas Downing became a wealthy man selling raw, fried and stewed oysters, as well as poached oyster-stuffed turkey. A free black born in 1791, Downing was so successful his oysters were shipped to Paris and London, and he once received a gold chronometer watch from Queen Victoria. In 1842 Downing catered Charles Dickens’ official welcome to NYC.
  • Originally sold from baskets or piled on sticks, pretzels were only a penny up until the 1920s. In 1923 pretzel sellers were looked down on and a reporter with the Times once wrote: “It was not fitting that a bank president should be seen munching a pretzel.”
  • Gennaro Lombardi opened the first New York pizzeria in 1905, and since then the city has been known for its thin crust, coal-fired oven-baked pizza. The pie became a lunch item when it was first sold by the slice in East Harlem’s Patsy’s, opened by Patsy Lancieri.
  • The birthplace of the pastrami you and I enjoy today is Little Romania in lower Manhattan. It evolved from a goose preserving technique that the local Jewish immigrants had brought with them, but was easily adapted for beef, which was less expensive.
  • Immigrants from Germany opened the city’s first delis in the mid-19th century, although the different groups of immigrants stocked their deli’s with foods that they were culturally accustomed to.
  • Not for the timid souls, hot dogs were generally avoided before the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act, but they were readily consumed in New York.  By 1915, Coney Island’s hot dog spot Nathan’s Famous was opened.
  • Chinese takeout became an instant favorite for city dwellers; in a 1903 article, the New York Tribune reported, “Few Bohemian gatherings are complete without a pail of chop suey, brought, fresh and hot, from Chinatown.” New Yorkers had to wait until 1976 though, to have the popular cuisine delivered to their homes.
  • Although its first introduction to New York is uncertain, sushi became available city-wide by the 1960s, after first appearing on a menu in 1932. Only after the American-invented inside-out roll, which hides the seaweed in the rice, debuted in Los Angeles, did sushi in NYC move away from its traditional form.
  • The most recent addition to the Big Apple’s eclectic food offerings, the Jamaican beef patty finally arrived only after the Jamaican immigrant communities grew in the 1960s and 1970s. Dough-wrapped spicy beef, that is baked and is served inside a roll, the Jamaican beef patty, that have also been made with chicken and vegetarian fillings, were deemed “the best portable lunch in the world,” by Gourmet magazine.


Lunch Hour NYC.” New York Public Library. Retrieved 18 July 2012.