Friday, August 7, 2009

Our Lady of the Stock Pot

I know this has been coming up a lot lately, but it's times like when a movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child opens that, once again, one feels rather far from the center of things in this sleepy little city by the sea.

Child was a familiar face growing up, especially at the house of my father's parents, where, as in Pyongyang, there was only one choice of TV channel - it was PBS all the time, except during pledge week, when the grandparents ventured out into the strange world of sitcoms and less-than-twenty-year-old variety specials on the networks, only to scurry back to Masterpiece Theatre and Wall Street Week at the earliest possible moment.

Mother Muscato firmly believed that sauces were for people who used second-class meat, but at the grandparents', it was a different story, with Grandmother and her indefatigable sidekick, her tiny "help", Alice, laboring for hours over steaming double-boilers and massive roasting pans to create the endless meals, each course richer than the last, that started me down the road to the heedless gourmanderie I enjoy today. Mother watched Julia as a diversion, enjoying the spectacle of someone wasting so much time when Betty Crocker made perfectly good scalloped potatoes and all you needed for aspic was gelatin and tomato juice. Grandmother, by contrast, enjoyed Julia on a more or less peer-to-peer basis, muttering "well, that's interesting, but not how I do it," as the roast slipped into Julia's TV oven.

When she and Alice would reach an impasse in the kitchen, unable to resolve the Warsaw and Pittsburgh methods of accomplishing a given task, the summons would come to "bring me Julia!" and they would let Mastering the Art split the difference, not as the ultimate expert, but rather as an experienced friend.

And now she's going the be the darling of the multiplexes, Julia Child Superstar. I think she would be deeply amused. And then go right back to the kitchen to make something lovely and buttery. She lived to 91 (three years more than Grandmother and, if memory serves, a year or two shy of Alice), so she (all of them, really) must have been doing something right.


  1. "Mother Muscato firmly believed that sauces were for people who used second-class meat"


    God bless Julia and the Grandmother Muscatos of the world.

  2. i'm sure you saw this at made me sad and yet, pissed me off too.

    from a Boston Magazine article:

    "Homophobia was a socially acceptable form of bigotry in midcentury America, and Julia and Paul participated without shame for many years. She often used the term pedal or pedalo—French slang for a homosexual—draping it with condescension, pity, and disapproval. “I had my hair permanented at E. Arden’s, using the same pedalo I had before (I wish all the men in OUR profession in the USA were not pedals!),” she wrote to Simca. Fashion designers were “that little bunch of Pansies,” a cooking school was “a nest of homovipers,” a Boston dinner party was “peopled by 3 fags in an expensive house…. We felt hopelessly square and left when decently possible,” and San Francisco was beautiful but full of pedals—“It appears that SF is their favorite city! I’m tired of them, talented though they are.”

  3. I feel a bit sorry for the "Julie" who authored the book on which the movie is based. All the critics say that the scenes depicting her are dull filler, while they anxiously await the return of the Julia story. Perhaps a Julia bio-pic would've been preferable. At any rate, I'm chomping at the bit to get to see it when it hits town!
    ...lucky you with PBS as the channel of choice in your childhood home!!

  4. I did see the JMG piece, although not the Boston article. I was heartened to see the several responses from JMG readers about their own experiences with JC, which quite frankly track with how I would expect a lady of her class, age, and disposition to behave.

    We forget how quickly times have changed, and what was once acceptable social discourse now seems obviously like rank prejudice. For me, back in my showbiz days, I had to personally break at least two legends of the theatre from saying "fag" when I was around - it was just part of their vocabulary, as "colored" and worse were for my grandparents.

    Thank heavens, times change - people change with them, and I think JC did, too.