Did you see the summer’s best memoir movie, Julie & Julia? If not, hurry to a theater near you and catch it before it leaves. If you missed the trailer, you can find it here:
Julia Child described the crucial role of Avis De Voto, who connected Child to a publisher in America, in her memoir, and Avis (played by Deborah Rush) shows up in a small but vital role in the movie as well. Avis, however, who was a talent scout for Alfred A. Knopf publishers, could not have succeeded in playing midwife to Mastering the Art of French Cooking (click title to go to Amazon website) if another woman, Judith Jones, had not traveled a similarly transformative path to the love of French cuisine that Julia herself trod.
And so, I propose a triumvirate of J’s for your reading pleasure this summer: Julie, Julia, and Judith. This post will focus on Judith’s memoir: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food.
Do you love garlic? Will you eat sweetbreads, tongue, and organ meats? Do you cook with duck, gooseberries, lamb, shad, shad roe, sorrel? Do you make your own cracklings? Perhaps the movie Julie & Julia made you willing to try some of the items on this list. If so, you will love the section at the end of The Tenth Muse that shares recipes including all of the above ingredients and many more. The commentary that accompanies the recipes also makes very enjoyable reading. By the time you arrive at the recipes, you have made the acquaintance of the tenth muse–gasterea–who presides over the pleasure of taste. Jones’ memoir more than any other book I’ve ever read, connects writing, memory, and food. I enjoyed it more than another book editor’s story, Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, reviewed here. It should be read by aspiring memoir writers who include food and recipes as parts of their stories.
Judith Bailey Jones’ early years, like Julia Child’s, benefited from privilege but were bereft of culinary sophistication, at least as both women would later describe them. Jones grew up in New York (Third Avenue in the East Sixties)and New England, spending time at the family lake cottage in Vermont, living with her grandmother in Montpelier one winter, visiting friends in Connecticut, and attending Bennington College in Vermont.
Judith’s awakening to good food started in childhood with dull English main course fare but included pudding desserts so good they made the cut in the recipe section of the book. Here’s the recipe headnote describing the bread pudding she was served in a country inn in Wales: “The baked dish was brought in, wrapped in a while linen napkin, the way Edie [the family cook of her childhood] would have served it, and as it was spooned onto the plate I had my first whiff. Then when I took a taste, the hot raisins bursting in my mouth, the sensation was so powerful that the tears rolled down my cheeks (adding a little salty flavor).”
This poem to the pleasures of taste had to be inspired by Gasterea, the tenth muse. Judith Jones is not as exuberant as Julia Child, but she is more philosophical while still capable of nuanced celebration of the sensuous, emotional, savory delights of eating. The description itself exemplifies many of her themes–learning to taste, food as memory, and the importance of presentation.
Like Julia’s husband Paul, Judith’s husband Evan, played a huge role in her life and career. Both couples were childless. Both traveled to Europe frequently and fell in love with food in post World War II France. That they developed an immediate rapport and lifelong friendship is not surprising. And that their memoirs were published within the same year (Julia’s posthumously) seems right. Unfortunately, Judith’s story may have been eclipsed by Julie’s story due to the popularity of the movie.
I hope the Julia Child revival currently taking place will include a Judith Jones revival also. According to the book cover, Judith Jones still works at Alfred Knopf–senior editor and vice president, no less. So, Judith, here’s to you for writing a great memoir. As Julia would have said, “Toujours bon appetit!”