Catherine Barker, avowed Francophile and fellow blogger over at NGM Blog Central, was inspired by the release of Julie and Julia to look back through our archives and learn exactly how Julia Child went about “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” back in Paris in the 1950s. She uncovered a story, “Home Life in Paris Today, July 1950,” about a woman named Deena Clark, who moved with her family to Paris for four months. In the article Clark describes their search for an apartment (rent: $208 a month) and some of the tools in the kitchen, including the handy lettuce cleaner (pictured here). But of course, the main focus was food. Barker eloquently recaps here:
From here, Clark takes off on a food-themed trajectory, expounding on cheeses, apples, pastry, and lard. Recalling her first encounter with the pork butcher, she writes: “His excellent bacon, in chunky slabs ready to be cubed for soup, sold for 50 cents a pound.” Clark learns a rule along the way and explains, “The Paris housewife soon collects a spindle of deposit slips. If you fail to take your own jar, you pay a 5-cent ransom on the jam glass provided for your cream.” I wonder if Julia learned that the hard way. She must have spent a relative fortune on eggs–which Clark says cost “5 to 7 cents apiece, depending on their size and how recently they had left the nest”–for her countless soufflés. Clark is captivated by cream puffs and delighted by crisp rolls, which she happily proclaims are “all heel!” And finally butter, a thing of utmost importance to Julia. According to Clark, it came cubed and wrapped for 96 cents a half pound. The author goes on to say that a cheaper, more popular butter “squatted in watermelon-sized yellow mounds on marble slabs.” These giant, creamy heaps, I then learned, were broken down in a most interesting way: “The proprietor filled customers’ orders by deftly slicing off a portion with a taut wire held stretched between both thumbs and forefingers.”
Makes me hungry just thinking about it. Have you ever cooked in Paris? Have you seen Julie and Julia yet? Share your thoughts, and recipes, here.
Photo: Kodachrome by Willard R. Culver; National Geographic Archives
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