friday feast: julia’s recipe for love

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” ~ Julia Child

Julia with her husband Paul Child in California, 1951 (courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).

He was ten years older, a worldly intellect, artist, poet, photographer and connoisseur of fine wine and cuisine who spoke fluent French. He thought she was “wildly emotional” and “unfocused,” and, “brave about being an old maid.”

She was a 30-something-year-old late bloomer, six foot two (or three or four) to his five foot ten, who preferred sports and socializing to academics, a self-professed “hungry hayseed” far more comfortable wielding golf clubs and tennis racquets than knives or whisks. She was disappointed in his “light hair which is not on top, an unbecoming blond mustache and a long unbecoming nose.”

After they met working for the OSS, food brought them closer — curry luncheons forging a friendship in Ceylon, Chinese meals fanning the flames in Kunming, a French luncheon of sole meunière in Rouen sparking a lifelong passion that would ultimately instigate a food revolution in America.

Just goes to show what a good man and the right meal can do.

J&P reading proofs of Mastering the Art of French Cooking,1961 (courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).

Paul not only introduced Julia to the joys and wonders of fine cuisine, he staunchly supported her every step of the way — from her enrollment at Le Cordon Bleu, through the roller coaster decade of writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to her illustrious television career. This brand of singular devotion was all the more admirable in a time of burgeoning feminism, when many resented the challenge to prevailing middle class values. Paul clearly enjoyed his wife’s success, happy to remain in the background while she basked in the spotlight.

Besides being friend, lover, husband, and teacher, Paul was manager, recipe tester, illustrator, photographer, set designer, bottle washer, sommelier, and table setter in their life together. They’re pictured here at the Festival Restaurant in Cannes, 1966 (courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).
Julia filming a 1964 promo for “The French Chef” at the Cambridge Gas and Electric Kitchen (photo by Paul Child, courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).
Paul: “Without Julia, I think I’d be a sour old bastard living off in a cave” (courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).

Julia herself once told eminent food writer Ruth Reichl, “He’s responsible for everything I did,” and in a 2001 Smithsonian video said, “If we could just have the kitchen and the bedroom, that would be all we need.” Is that a love story for the ages or what? He was the moon to her sun, the perfect yin to her yang.

When it came to poetry, Julia was Paul’s favorite subject. He often wrote sonnets for her birthday, reveling in a dash of playful poetic teasing and double entendre.

Here’s one he wrote in 1961, the year Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume One) was first published by Knopf. If you click through to read the rest, you’ll find another sonnet from 1945, written the year before they were married.

J&P’s 1956 Valentine’s Day card (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).


Birthday, 1961
by Paul Child

O Julia, Julia, Cook and nifty wench,
Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot soufflés,
Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,
Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise —
Whose sweetly-rounded bottom and whose legs,
Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,
Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:
Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,
This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines
Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;

(Rest is here)


*fans self*

These lines of adoration from a man who married Julia “in spite of her cooking,” who endured a messy meal of calves’ brains simmered in red wine, who was not deterred in the least by stories of a pancake disaster or an exploding duck that set the oven on fire. Julia learned to cook to please Paul. In the end, she won his heart as well as ours.

Julia and Paul having breakfast at La Pitchoune, their home in Provence, 1969 (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)

True love magically transforms the right ingredients into mouthwatering dishes, an unlikely friendship into a passionate love affair and enduring partnership capable of changing the way an entire nation eats, cooks and thinks about food. When Julia received an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1993, the citation read, “A Harvard friend and neighbor who has filled the air with common sense and uncommon scents. Long may her soufflés rise.”

Merci beaucoup, Julia and Paul. Toujours Bon Appétit!

Paul and Julia at the Sheraton Waikiki, 1974 (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)


The lovely and talented Mary Lee is hosting today’s Roundup at A Year of Reading. Why not take a chocolate soufflé or soupe à l’oignon to her impromptu picnic? Enjoy your weekend!


Julia’s last meal was a bowl of French onion soup.

“We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”~ Julia Child

* * *


Still time to enter any or all three Julia Giveaways:

Thanks for joining us during Julia’s 100th Birthday Week Celebration! Have a delicious, decidedly French weekend :).


**Special thanks to the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University and The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts for permission to post archival photos.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

37 thoughts on “friday feast: julia’s recipe for love

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I had fun selecting the photos from the Schlesinger Library Digital Image Archive — a goldmine for Julia fans!


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laura. Their relationship was indeed beautiful and inspiring and I marvel at all the rammifications it had for the rest of us and the entire food world.


  1. I’ve really enjoyed your week of Julia Child. The picture books were lovely, as were all the other forms of devotion – poetry, photos, etc. And this last, showcasing the love she shared with her husband, was a perfect way to cap off the week.

    Btw, the Internet highlighted one of her brownie recipes in honor of her birthday. Might be worth a try. 😀


    1. Glad you enjoyed the JC week, Debbie. Thanks for the brownie recipe link — have already bookmarked it to try sometime. Can’t resist chocolate!


  2. Gee, whiz, Jama,
    I’m sitting here in front of the computer with tears in my eyes. What a glorious lifetime of love and food these two people shared. I completely enjoyed the commentary and photographs in this post. This week has been a great tribute to an American icon loved by so many. Her presence will endure.


    1. This week has been amazing with all the tributes and videos and articles and recipes that everyone has been sharing online. Julia’s legacy endures — the outpouring of love from all corners has been overwhelming, and I found myself tearing up many times. And to think there’s a lot we don’t yet know about her and the full and gratifying life she led. Truly, I didn’t realize she was SO LOVED by SO MANY. Wow.


  3. Ah, and aw. So much to love here. Thank you. I particularly liked: “Julia learned to cook to please Paul. In the end, she won his heart as well as ours.” Yes!

    Love those photos but the captains do make me grit my teeth a bit re our local Smith College. I’ve heard that Smith College, which I’m so fond of, as in our neighborhood, made the stupid, snobby mistake of refusing Julia’s collections, which is why Radcliffe is so lucky. Much of Emily Dickinson’s collection is also owned by Harvard, due to an Amherst College refusal. Okay, I love this area, but hope these colleges are learning by their mistakes!


    1. *eyebrow raise* Wow, really? Hard to believe. Julia was so loyal to Smith, deeded her house to them and everything. Can’t imagine why they’d refuse her collections!!! Crazy. Also interesting about Amherst College refusing some of Emily’s stuff. Wonder what the reasons were?


  4. Thank you Jama for this lovely “love” story. You are truly educating us about Julia this week. I downloaded the one book from Amazon on my iPad, but will start reading after your week. I love the sonnet. Paul Childs sounds as if he’s as amazing as Julia, or maybe her influence made him all the more who he was already.


  5. I may have a double comment. I wrote, then published & it disappeared. Thank you Jama for this ‘education’ all week about Julia. I am enjoying it so much-did not know much of it. How lovely is the sonnet Paul wrote. It seems he was as an amazing persona as Julia, but perhaps her strong influence made him who he became. I loved seeing the photos too-what a friendly life they led!


    1. I enjoyed learning about Julia too, especially about her relationship with Paul — much of which I didn’t know until I read her biography. Their relationship/partnership is truly inspiring; I like that their mutual love and respect for each other enabled them to realize their full potentials :).


  6. Oh, they make me want to weep.

    I’m not sure I’m quite the type of person who would know what to do with sonnets written in her honor, but it always touches me when it’s for someone else.


    1. It’s so lovely that he wrote these to commemorate her birthday each year. Sigh . . . I think I’d like to have sonnets written for me :).


  7. A toast I would propose to you, too, Jama: “Long may your souffles raise!”

    And this is so true: “Just goes to show what a good man and the right meal can do.” Worked for me, anyway!! 🙂


  8. “If we could just have the kitchen and the bedroom, that would be all we need.”
    What a great quote! Love the photos. Was especially intrigued by the one in her television kitchen with people seated on the floor handing her things and taking things away out of sight of the audience.


    1. That *is* a great photo, isn’t it? The early French Chef episodes were filmed almost in real time; quite a feat! These days there’s a lot of stopping and editing to get everything just right. No more people sitting on the floor handing you things :).


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