Monday, November 16, 2009

Breaking Bread as a Way of Life

Judith Jones made her living editing cookbooks for Alfred A. Knopf. In her memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, Jones writes of living and meeting her husband in France, working with Julia Child on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and traveling across the world to find the perfect cuisine. As a former junior editor for Doubleday, she is credited with reading Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl as it was being tossed into a throw-away pile and "saving" it for publication. She began doing translations for Doubleday and then Knopf for such famous writers as Camus and Sartre. Later, her love affair with food led her to dinner parties with Knopf and his wife and their famous friends. Jones came in as editor for Julia Child's first cookbook and stayed her editor throughout Child's life.

Jones then forayed into the food scene herself, continuing her editing work with Knopf and also writing and collaborating on cookbooks of her own, often with her husband Evan. In The Tenth Muse, Jones relates stories of interactions with home cooks and talented chefs in restaurants and kitchens from the United States to Paris to Thailand. While name dropping, Jones manages to remain genuine. Perhaps this is because her love for food and cooking is so evident in her writing. Although the memoir runs to almost 300 pages, the last hundred or so are devoted to recipes for the most memorable dishes Jones discusses in the book.

From her childhood of English food (her mother had an aversion to garlic, and Jones comments early on that it was a wonder she ever ate anything with taste after such a start) to a "Cooking for One" section with recipes she has developed since her husband's death, Jones offers her readers a chance to get their own hands dirty in the kitchen. While some of her recipes are a bit too adventurous for me (and for most readers, I would imagine) -- sweetbreads & brains are on the menu -- overall Jones is true to her own culinary perspective, which seems important in a memoir about food. Jones also adds conversation to each dish, telling readers when and where she had the dish and who she shared it with at the dinner table. A must-read for true foodies and for the cook at home, interested in where the cookbooks lining their shelves come from.

You can keep up with Jones' goings-on at her blog Judith Jones Cooks.

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