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Tom Chaney: review of The Way to Cook by Julia Child

A warning: This review will make one hungry for Country Ham, make one pine for Sulphur Well, and hungry for home cooking - almost a religion in North Metcalfe County, KY. It's about Calvin Trillin and Tom Chaney's aunt Daisy and the Napoleon Hill of Cooking, Julia Child and the bible of preparing food, The Way to Cook. First published in Hart County News-Herald 6 November 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column, New Year's Resolution and the Myth of Eden

By Tom Chaney

The Way to Cook

A new preacher came to a small rural church and was visiting his new parishioners. He arrived at the house of a young couple with a small boy. After talking with the family, the minister asked if it would be permissible to read a passage from the Bible. The family agreed and the minister asked that they provide the Bible.

"Son," the father said. "Go get that book yore Mammy loves so well."

The little boy's eyes lit up; he rushed from the room and returned with a Sears and Roebuck catalog. The preacher was taken aback and the mother blushed.

Were I to be asked for the book I love so well, it would have to be a cook book, and the book would be Julia Child's The Way to Cook. Published in 1989, it cost me thirty bucks. I've got my money back in pleasure time after time. A good cook book is fine reading if one never makes a dish. This one is superb on both counts.

I had occasion to deal with Mrs. Child a dozen years before the book was published.

Calvin Trillin writes an occasional food column for The New Yorker. I had met Trillin when I worked for a newspaper in northern Kentucky in the mid 1970's. He was in the territory to do a story on a northern Kentucky mayor. A friend of mine had known him before and knew of his search for excellent fried chicken. Bert invited Trillin to have dinner with my house mate and me, and then told me they were coming.

I fixed my usual superior fried chicken and opened a quart jar of Aunt Daisie Carter's green beans. He thought the chicken was good, but he fell in lust with Aunt Daisie's beans seasoned with bacon grease.

Later in the year he called me about coming to Kentucky to do a piece on barbecued mutton. As he put it, he wished "to rescue Kentucky's culinary reputation from the clutches of Colonel Sanders."

I agreed to lead him to the best barbecued mutton if he would deign to sample a little country ham first.

He came to Horse Cave and Aunt Daisie, my father Boots Chaney, and I took him to Mrs. Porter's in Sulfur Well. He was hooked, although he did turn up his nose a bit at the sulfurous water from the gum. Boots even sold him a J. T. Mitchum ham.

Trillin wrote his New Yorker piece in February of 1977.

That spring a friend of mine fetched up at a party in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where another guest was Julia Child. She asked my friend, himself a Kentuckian, where she could get an authentic country ham. She had read Trillin and wanted a ham to take to a New Year's party in the south of France. My friend became the broker and Mr. Mitchum provided the ham -- all quite illegally -- and she took it in her luggage to France together with my mother's receipt for its preparation.

So, when her cook book was published in 1987, I had to have a copy.

A few years later Julia Child was honored at a book signing at The Cook and The Book celebration in Philadelphia. She was the guest of honor for her contribution to American cooking.

Those folks were selling spanking new copies of The Way to Cook. Of course I showed up with my by then well-thumbed copy for her to sign. She spoke delightedly of the ham.

I could fill page after page singing the praise of The Way to Cook. It is the epitome of clarity and good sense. Mrs. Child organized the book around methods of preparation rather than by types of food, showing clearly how one method of cooking beef for example may be transferred to pork or lamb.

Her soups are marvels of flavor and ease of preparation.

She explains how to boil eggs flawlessly and how to store ready-cooked poached eggs in the refrigerator.

Her mustard/garlic sauce works as well for fish or chicken as it does for the lamb for which it was designed.

It is the perfect all-purpose cook book gift for a bride or the experienced cook. And it works just fine for bedside reading.

As Mrs. Child wrote on the half title page of my copy, "Bon Appetite!"

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-01-08 07:49:52
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