A dinner fit for Julia Child

What would you cook the master of French cooking? One Berkshire County woman shares her menu

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"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." — Julia Child

You wouldn't expect the iconic chef who introduced French cuisine to American cooks with the publication of her first book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" to have such a "just go for it" attitude about cooking. French cooking is all about technique — braising, poaching, sauteing and flambeing, Oui? Yes, there's that, but Julia showed us that technique can be mastered and that cooking should be a delicious adventure.

Today would have been Julia Child's 106th birthday. And in celebration of her birthday, I have a story to share.

Over the years, my dear friend, Suzanne Pelton, and I have had many wonderful chats over a cup of tea in her lovely kitchen with charming green painted cabinets. But one particular conversation with Suzanne stopped me in my tracks.

Suzanne, in an unpretentious manner, mentioned that she and her husband, David, had once had dinner with Julia Child in her Cambridge home and then proceeded to carry on with her conversation as if it was an everyday occurrence.

"Woah! Stop! Did I actually hear that? Julia Child cooked dinner for you? In her home? In the kitchen with the green cupboards and all her pots and pans — at the table that we see on TV?"

Unpretentious still, Suzanne said "Yes."

Suzanne and her husband, David Stroud, were living in Chicago at the time. David was President/CEO of the National Live Stock and Meat Board. During his tenure, the Meat Board created the Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards and published the "Meat Board Meat Book" for which Julia wrote the intro.

Upon learning that David and Suzanne would be in the Boston area, Julia extended an invitation to dinner at her home. The menu was cold scallop soup with a dollop of sour cream — a recipe she was working on at the time, according to Suzanne — steak and string beans followed by fresh fruit for dessert.

But get this, the story gets even better! When Julia was in Chicago, David and Suzanne invited her to their home and they cooked dinner for Julia. Who would actually have the guts to cook for Julia Child? Well, David and Suzanne apparently did.

The menu was Jamaican squash soup, David's prune-stuffed pork tenderloin, Southern fried okra (dredged in corn meal, fried in bacon fat) and grapefruit sorbet. Suzanne said that okra prepared that way was new to Julia and she liked it.

Fans of Julia Child's cooking shows on PBS will get a kick out of a story Suzanne shared with me about their dinner in Julia's home:

"I asked her if she really had an acetylene torch and she showed it to me. I believe it was in the lower reaches of the stove. I was faced that way and that's where she leaned down to get it. I'd remembered when she reached down and got such a torch on a show about the multi layered crepe cake and then browned the meringue topping with the torch. Like everyone had one of those at home!"

Suzanne described Julia as a lovely woman who was honestly interested in others and always managed to find something positive to say about everything.

And the charming green painted cabinets in Suzanne's kitchen that I've always admired?

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"I seem to have gotten the idea for my green kitchen from [Julia]," Suzanne said.

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Southern Fried Okra

Here's Suzanne Pelton's recipe for okra that won Julia Child over:

Cut fresh okra into half inch rounds. Toss in cornmeal. Heat a good amount of bacon fat in a skillet over medium high. Saute okra a few minutes until just barely tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

***

Julia served Suzanne and David a simple pan seared steak, but the woman who was known to us as "The French Chef" would never have served a steak without a very French pan sauce such as this:

Steak Pan Sauce

Ingredients:

cup minced shallots

1 cup dry red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

5 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions:

Prepare this sauce in the same pan you cooked your favorite cut of steak in. Melting one tablespoon butter over medium high heat. Stir in the shallots and cook for a minute. Add the wine and boil scraping up the residual bits of juice from the bottom of the pan until the liquid has reduced and thickened a bit. Off heat, stir in 4 tablespoons of butter a spoonful at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste, then parsley. Immediately pour over steak.


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