Remembering When American Food Got Better

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Book editor Judith Jones helped spark a food revolution helping to publish works by Julia Child. Christopher Hirsheimer hide caption

itoggle caption Christopher Hirsheimer
Judith Jones

Book editor Judith Jones helped spark a food revolution helping to publish works by Julia Child.

Christopher Hirsheimer

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Judith Jones was a general in the American food revolution.

She is the book editor who, in 1959, persuaded her publisher to take a chance on an unwieldy manuscript by an unknown writer. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child introduced mainstream cooks to French cuisine. It was the beginning of a sea change in American cooking, and Jones was a central figure.

Jones, 83, brought out works by Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden, Edna Lewis, Madhur Jaffrey and Marion Cunningham, among others. These books were part of the movement toward better home cooking, using proper technique and authentic ingredients.

"When I came back [from Paris], not only was it a very low point in our gastronomic history where everything was simple and easy and fast so the poor little woman didn't have to spend time in the kitchen," Jones says, "but recipes were just truncated formulas and nobody explained. And I knew there were secrets to why a French boeuf bourguignon was as good as it was."

She found those secrets in Child's manuscript.

"I realized that there was nothing like this and it could change the way cookbooks were being written, and I just fell in love with it," she says.

Now she has written the story of that time in a memoir called The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food.

The 19th-century French gourmet Brillat-Savarin called food the 10th muse, right up there with poetry, music and dance. Jones followed that muse to help change American home cooking.

Broiled Bluefish or Mackerel over a Bed of Fennel and New Potatoes

This is a "simple, delicious" dish Judith Jones says she often makes for herself. It takes half an hour and dirties only one pan. "I love fatty fish like bluefish and mackerel," she writes, "with their assertive flavor, and the sweet fennel and young potatoes create a perfect balance."

Makes 1 serving

1 small bulb fennel, or 1/2 large bulb

2 or 3 small new potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bluefish or mackerel fillet

Trim the fennel bulb, removing the tough outer pieces and cutting off the stalk. Reserve the fennel leaves. Slice the bulb horizontally in 1/4-inch slices.

Don't peel the potatoes; just trim the ends and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Toss potatoes and fennel with the olive oil in a skillet, and heat it up. When hot, add water just to cover, and cook covered for 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft, adding more water as needed so they don't scorch.

Preheat broiler.

Transfer vegetables to a shallow, preferably oval, baking dish, salt and pepper lightly, and lay the fish on top, skin side down. Rub a little olive oil on the fillet, and salt and pepper it.

Put the dish about 6 inches under a preheated broiler, and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until just done. Sprinkle some chopped fennel leaves on top.

Frenchified Meatloaf

When she was in Paris, Judith Jones sent this recipe that she had developed to her parents. It was familiar but with French touches. It requires an hour of marinating. If veal is too expensive or hard to get, use about 3\4 beef to 1\4 pork, ground.

Makes 6 servings

3 slices homemade-type white bread, crusts removed

3 pound ground beef, veal and pork (half beef and the rest divided between veal and pork)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large egg

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons salt

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled, chopped and mashed with 1\2 teaspoon salt

Several grindings of black pepper

1\4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, marjoram), or 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

2 bay leaves

2 strips bacon

1\2 cup red wine

Spin the bread in a blender to make crumbs; you should have 1 1\2 cups. Dump everything, except the bay leaves, bacon and wine into a big bowl and blend well, preferably with your hands.

Arrange the bay leaves on the bottom of a large loaf pan, and pour the wine over, punching a few holes into the meat with your fingers so it will seep down a little. Let marinate for an hour or so, then bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 1\2 hours. Turn out of the pan, and remove the bay leaves. Pour any pan juices on top.

Books Featured In This Story

The Tenth Muse

My Life in Food

by Judith Jones

Hardcover, 290 pages | purchase

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Mastering the Art of French Cooking

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