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'Tenth Muse' Recounts an American Food Revolution

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'Tenth Muse' Recounts an American Food Revolution

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'Tenth Muse' Recounts an American Food Revolution

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

A French gourmet once called food the tenth muse, right up there with poetry, music and dance. Long-time Knopf editor Judith Jones followed that muse to help change American home cooking.

Jones' new memoir is called "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" and it's the story of how she helped spark an American food revolution.

So as we prepare to give thanks on the upcoming holiday, we should also give thanks to Judith Jones for some of the pleasure we get in cooking our Thanksgiving meal.

WEEKEND EDITION food essayist Bonny Wolf has more.

BONNY WOLF: Judith Jones grew up in a Yankee home where onions and garlic were considered vulgar. After college, she found the attractions of Paris irresistible. In 1948, she went there for two weeks and she stayed for more than three years. Jones loved the food and she loved the way the French loved the food. She still remembers one of her daily visits to a French bakery.

Ms. JUDITH JONES (Author, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food"): And I was standing in line, one day, in this boulangerie. And a man tore-opened a baguette and he howled with pleasure and he passed it around. And this whole sound went up, this cheer, and I didn't know what it was all about. And I asked somebody, and he said the flour is white. It's pure. And they had all through the occupation had been using second-rate grain or (unintelligible), and just meant so much to them, and that's very contagious.

WOLF: Jones returned to New York and it was a classic case of culture shock. She's gotten use to leaks and creme fresh in every Parisian food market. Now, it was iceberg lettuce, processed cheese, and a different mindset.

Ms. JONES: I think Americans have a sort of history of the love-hate relationship about food. There's a purest inside that - like my family that felt food was fodder and, you know, it should be good and sensible, but that's all and there was something foreign and suspicious about people who put sauces on things. What were they hiding?

WOLF: Jones played a big part in changing that attitude. She persuaded the Knopf publishing house to take a chance on an unknown writer named Julia Child. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," edited by Judith Jones, made French cuisine accessible to Americans of all taste and kitchen comfort levels.

Jones went on to cultivate and edit James Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden and others. Working on their books has brought Judith Jones great joy. But now, she also feels a twinge of sadness because, she says, young people today don't cook at home very much. She thinks there are a couple of reasons.

Ms. JONES: One is that with all this adulation of the chefs as star, sure it's fun - it's fun to go to a restaurant and get ideas even. But it's very remote from home cooking and there just been too many books that are beyond the capacity, beyond the pocketbook of young people because you have to buy all these fantasy things for one little dish. And - also, they haven't seemed to, sort of, have learned that mothers are grandmothers (unintelligible).

WOLF: Judith Jones is now 83. Her husband died 10 years ago. These days, she cooks for a family of one and it gives her profound pleasure.

Ms. JONES: Even now that I'm alone and I cook just for myself, I found that instead of it being a lonely time, it was a very shared experience with the past and that I love to make myself a beautiful little dinner and have a glass of wine when I'm cooking and light the candles, maybe turn on some music. And just have that lovely - you're whole house has become alive with cooking smells, and you just sit down peacefully and really enjoy it. And people have the time for it if they want to make it.

WOLF: Judith Jones' new memoir is called "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food."

For NPR News, I'm Bonny Wolf.

HANSEN: And you can hear more from Judith Jones on our Web site. Go to npr.org/kitchenwindow.

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