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Remembering When American Food Got Better

Nov 27, 2007

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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.

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