I've been waiting for the movie Julie & Julia for months. I read My Life in France and the Julie and Julia book, and have even been spending more time than I should perusing the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, comparing them to similar recipes that have made their way into my files.
I never think of making a French meal—my first thoughts always go to Tuscan Italian, which is so similar to our Southern fare. The more I read, the more I realize that the basic techniques Julia Child taught are common across the board. Whether you call it white gravy or bechamel, you still make it the same way! Coq au Vin, Pollo in Fricassea, or my Dad's best Camp Chicken made in the big cast iron skillet all share the same basic techniques, and vary only in a few ingredients.
With all my expectations, I was still unprepared for the affect the movie had on me. I walked out hungry for more 'Julia', wanting to connect with a 'Julia' of my own who loves the art of cuisine, loves to eat, and loves to cook. She was a woman who embraced the quirky changes of life, while never sacrificing her passions, and did it all with a good sense of humor and joie de vivre.
So, in honor of Julia's gusto and fearlessness, I took a step I've been toying with for several years. Last Saturday Amanda Wingfield of Patrick County and Melanie Barrow of the Henry County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension joined forces to give a Canning Workshop in the new Spencer Penn Community Kitchen. The class was full and with our instructors, we had all the canning expertise anyone would ever need.
I can't tell you how timely this class felt. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was written for the American housewife, and was published at a time when cake mixes and TV dinners, time savers of every kind, had become the norm in the American kitchen. Julia reconnected people with real food, fresh food, and the art of cuisine.
It seems that we have been in a similar place, giving fast food way too much control over our eating habits. Now, we're realizing that for health reasons, cost reasons, esthetically pleasing taste reasons, we need to reconnect with our local farmers and gardeners, and the food preserving experiences of our mothers and grandmothers. It's worth the time and effort. And with the help of the classes led by these experienced food preservers who taught from the Bible of preserving, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving Food, we can get back to the basics of really good, healthy, locally grown foods.
So, now I'm planning to 'can' my way through the 'Ball Blue Book'--well, maybe not entirely, but I'm looking forward to lots of creative experimentation.