Appetite for Life

By Ida Black,2014-11-04 22:05
13 views 0
Amazon.com ReviewNoel Riley Fitch's savory new biography, Appetite for Life, reveals a woman as appealing as the good food and serious cooking she popularized. As a California girl and Smith College undergraduate, Fitch writes, Julia McWilliams was notable for her high spirits and voracious appetite. Performing intelligence work in Asia during World War II, she met Paul Child, and their marriage of mutual devotion and affection endured until his death in 1994. His postwar assignment took them to France, where she discovered her true calling. Fitch reminds us that Child championed fresh ingredients at a time when frozen foods and TV dinners dominated American supermarket shelves, and that she demystified haute cuisine with her earthy humor and casual attitude tow Published by Anchor on 1999/04/13

by the same author

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation:A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties

    Hemingway in Paris

    Literary Cafés of Paris

Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin

    For my sisters Lynn and Gail


    for my husband Albert Sonnenfeld

with whom I share the joys of the table

    “I too am an Epicurean.” THOMAS JEFFERSON


    Western Pioneers and Blue Blood ?1??????Beginnings ?2??????A Place in the Sun ?3??????Education of an Extrovert ?4??????Smith College: Ivy Walls and Jelly Donuts ?5??????Career Search Spying and Romance ?6??????India Intrigue ?7??????To China with Love ?8??????Eastward Ho ?9??????Flavors of Marriage An American in Paris

    (Marseilles, Bonn, and Oslo)????????????? 10??????À Paris 11??????Cordon Bleu 12??????Marseilles: Fishing for Reds 13??????A Little Town in Germany 14??????Back Home (and Cooking) on the Range 15??????“I Am at Heart a Viking” Our Lady of the Ladle 16??????Launching the Book 17??????Let Them Eat Quiche: The French Chef 18??????Provençal Winters

    19??????The Media Are the Message 20??????Celebrity and Solitude Empress of Cuissine 21??????Riding the Second Wave 22??????A Time of Loss 23??????The Company She Keeps 24??????Pacific Overtures 25??????Seasoned with Love 26??????Notre Dame de la Cuisine 27??????Do Not Go Gentle Appendices ??????????????Family Trees ??????????????Television Series ??????????????Acknowledgments and Sources ??????????????Notes ??????????????Bibliography ??????????????Photographs

    Chapter 1BEGINNINGS(1945, 1848 – 1912)

    “How like autumn’s warmth is Julia’s face”

    PAUL CHILD, August 15, 1945

    PERCHED ON THE railing of a veranda in Kunming, China, Julia McWilliams was aware only of theuniformed man beside her, reading the poem he wrote for her thirty-third birthday. Shestretched her very long legs out in front of her, crossing them at her ankles, so Paul Child

    could see what he would later call “my beloved Julia’s magnificent gams.” She barely noticedthe formal gardens beyond the porch or the miles of rice paddies stretching toward KunmingLake. Nor did her gaze settle on the mist-shrouded Shangri-La of temples carved into the rockof West Mountain. It was his voice that captured her, each word he read a note weaving a melodythrough her heart: “The summer’s heat of your embrace … melts my frozen earth.”

    The cotton dress clung to her slim, six-feet-two-inch body. Here she was in China, a privilegedgirl, seeking adventure, even danger, in the civilian opportunities of World War II, and shehad found it, not in the Registry of the Office of Strategic Services, nor in the backwoodsrefugee city of Kunming at the end of the Burma Road, but in the urbane, sophisticated,multilingual presence of forty-three-year-old Paul Child. They talked all evening, hisintellect challenging her, his experienced touch awakening her. In the last China outpost ofLord Mountbatten’s command, surrounded at sea by Japanese forces, warplanes droning in thedistance, Julia McWilliams felt alive.

How like autumn’s warmth is Julia’s face,So filled with nature’s bounty, nature’s world….

    The cadence of his voice, reciting his sonnet “To Julia,” intensified the air of anticipationbetween them, dimming for the first time the news they had received that week of the droppingof the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia was invading Manchuria to the north. Justhours earlier they had heard of Japan’s surrender and knew the world was changing foreveryone, not just themselves.

I cast this heaped abundance at your feet:An offering to summer and her heat.

    PAUL DROVE Julia by jeep to a mountain retreat for a weekend, where they talked of meeting eachother’s families: he had a twin brother, whose family lived in Pennsylvania, she two siblingsand a father in California. The differences in their height (he was a mere five feet ten andthree-quarters inches), age, education, cultural and political backgrounds, and values seemedless severe in this foreign territory where the future was so uncertain. He called theirs a“sweet friendship” in his sonnet, but she wanted much more from this wartime embrace in astrange land. When he read aloud “the awakening fields abound / With newly green effulgence,”he could have been talking about her.

    They had met just the year before in a tea planter’s veranda in Ceylon, when he was courtingseveral women and seemed far beyond her reach in knowledge and experience. He had the worldly-wise caution of a man who had supported himself since he was a child, sailing the high seas,working at physically demanding jobs, and educating himself in the classics, art, and music.Despite her degree from Smith College, the gangly girl from the West seemed to have little incommon with this cosmopolitan ladies’ man. “I was a hungry hayseed from California,” shewould declare half a century later:

    There were a lot of women around and he was ten years older than I. Very sophisticated. He hadlived in France and I’d only been to Tijuana! So I found him very impressive, you see. And hewas also an intellectual. I was a kind of Southern California butterfly, a golf player andtennis person who acted in Junior League plays.

    She was indeed a party girl, a child of well-to-do parents, who had never had to work. Thoughshe occasionally held jobs in New York City and Los Angeles, marriage was the usual goal of hergeneration. Had the war not come, she said, she “might have become an alcoholic” amid thesociety life of Pasadena. Julia stood out in any crowd, not just because of her height, butbecause she was strikingly beautiful in a wholesome way. She was also like a magnum ofchampagne, the effusive life of the party, even, as far as Paul was concerned, occasionally“hysterical.” But as he learned more of this woman, he saw the depth of her character, andher joy lifted him from his isolation and reserve. Thirty-five years after their wedding, hetold a Boston newspaper, “Without Julia, I think I’d be a sour old bastard living off in a


    Chinese food brought them together, at least talk of food did. He thought she could cook, butin fact she had a keen interest in food largely because she was always hungry. They loved thePeking-cuisine restaurants in this refugee city where the first cookbook was written around3000 B.C. and the “earliest restaurant” opened during the T’ang Dynasty. They drove out withOSS friends whose parents were missionaries here and who knew the language and food, and theyfeasted on the many regional Chinese cuisines. Paul also spoke to Julia about the food ofFrance, which he had enjoyed in the 1920s. Fluent in French, he talked with such a distinctinflection he seemed British to Julia. He would have been seen as effete in her nativePasadena.

    Paul was unlike the Western boys she hung around with in her large circle of friends inSouthern California, unlike any of the men her friends married. In hearing about his life, shesoon realized he had no religion, few family connections, and held the business world indisdain. He was an artist and raconteur, a black belt in jujitsu, who could mesmerizecolleagues with his stories. He represented a world she ached to know, an intellectual andEuropean world, typical of the OSS personnel (such as anthropologists Gregory Bateson and CoraDuBois) whom she had come to admire during the past year in India and China. When she describedher Presbyterian-raised father, a man of business and prominent in the civic affairs ofPasadena, Paul realized how dissimilar she was to any woman he had ever loved, for they all,including a woman he had lived with for many years, were petite, dark, and sophisticated indress and manner. In contrast, Paul found Julia youthful, but “tough-fibered” and“natural.”

    “It wasn’t like lightning striking the barn on fire,” Paul said of their meeting in India.“I just began to think, my God, this is a hell of a nice woman, sturdy, and funny withal. Andresponsible! I was filled with admiration for this classy dame.” If love grew slowly with him,for her it was the coup de foudre, and she made immediate plans to learn to cook for him. Likeher paternal grandfather, John McWilliams, who left all he knew to follow the Gold Rush in1849, she was ready to consider a break with her past.



    “Pick your grandparents”


    John McWilliams first dreamed of going to California in 1848 when he read Richard Henry Dana’sTwo Years Before the Mast (1840) and when news came of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.While John was obsessed with going to the New Eldorado, his father, James (who served in theIllinois legislature), dismissed the idea, worried about his son’s bouts with chills and thedangers from uncertain weather and Indians. But John had what he called the “going fever”:“Father, I am going to California, if I have to run away. I am going, or die.”

    Despite his father’s wishes, sixteen-year-old John, one of his cousins, and two friendsoutfitted themselves for the trip with guns, ammunition, bacon and flour. John took one bookwith him, a copy of Plutarch’s Lives. On April 9, 1849, with a wagon and four oxen, they leftGriggsville, in Pike County, Illinois, for the California territory. Eight days out, John, only121 pounds on his six-foot-one-and-a-half-inch frame, turned seventeen years old. On the ninthday he found a shroud in the bottom of his trunk and realized that his family feared he woulddie on the trail.

    During the three years he panned for gold in the Sacramento Valley of California, he gainednearly thirty pounds and a wealth of survival experience. With a gold nugget in his pocket, hetook a steamer out of San Francisco to Panama and, via railroad and steamship, reached NewOrleans and eventually St. Louis. He had been gone from Illinois nearly four years. The spiritof adventure and the beckoning call of California would never leave him.

    Drawn West by reading Richard Henry Dana’s work, her grandfather would marry not one but twoDana girls. At the death of his wife, Mary Dana, John McWilliams married her sister, ClaraMaria Dana, by whom he had three children, including one son, John McWilliams, Jr., whoseoldest daughter, Julia, inherited her grandfather’s tall, lean frame (though not his Danacoloring), his healthy physique, and his egalitarianism, curiosity about life, eagerness foradventure and travel, and intrepidity.

    When Julia was growing up, her grandfather was an elderly gentleman who had chosen to return tothe New Eldorado to spend his final years. He could spin great stories at the head of the tableand continued to watch over his rice fields in Arkansas and land investments in Kern County,California. (He learned to thresh rice when he ran a mill near Savannah after his march to thesea with General Sherman, and as a panner for gold in ’49, he knew the value of the earth’sminerals.) As Julia listened to his stories, her imagination wove pictures in which she wouldblaze new trails and dine with heroes, then serve the public interest with discipline andleadership. She would have him in mind when she was asked in the 1990s for her best advice on ahealthy life: “Pick your grandparents.” But if Julia was influenced by the pioneering spiritof her paternal grandfather, she was even more imprinted by her dynamic, redheaded mother,Julia Carolyn Weston, who married young John McWilliams, Jr., in 1911.



    Tall, redheaded “Caro” Weston was born into a family of old money, Massachusetts coloniallines, and Congregational habits. Both her parents died before her daughter Julia’s birth, butthe Weston family influence could not have been stronger had they lived. Captain Byron CurtisWeston and Julia Clark Mitchell, twelve years his junior, married just after the Civil War(1865) and had ten children over the next twenty-six years. They lived in Dalton,Massachusetts, not far from Pittsfield, in a gabled, towered, and turreted mansion calledWestonholme, which looked like a French château made of wood. The vast home, which no longerexists, was maintained by servants, nurses, a governess, a coachman, and cooks, and wassupported by the Weston Paper Company, which Byron founded in 1863. Byron Weston traced hisfamily back to the eleventh century in England; the first Weston in the New World was Edmund ofPlymouth Colony. With lineage and money, Byron was a leading citizen of Berkshire County. Hegave the Grace Episcopal Church to Dalton and the athletic field (“Weston Field”) to WilliamsCollege. His paper won a Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition in the summer of 1878. He servedthree terms (with Governor John D. Long) as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

    Julia Clark Mitchell, his wife, was a direct descendant of Governor William Bradford and ElderBrewster of the Plymouth Colony and also Priscilla Alden and Experience Mitchell, who came toPlymouth in 1623. With five ancestors in the Revolutionary War, Julia Mitchell was a proudmember of the DAR, a charter member of the Peace Party Chapter of the Colonial Dames, and a NewEngland Congregationalist. Because she was the favorite niece of poet William Cullen Bryant,whom she visited at the Evening Post in New York City on her honeymoon, she gave the middle

    name Bryant to two of her children, as she gave two others the middle name Mitchell. By thetime her seventh child was born (three babies were already dead of diphtheria), she named thegirl after herself and her husband’s mother (Carolyn Curtis): Julia Carolyn Weston, the futuremother of Julia [Carolyn McWilliams] Child.

    These Weston grandparents of Julia McWilliams were reared amid the influence of the ReverendSylvester Graham (1794–1851), who lived in the neighboring town of Northampton. Graham’sinfluence reached far beyond western Massachusetts. A former Presbyterian preacher andtemperance lecturer, Graham was a self-styled doctor of medicine, specifically a dieteticexpert, who bathed daily in the Miller River and preached against meat and white flour. Thecentral staple of his diet was slightly stale bread made from coarse, unbolted flour and oats.This inventor of Granola, graham crackers, Grape-Nuts, and Kellogg’s, had influentialfollowers: the founder of Oberlin Institute, revivalist Charles Finney, Bronson Alcott, and,for a while, Joseph Smith, Horace Greeley, and Thomas A. Edison. Such revivals/rituals, whether

    they be spiritual or nutritional, do not outlast the generation or overcome family habits, sothe later Westons were meat eaters, for Byron loved to hunt, and the family frequently hadpigeon, goose, duck, partridge, or rabbit on the table.

    In addition to family wealth and household servants, Julia Carolyn (Caro) Weston grew upsurrounded by family, gifted with the freedom that filled the space left by busy, inattentiveparents. Caro’s mother was either traveling with her father, socially engaged, or giving birth(Philip Bryant, Dorothy Dean, and Donald Mitchell were born after Caro). When Caro is mentionedin her mother’s diary, she is always in trouble for climbing or falling or reading adultbooks. She was “the more adventurous one,” according to niece Dana Parker. She loved her dogGaston, playing tennis and basketball, and driving her motorcar about town—the first woman inthe county to have a driver’s license.

    At Smith College, Caro was the outstanding athlete, basketball captain, and winner of firstplace in running, high jump, and sprinting. She had hair more pink than carrot, and a prominentnose, features that led some people to believe she was Jewish. Full-lipped, eyes riding high onher face, she wore her luxurious and wild hair in a mass atop her long oval face. “Slender”and “graceful” were the words her classmates used in their Smith yearbook to describe herstriking appearance. The only ungraceful note was her voice, which wavered in the high ranges,never seeming to emanate from her chest. Her strong presence and authority was balanced by hertiny feminine waist, cinched in by a fashionable corset and accentuated by huge puffy sleevesfrom elbow to shoulder. Her friends noted in their yearbook her “striking individuality,” aNew England inheritance nurtured by childhood freedom and money, a legacy she would give hertwo daughters, Julia and Dorothy.

    When she was a sophomore at Smith, her father had a stroke; when she was a junior, he died andher thirty-two-year-old brother, Frank, took over the Weston Paper Company. Two years after herSmith graduation in 1900, Caro’s mother died at fifty-eight of Bright’s disease, an eventthat would alter Caro’s life by leaving her the oldest Weston daughter at home. “Momma diedat ten minutes to two. We are all orphans. We need her so,” she wrote in her diary. She wouldcare for Donald (eleven years), Dorothy Dean (fifteen), and Philip (twenty-one). When Dorothycame down with consumption (tuberculosis), Caro took her to California and Colorado in hopes ofa cure.

    If her daughter Julia McWilliams Child inherited the McWilliams intelligence, organization, andstubbornness, these were moderated by the charm and joie de vivre of what was called the

    “Weston twinkle.” It was a strong dose of the natural, sometimes naughty, child’s delight innature and the company of others, exuding a warm, uncritical acceptance of life and otherpeople. It came not from old Byron Weston, the patriarchal gentleman who founded the Westonpaper mill, but from Grandmother Julia Weston, who, as a Brewster, descended from WilliamCullen Bryant and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    Julia McWilliams Child never met her maternal grandmother, Julia Mitchell Weston, butgrandmother passed her “twinkle,” her name, Celtic complexion, independent attitude, andjoyful heart to daughter and granddaughter. Though Caro was tall (for that day) at five feetseven inches, her daughter Julia would grow seven inches taller than that and her daughterDorothy eight.

    Caro, displaying an early feminist attitude, claimed not to like her father, Byron Weston,because he “wore out” her mother by giving her ten children. Of these ten children born overa twenty-five-year period from 1866 to 1891, three died before they were three years of age andonly one lived past sixty. It was the Weston curse: high blood pressure and strokes, despiteCaro’s parents frequently taking the waters, from California to the Continent. Caro, who wouldhave her first stroke when her youngest, Dorothy, was thirteen, was sixty when she died;fortunately her children inherited the McWilliams longevity. Which is why Caro chose JohnMcWilliams in the first place: she was determined to bring “new blood” into her deep butnarrow New England gene pool. She brought in his strength and intelligence and ScotchPresbyterianism as well, while passing to her children her independence and joy.

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email