The novel and now movie—Julie and Julia—about French cooking has revived interest in this subject and returned Julia Child’s 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to the New York Times bestseller list. Now another generation of Americans will be tempted to try their hand at Child’s Beef Bourguignon. (Preparation time: 2 hours; Level of difficulty: Difficult.)
If you’re not churning out large, fast meals for a ravenous family, cooking can be a perpetually fresh adventure. Given time, curiosity, imagination, and a full spice rack, you can pursue hours of adventure, enjoy the satisfaction of creating a sensual pleasure, and get another meal out of the way.
In the 18th Century, American colonists were beginning to move beyond the subsistence diet of pioneers. They had the time and money to look into ways of combining New World produce with Old World recipes. Cooks were combining the familiar fare of corn, beans, squash, ham, beef, and cod with European cooking methods and seasonings that were becoming more available in the larger cities.
Ben Franklin, the patron saint of moderation, was wary of these culinary innovations:
“In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires.”
He later advised:
“To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.”
It was good advice, but hard to follow, even for Franklin, who loved good food and company as much as he loved virtue. So it is not surprising to see that he wrote, late in life:
“I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.”