If you watched the movie Julie & Julia, you met the Hollywood version of Avis DeVoto (played by Deborah Rush), one of Julia Child’s dear friends. The friendship started via mail: Avis’s husband, Bernard DeVoto, wrote a column for Harper’s Magazine, and in one issue he wrote about bad American cutlery. Julia Child, then still living in Paris, read the column and wrote to Bernard, sending him a wonderfully sharp French carbon steel knife for his kitchen. Avis DeVoto handled most of Bernard’s correspondence, and so she responded to Julia Child. And that was the start of a long friendship. (Gotta love a relationship built on good cooking knives.) They wrote back and forth to each other without meeting until two years after the letter about the knives.
Though you may not know of DeVoto, she was a cookbook editor at Alfred A. Knopf from 1956-1958, and her work included adapting Elizabeth David’s Italian Food for an American audience. Though it was Judith Jones at Knopf who finally edited and published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, DeVoto actually got the book to Knopf. And, Avis DeVoto supported Child throughout the entire ten-year project and beyond, until DeVoto died in 1989.
The letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto are now archived at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, but we can enjoy them in our July selection, As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto edited by food historian Joan Reardon. You’ll get an intimate view of Julia Child, and follow the progression (including rejection by Houghton Mifflin) of the landmark cookbook that had such a tremendous impact on American cooking. You’ll also get some interesting insight into their shared thoughts on everything from McCarthyism to sex. Once you read these letters, I think you’ll have a new appreciation for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Join us at 6pm on Tuesday, July 12, at Church Street Coffee and Books, 81 Church Street in Crestline Village, for coffee, pastries, and a conversation about the lives and letters of Avis DeVoto and Julia Child.