Today, it’s probably easiest to picture Julia Child like this–towering over a stove, whipping up culinary delights, and peppering her half-hour television show with her delightful humor. Now firmly an American culinary icon, she remains popular through media like Dan Aykroyd’s SNL parody or the cooking blog/book/film Julie & Julia.
But what about Julia Child’s hidden passion: collecting cookbooks? She began collecting seriously while living in France in the 1950s and leading cooking lessons from her home. During this time, she was also tasked with co-writing the 734-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Child consistently referenced her growing collection while developing and refining recipes. Like nearly every endeavor Child undertook, her collection reflects her gusto and seriousness for the emerging discipline of food studies.
By the end of her life, her nearly 5,000 book collection spanned three centuries, covering major figures in modern French cuisine (17th century-present) and American cookbook history (18th century-present). There’s even a first edition of The Joy of Cooking (1931)! If you happen to find yourself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can go see this sizable collection at the Radcliffe Institute’s The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. Generally, the cookbooks have inscriptions or accompanying letters that explain how and when Child collected the particular book. They also can reveal the use she made of her books in her own recipe creation.
- Learn more about one of Julia Child’s oldest cookbooks!
- Buy a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (1961).