Julia Child: Tall Numbers for a Tall Lady

Julia Child on the set of The French Chef.
Julia Child on the set of The French Chef.

In 1961 Julia Child stepped onto the set of I’ve Been Reading at Boston’s public television station WGBH with a hot plate, a giant whisk and some eggs, to promote her newly published cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When the show was over the fans wanted more, setting off a four-decades-long career in educational television.

For Julia, the path to PBS was full of obstacles including being deemed unqualified for the expert class at the famed Parisian school, Le Cordon Bleu, in 1949 and failing her first graduation exam in 1950. Later, after 7 years in the making, the manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cooking was rejected twice by Houghton Mifflin before being published in 1961. In her cooking series, Julia talks to viewers about overcoming fear of failure in the kitchen. 

Julia Child - "Don't be afraid of failure in the kitchen" from The Herbangardener on Vimeo.

This tenacity of spirit – combined with a passion for learning and sharing culinary techniques – made her a favorite in homes across America. In celebration of what would have been her 102nd birthday, let’s look back at her career “by the numbers,” beginning with the fans who made her first show possible:

  • 27 = Number of letters written to WGBH by viewers wanting to see more Julia Child after watching her I’ve Been Reading segment.
  • 19 = Average number of hours Julia spent prepping for each half-hour segment of The French Chef.
  • 199 = Total number of programs of The French Chef produced between 1963 and 1966.
  • 13 = Number of episodes of The French Chef that no longer exist. The first tapes were worn out before they could be duplicated by WGBH for use by affiliate stations.
  • 10 = Number of honorary doctorates Julia Child received from colleges including Boston University, Rutgers University, Smith College and Harvard.
  • 753 = Pounds of butter used during filming of the series Baking with Julia.
  • 3 = Number of Emmys Julia won, including the first Emmy award for an educational program.
  • 1,200 = Approximate number of items moved from Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
  • 1.6 million = Approximate copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking that have been printed since 1961.
  • 1 = Number of times Julia edited videotape with a meat cleaver.


So far, our number of attempts to make Julia’s Cherry Clafoutis is one. Our estimated number of tries to get it right is at least two. Bon appétit!

Julia Child’s Cherry Clafoutis 

Ingredients
3 cups of dark cherries, pitted (or any other fruit of your choice)
1 1/4 cups milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
Butter for baking dish
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Bake time 45-60 minutes

Instructions
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 10" cast iron skillet (or your choice of baking dish) with butter.
3. With an electric mixer on low speed combine the milk, eggs, 1/3 of the sugar, vanilla, salt and flour in a bowl. Let the mixture sit for up to ten minutes, or until slightly thickened and bubbles have subsided.
4. Pour 1/4 of the batter into the skillet and bake for up to 5 minutes or until the top is beginning to set.
5. Remove from the oven and spread the cherries over the batter. Sprinkle in the remaining sugar.
6. Carefully pour the remaining batter over the top of the cherries and smooth the surface.
7. Bake for a further 45-60 minutes or until puffed, golden and the edges are beginning to crisp.
8. Remove from oven, sprinkle powdered sugar and serve warm.

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

References:
“American Still Has an Appetite for Julia Child,” WGBH.org: http://www.wgbh.org/watch/julia_child_bio.cfm
“Timeline,” juliachildfoundation.org: http://www.juliachildfoundation.org/timeline.html
“10 Crucial Facts About the Julia Child’s Kitchen Exhibit, Reopening Tomorrow,” dc.eater.com: http://dc.eater.com/archives/2012/08/14/10-crucial-facts-about-the-julia-child-kitchen-exhibit-reopening-tomorrow.php
“About Julia Child,” PBS.org/wnet/americanmasters: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/julia-child/about-julia-child/555/

Photo credits:
Top left: Julia Child lines up chickens of various sizes on the set of The French Chef. Courtesy of Paul Child.
Top right: Julia Child with the television crew on the set of The French Chef. Courtesy of Paul Child.

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