“Remember to save every little bit of leftovers as long as they stay fresh. Even a half cup of tomato sauce or a tiny piece of cooked beef or chicken or pâté can be worked into other things for extra flavor.”
That was the highly personal culinary advice I received from Judith Jones about two-and-half years ago over a catch-up lunch at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Upper East Side restaurant JoJo. It was advice offered after the recent death of my husband, Richard Falcone, and was based on her own sadly gained experience following the 1996 death of her own husband, the very amiable and skillful writer, Evan Jones.
Her mastering of that lonely task was touchingly, temptingly put forth in her book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, although somehow, that “pleasure” still seems to allude me.
Slight, fair, and in neatly tailored dress, Judith Jones who died on Aug. 2, in her Vermont home at age 93, was one of the very few people of whom I was in awe, probably because she emanated an almost patrician assured intactness that flustered me. With an eye for quality and a trust in her own judgment, she salvaged two widely diverse books from possible oblivion: first in 1950 when, as a young editorial assistant in the Paris office of Doubleday, she recognized the importance of the already rejected manuscript of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Similarly, as an editor at Alfred Knopf in New York, she saw the potential of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and, of course, Julia Child, after the hefty, highly detailed manuscript had been turned down by several other houses. Published in 1961, and followed by Child’s The French Chef TV cooking series on PBS two years later, Mastering inspired a sea change in the American view of eating and, especially, of home-cooking.
Throughout her professional life, she brought her editing abilities and integrity not only to food, but to works of authors such as Anne Tyler, who’s wonderfully evocative novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Judith sent to me correctly thinking it was right up my alley. She was also John Updike’s editor and arranged for the three of us to have a wonderful lunch, during which I interviewed him on his feelings about food. (He said that he liked to make meat-loaf because one can always have ideas about that and change the form as things went along.)
After growing up in New York where she was born in 1923, the then-Judith Bailey attended the prestigious Brearley School and later Bennington College in Vermont, but it was a lengthy stay in Paris that made her a life-long Francophile. She became adept enough in French, to eventually edit translations of books by literary greats Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. And though always favoring French food, she appreciated the value of other cuisines and so edited books by James Beard and Edna Lewis on American cooking, Marcella Hazan on the Italian kitchen, Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David on the foods of England, France, and Italy, and Claudia Roden on Middle Eastern cuisine.
While other publishers from the mid-1960s through the ’70s offered serious, influential books—such as those of Giulliano Bugialli (Italian), Paula Wolfert (Moroccan), and Diane Kennedy (Mexican), as well as many works on Chinese cooking—it was the seriousness and success of Mastering that set the tone for the period.
Thanks to Judith and Child, plus the addition of other TV cooking shows, there was a veritable frenzy of home-cooking that peaked from the mid ’60s to the early ’80s. In 1976, for The New York Times I reviewed all of the cooking classes I could find in Manhattan, plus a few in Brooklyn and Queens, and had a total of 61 to report on. Men caught the passion and joined the classes with a seriousness, especially toward professional utensils, that had not been evidenced by most women. Restaurant ranges were installed in home kitchens and pasta, sausage, bread, and ice cream makers were all the rage. And that’s not to mention the newly introduced Cuisinart food processor that took much of the drudgery out of handwork, an insightful observation of Craig Claiborne, who was then the food editor at the Times.
Sometime during the mid-’80s, passions switched from the home kitchen to restaurant hopping and the level of serious home-cooking declined. I began to imagine unused model kitchens resembling deserted mining towns in Colorado, minus only the tumbleweed.
But perhaps the flame has not died completely as Mastering and myriad other serious cookbooks keep selling, and surely Judith herself, never wavered on the pleasures of home-cooking.
I know I will never waiver in my appreciation of Judith as a friend and colleague and will enjoy a pleasant flashback whenever I wrap up a leftover chicken drumstick or a small dab of pâté.