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   Date: 12/9/09 Bookmark and Share

Dinner with Judith Jones

Judith Jones, a renowned food writer and former editor for Knopf Publishing, recently shared dinner with students in the first-year seminar "What's in a Recipe?" taught by Nancy Saporta Sternbach, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, on her way to a reading and book signing for The Pleasures of Cooking for One at the Odyssey Bookshop in nearby South Hadley. This is students' account of the event.

An Adoration of Food

Judith Jones knows food. She knows how to cook, how to taste, and is particularly keen on the use of garlic.

Students hang on the words of Judith Jones during a recent dinner (click on picture for enlarged view).

It was with this knowledge that we students in the course “What’s in a Recipe?” recently brainstormed a meal for the well-known food writer and editor. As the crucial voice that gave the nod to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Jones made a name for herself in the literary world by publishing Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden, and other cookbook giants under the Knopf imprint. Jones is also the editor responsible for publishing The Diary of Anne Frank.

"What’s in a Recipe?” a class often mistakenly referred to as Professor Sternbach’s “cooking class,” has been discussing recipes as important cultural records. In preparation for Jones’ visit, we set into a flurry of preparation, debating whether butternut squash or onion soup would be more appropriate and trying to find the perfect dishes containing abundant doses of garlic.

As we gathered in Sternbach's kitchen to make soup, a salad, and some delicious Turkish mezes, accompanied by organic artisan bread from Northampton's Hungry Ghost bakery, a new “embedded discourse” was unfolding, mingling with the stories already attached to the recipes. We were truly interacting with the recipes to create a meal that could not only be consumed but also enjoyed.

The entire class decided to wait on the corner of the street to signal Jones in anticipation of her arrival, in fear that she would miss the house. The meal passed smoothly, with Jones recounting stories about Child, including how much she had enjoyed her time at Smith! We all laughed at Jones' spot-on imitations of Julia's voice and mannerisms that rivaled Meryl Streep. Several students remarked that many of the things she expressed in conversation were perfect parallels to what we had been discussing in class. It was a great feeling of validation for what we had been doing all semester.

On a crisp autumn afternoon in November the sound of laughter filled the air. Looking into the dining room one would find a group of about 10 young women huddled around a table listening intently to the words of a poised and graceful 85-year-old woman.

When we began talking about Jones' new book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, she shared her personal belief about how it is important to honor oneself by cooking a nice dinner. She does this for herself every night, along with setting the table properly, putting on some music and pouring herself a glass of wine. The care Jones takes to set time aside every day to enjoy a hearty meal greatly contrasts with the hurrying or skipping of meals, which is increasingly becoming a reality within our country. "We rush through meals and make eating into a thing to do in between other events instead of making it its own, very special event," she said.

Jones welcomed our gesture, and wanted to hear and taste our stories. As she sat down to the table, we thought she'd been eavesdropping on our class when she said, "Every recipe has a story," which is a universal theme we have been studying. She repeatedly expressed, both during tea and at her book signing and discussion at the Odyssey Bookshop how proud she thought Julia Child would be that students from her beloved alma matter had taken such an interest in food and cooking and what those two things mean in terms of history, culture, and family.

We all agreed: Judith Jones seems to be handing us the torch. She was so glad to see the next generation, who also saw the need to create beauty out of recipes, boiling over with an adoration of food.

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