Food and Friends
Simone “Simca” Beck, Julia Child and Season Two of ‘Julia’
The Second Season of the MAX series Julia, the story of Julia Child’s rise to TV cooking-show stardom and beloved culinary icon premieres tonight, November 16.
Part of the season will be set in France as Julia visits her friend and co-author of Mastering the Art French Cooking (Volumes I and II) Simone “Simca” Beck.
This photo from the new season featuring Isabella Rossellini (l) as Simca and Sarah Lancashire (r) as Julia is via the Julia Child Foundation Instagram page — click on the post for other Julia news.
Knowing there will be more of Isabella Rossellini’s portrayal of Simca this season sent me to my bookcase to grab Ms. Beck’s thirty-two-year-old memoir, Food & Friends: Recipes and Memories from Simca’s Cuisine.
I learned about Simca’s book when I was attending — and working as an intern (we were called by the French term, ‘stagiaires’) at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School more than three decades ago.
One of my favorite instructors, the talented chef, food stylist and artist Paul Grimes had worked with and become great friends with Ms. Beck in France and was invited to illustrate the book. As Simca says in the introduction, Paul’s “inspired sketches illuminate this book”.
There are full menus and recipes galore interspersed with the story of Simca’s life, which is the stuff of novels. The book opens with this:
I nearly fell into the saucepan at seven years old, when I stood up on a stool, stuck my nose well into the pan, and was riveted by what was going on there.
Beck was born in Normandy in 1904, enjoyed the Paris of the 1920’s, had an early, unsuccessful marriage followed by a very happy marriage to Jean Victor Fischbacher. Then came the nightmare of WWII.
She met Julia in post-war Paris and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume I) was published in 1961.
Her relationship with Child was a complicated one and I’ll be writing more about that in a future post. Judith Jones’ book The Tenth Muse will bring much to that discussion (Jones was Julia’s editor and you’ll be seeing her again in Season Two portrayed by actress Fiona Glascott.)
Simca called Julia ‘my American sister’ and Child called Beck ‘my French sister’ but there was well documented tension between them. They parted company as co-authors of the series after the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking , Volume II.
Still, they remained connected till the very end, with Child writing the glowing introduction to Food & Friends, Ms. Beck’s final book. Simca died just a few months after its publication in 1991 at the age of 87.
There’s so much I need to go back to in Food & Friends, so I’ll be dipping into it again as a “companion” to the series.
Simone Beck celebrated her first Thanksgiving with Paul and Julia Child in 1961 and wrote about it in Food & Friends:
I knew Americans liked to think big, but this was a staggering proposition for a home-cooked meal. I was interested to see how the leviathan would turn out.
We finally enjoyed it, with gravy and all the “trimmings” — which seemed exotic to me, even the bread-crumb-herb-sage stuffing. At home in France, we usually have sausage- or chestnut-based stuffings or none at all. I was also intrigued by the cranberry sauce, corn, yams and other side dishes overflowing our plates.
I was pleased to discover pumpkin pie, something still unknown in France today, except to people with American friends.
Even the great Simone Beck thought preparing Thanksgiving dinner was a big deal.
Julia’s Notes who writes the fantastic newsletter has taken on Julia Child’s culinary notes this week. The post is below — a great read with Jillian’s fascinating research.
Happy Substack Thanksgiving
Leigh Olson put together a Thanksgiving menu drawn from posts by fellow Substack writers and it is charming. Click on the post below to read more. Thank you to Leigh (who writes the wonderful) for including me at your table. 🍁
Coming up next time for premium subscribers
Mark Twain, Emcee at the Greatest Banquet in American History, 1879
We’re traveling to the second Palmer House in Chicago, 1879, for the “Greatest Banquet in American History.”
Bertha Palmer, the unofficial First Lady of Chicago (and the subject of my book research) is the host as she welcomes Ulysses S. Grant as the honored guest at the affair. Bertha’s sister, Ida, was married to President Grant’s son, Fred.
As with any good banquet, the honored guest is roasted — this time at 3am — by Mark Twain.
I’ve got the menu, the drinks, the toasts and roasts, Grant’s reaction to Twain, descriptions of the Red Lacquer Room it was held in and I even found the Limoges china that was used — now in a vault — at the third Palmer House.
If you haven’t already, and you’re enjoying Time Travel Kitchen, I hope you’ll consider upgrading your subscription to become a paid subscriber so you won’t miss out on any of the places my research takes us. You may also want to surprise someone with a gift subscription! 🎁
Have a good week and I wish everyone ‘Bon Appétit and Happy Thanksgiving’ with this goofy but heartfelt illustration from 1954.
Thanks for being here.
Beck, Simone with Patterson, Suzanne. Food & Friends. New York, Viking Penguin, 1991.
Time Travel Kitchen is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber