Judith Jones and Edna Lewis

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

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As most of us know, Judith Jones is the editor who brought Julia Child’s, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, into brillaint, crystalline focus.

She edited Marcella Hazan. She worked with Irene Kuo. She honed the craft of Claudia Roden. And she made Madhur Jaffrey known to the world.

 writes in her engaging article, A Helping of Gravy: Judith and Edna about the collaboration between Judith Jones and Edna Lewis.

Ms. Jones was very interested in exploring the ‘factors shaping American culture in the second half of the twentieth century’. While researching this area of American life, she gravitated to regional American food.

Ms. Camp Arnold writes:

On a trip to Georgia in the early 1970s with her journalist husband, Evan Jones, who was researching his 1975 book, American Food: The Gastronomic Story, Jones noted a lack of  “good Southern cooking” in Atlanta. To get their fix, they sought out rural boarding houses where they ate fluffy biscuits and perfectly fried chicken. American regional cooking, she recognized, was fast disappearing. Jones thought she could do for American food what she had done for French. She believed she could get recipes and stories on the page and encourage home cooks to keep the pots of tradition simmering. She began that quest by collaborating with Edna Lewis.

I realize how much the bond that held us together had to do with food. -Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis was wowing folks at a New York City East Side restaurant, Café Nicholson, cooking a mix of Southern and French cuisine. She had ambition and wanted to produce a cookbook. She procured an agent who set her up with a collaborator–with little to show for their efforts, Judith Jones was called in to shape the book.

The article goes on to explain:

After a few months of false starts, the chef and her writer were sent to meet with Jones, who was known by then for her skill at coaxing prose out of novice authors. Jones remembers, “It was when she started to talk. All I did was ask some questions! You knew how much she knew when she started telling the story about her mother, who used eggshells to put seeds in so they could go into the ground on the first warm day.”

Needless to say, the collaborator was out, Judith Jones was in. The two women began to meet regularly and while Ms. Lewis talked about what she knew, Ms. Jones took copious notes. Even at the end of their first meeting Judith Jones knew she had something special.

“Write it just as you remember saying it,” she told Lewis. And so it went. For months, the two tugged together at the threads of memory and massaged them into what we now know as Lewis’s signature voice—certain, evocative, and no-nonsense.

Knopf published The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976.

Edna Lewis wrote this in her book:

“And when we share again in gathering wild strawberries, canning, rendering lard, finding walnuts, picking persimmons, making fruitcake, I realize how much the bond that held us together had to do with food.”

As in most things in life, we owe much to the people who went before. This is an example of a personal, professional, and successful partnership that yielded such abundant results that we are all richer for it.

Much praise goes to Sara Camp Arnold and Southern Foodways Alliance for this enlightening and uplifting article. Thank you.

Do you own a copy of Edna Lewis’ The Taste of the Country?

Photo credit: Peace and Love in the Kitchen Thank you.