LET'S hit the high points of Judith Jones' career: pushed through the American translation of "The Diary of Anne Frank" and published Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Edited food legends such as Child, Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Marion Cunningham, James Beard, Lidia Bastianich and Edna Lewis. And in her spare time edited the fiction of Anne Tyler and John Updike. If you happened across a character like that in a novel, you'd never believe it.
Now she's summed up that remarkable life -- or at least many parts of it -- in her autobiography, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" (Knopf, $24.95). It's a fascinating look at how much things have changed in the last century, not just in terms of food itself, but also in how we write about it.
Jones was raised in what sounds like a very traditional New England household; food was regarded as a physical indignity to be endured the best one could. She relates how her mother, well into her 90s, once asked plaintively: "Tell me Judith, do you really like garlic?" It is little wonder, then, that her generation took on the appreciation of flavor with an evangelical fervor -- something that seems almost quaint today when it seems every other person you meet has a food blog.
Still, apparently, her connection to food was early and it was real. Though the family didn't seem to do much cooking, it did employ a housekeeper, Edie Price, who fascinated Jones. "The Tenth Muse" isn't a cookbook, but there are recipes that illustrate points, and many of them -- notably some delicious old-fashioned croquettes -- come from Price.
Others, such as her bitki, date to her early college experiments (and as a reminder that a cook never stops learning, she offers a version updated with Middle Eastern flavors courtesy of Roden).
And some come from her period of full foodie flower, when she and husband Evan Jones explored the culinary traditions of their native New England and came up with gems such as frozen maple mousse.
But for the most part, "The Tenth Muse" is more about writing about cooking than about the act of cooking. And for that, Judith Jones, the editor par excellence, is unequaled -- and sure to make many of this generation's aspiring food writers green with envy.
In her heyday -- roughly the early 1960s through the mid-1980s, though Jones continues to work today -- editors actively sought out previously unheard voices and then worked hand in hand with the authors to bring the books to print. Jones found Roden, Cunningham and even the previously oft-rejected Child through friends, Jaffrey through the slush pile, and Hazan through Craig Claiborne's New York Times column.
Once she found them, she worked with them intensely. Apparently it was not uncommon for her almost to move in with an author for a month or two during the preparation of the manuscript.
All of this is a far cry from today, when cookbook publishing has been industrialized to the point that it is exceedingly difficult for authors without an established publicity "platform" (i.e. television show or restaurant) to get their books published. And when editors, who generally do little line-editing, are spread so thin their communication with authors is largely by occasional e-mail.
Indeed, the strength of the book for me is Jones' sketches of some of the people she worked with. These are clear-eyed but generally sympathetic -- she does seem to have a great editor's affection for writers -- though it must be said that Hazan might not be pleased with her portrait. Apparently Hazan was not so open to suggestion as other writers and was quite frank about it.
As autobiography, "The Tenth Muse" is a throwback as well. While today's writers seem compelled to confess, Jones for the most part honors the New Englander's rock-ribbed code of omerta. Even the death of her beloved husband is dealt with in an elliptical fashion that seems a little puzzling. And I couldn't help but want to know more about her editing Tyler and Updike -- both are dealt with in a sentence or two about their relationship to the table (Tyler's positive, Updike's not so much).
But then, this is primarily a book about a life in food, not a life in general. And what a life it has been.
Middle Eastern bitki
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Note: Adapted from "The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones.
6 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil, or a combination
3 very large white onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons water
1. Tear the bread into rough pieces into a bowl (you should have about 2 1/2 cups bread pieces), and pour the milk over. Let soak. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and saute the onions slowly, stirring occasionally. After a few minutes, cover the pan and continue to saute over low heat, shaking the pan and stirring occasionally so the onions don't stick, until they are soft and golden, about 45 minutes.
2. When the bread is soft, squeeze out the milk and discard the milk. Mix the bread with the ground lamb, cinnamon, allspice, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper, then form into balls a little smaller than a golf ball. Make an indentation in each lamb ball and insert a few pine nuts, then close up the dent.
3. Tuck the meatballs into the pan with the onions and cook slowly, covered, turning them now and then, for about 20 minutes.
4. When the meatballs are done, whisk the yogurt and cornstarch paste together in a saucepan over low heat until thoroughly blended, and let the mixture simmer as slowly as possible, stirring in one direction, for about 10 minutes. Stir the yogurt mixture in with the lamb balls and onions, season to taste if necessary and sprinkle just a little dried mint on top.
Each serving: 629 calories; 37 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 37 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 149 mg. cholesterol; 1,133 mg. sodium.
Total time: 40 minutes, plus at least 5 hours chilling time
Note: Adapted from "The Tenth Muse"
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups finely minced cooked turkey
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, chives, marjoram or mint or a combination
Freshly ground pepper
Flour for dredging
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 quart or more canola oil for deep-frying
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook gently over low heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Off heat, pour in the chicken broth and whisk vigorously. Return the sauce to medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, stirring constantly to eliminate any lumps and cook gently, about 5 minutes. Stir in the turkey, green onions, herbs, one-half teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper and let cool, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Shape the cold meat mixture into four croquettes (roughly 4-inch cylinders flattened at the ends); roll them first in flour, then in egg, and finally in breadcrumbs, making sure that they are coated all over. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. In a large, deep pot, heat the oil until a thermometer inserted reads 360 degrees, or until a crumb of bread dropped in the oil sizzles immediately but doesn't turn dark quickly, and lower the croquettes, one or two at a time, into the hot fat. After about 2 minutes, when browned on the bottom, turn them and fry for 1 or 2 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve, but they are best eaten right away.
Each serving: 428 calories; 25 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 28 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 129 mg. cholesterol; 573 mg. sodium.
Frozen maple mousse
Total time: 30 minutes, plus freezing time
Note: Adapted from "The Tenth Muse"
1 cup maple syrup
2 egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream
1. Pour the maple syrup into a deep 1-quart pan and set over medium heat. Bring the syrup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer. Watch the syrup closely. When a thermometer reads 260 degrees (or when the syrup forms a thread when dropped from a spoon) -- this should take about 20 minutes -- immediately remove the pan from the heat. When the syrup is almost to temperature put the egg whites in a mixing bowl (if using a handheld mixer) or the bowl of a standing electric mixer with the salt. Beat until they form firm peaks, about a minute. With the mixer going, pour the hot syrup in a thin, steady stream into the whites.
2. Pour the cream into a separate bowl, preferably over a panful of ice to get greater volume, and beat until soft mounds form. Fold the beaten cream into the maple-egg mixture, turn into a serving bowl or individual sherbet glasses, and freeze for 2 hours before serving.
Each serving: 282 calories; 2 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 15 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 54 mg. cholesterol; 62 mg. sodium.