I had the privilege of working with Julia Child on her “Dinner at Julia’s” PBS series in 1983 and had kept in touch right up until the end. She was intrigued with the esoteric information I had about fish and shellfish. Julia was as much a sponge for new knowledge and experience as I was. She hauled an ice chest with her salmon fishing in Northern Canada to test my theory of how fish tasted better if it was dressed, bled and went through rigor mortis in ice. She was amazed at the difference. To my chagrin and amusement, she called me the “The Fish Missionary”.
Knowing that Julia loved really good food more than anything, I would send her really good things I was working with from time to time in gratitude for her being Julia. A courtship of sorts. I would let her know such-and-such was coming if she would be interested. She always was. Once it was a handsome, high-brix cabbage from my garden. Julia was mad about oysters. After sending Julia her first fat-bellied slab of Copper River king salmon, I called to check on how it went, how she’d cooked it.
“With such a beautiful fish, there is only one thing to do,” she says. “Poach it in butter! It was just wonderful.” She characteristically wanted to know how I cooked the salmon. I think she came to prefer the pan-seared, slow-and-gentle skillet method I use.
Julia adored Frog Hollow peaches. Her August 15 birthday came at the peak of the season. Birthday peaches became a tradition. She made sure there were enough to share with her family who gathered at a remote resort in Maine on her birthday. She was good about sending juicy reports afterwards. Julia liked to eat these peaches with a spoon.
In her last years Julia, unable to travel, resided in a pleasant assisted-living facility in Santa Barbara. In August 2004 I asked her if she would like her birthday peaches sent there. “I would like that very much,” she said in her sing-song voice.
The peaches arrived the day Julia died; she never got to taste them.
I heard the news shortly after she died from Stephanie Hersch, her longtime assistant. It was an emotional moment. Julia had encouraged me when I was having trouble finding my path.
In Santa Barbara, a birthday celebration with close friends went on as planned. Pastry chef Jim Dodge was inspired to use Julia’s birthday peaches in what Stephanie said was quite an amazing birthday cake. Julia would have loved that story.