The "Julia Child" Heirloom Tomato
The unflappable "French Chef," educator, and world-renowned cook, Julia Child, was a mentor and a dear friend of mine for more than 20 years. She passed away in Santa Barbara, California on August 14, 2004.
She was 91 when she died.
Background of "Julia Child" Heirloom Tomato
"Early in 2001, while enjoying lunch with Julia Child at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, California, I told her about my having in my tomato seed trials several un-named varieties. I followed by asking her, "If I'm able to grow an heirloom tomato that's good enough to name after you, what kind would you like it to be?" I suspected she might say, red, pink, or yellow. However, after just a moment's hesitation, Julia looked at me and replied, "Tasty, my dear."
I wanted to pay tribute to Julia for her generosity to me and the rest of the world's food lovers.
From some of the many heirloom tomato seeds sent to me over the years by families who had grown their favorites for generations, I grew a small number of un-named varieties in my annual trials, the seeds for which may have come in an envelope with a note like, "our favorite tomato for you to try." I anticipated that I would eventually name the better tasting ones. During our 2001 harvest I hosted a tasting of my four preferred tomato varieties. The one selected as ?best tasting? I named, "Julia Child." Each year until her death in 2004, Dagma and I delivered to her a case of her namesake tomatoes to her home in Montecito, CA, which she shared with friends, saving for herself some tomatoes for her favorite tomato ?samich? (white bread, thick slice of tomato, mayo and a spray of salt).
"Julia Child" is an open-pollinated, heirloom tomato. The tall, indeterminate, potato-leaf plant produces abundance of 4?, deep-pink, lightly-fluted, beefsteak fruits that have the kind of robust tomatoey flavors and firm, juicy flesh that invites tomato feasting and seed-saving, with more than enough acidity and earthy nuances to balance its sweet, fruity flavors.
Brief Highlights of Julia Child's Background
Julia Child, co-founded the American Institute of Wine & Food in 1981 with Robert Mondavi and the late Richard Graff, as a non-profit educational organization dedicated to improving the appreciation, understanding, and accessibility of food and drink.
She was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America's Hall of Fame. She mastered the art of French cooking and co-founded L'Ecole de Trois Gourmandes with her friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
After moving to Cambridge, MA in 1961 Julia introduced Americans to the culinary splendor of French cuisine and went on to publish more than 10 cookbooks over the next 40 years.
Her television show, "The French Chef" became America's most popular cooking show and the longest running program on public television for which she won an Emmy Award.
Among her many other awards, Julia was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Legion of Honor from the French government. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. has re-created Julia Child's television kitchen for an exhibit on American culture.
Some Personal Memories of Julia Child
I adored Julia's humor, appreciated her affection and dedication to young persons (students and professional) in the kitchen and I more than respected her stamina.
I had the good fortune of having dined with Julia for many years, in different cities at celebrity chef restaurants, at my own home and the homes of friends, and at many food & wine educational forums and fundraisers (most of which were for the American Institute of Wine & Food).
I fondly recall:
Dagma Lacey & Julia Child at Lunch
How important it was to her that people enjoy the pleasures of cooking and dining together and that families dined with their children. More than several times she reminded me, as a single dad of two sons, of the significance of being at home cooking and dining with my sons, versus taking what might have appeared at the time to be the more expedient choice of dining separately due to school and professional demands.
A birthday lunch for me at a restaurant in Carmel, California. We arrived around noon and grazed upon culinary goodies, Champagne and each other's laughter prior to going to a black-tie 'Dinner With Julia' fundraiser for 150 persons at a local estate. At 4:30 I said, "Julia, we have to get ready for dinner." That's OK," she replied, "I only need 20 minutes to freshen up and fix my hair and I'm ready to go." She continued to dine and celebrate the evening till almost 1AM when I, almost pleading, asked her if she was ready to call it a night. "In a while," she replied. Almost 30 years her junior, I was rarely able to eat as much or keep up with her schedule of celebrating food & wine.
The "California Celebration for Julia Child's 80th Birthday" at the Highlands Inn. Several days before the event I had been attempting to obtain a Letter of Recognition for Julia from President George Bush. One hour before the event such a letter was faxed to me. During dinner, prior to reading the letter for all, I recalled the difficulty I had in getting through to the President through the filter of people who proclaimed their love for Julia. After reading the generous letter from George and Barbara Bush, I sat down next to her at the dinner table. She pulled me close to her and said in not too much of a whisper, "Your didn't need to go through all that trouble Gary, you know I'm a Democrat."
A few years ago I had a page on the TomatoFest.com website where people could send a "Happy Birthday Julia" note to Julia that I would present to her. I was overwhelmed with 'love letters' that came in from all over the world from people of all ages who wanted to share with Julia how she had richly and wonderfully impacted their lives through her cookbooks and television show. Some of these people had briefly met her many years prior, most had only dreamed of meeting her. Some had wept with their words of her recipes shared with loved ones. Some shared the power of her inspiration to lead them to careers in food and wine. I presented her this 'book' of "Love Letters To Julia" as a gift from her students & friends.
The evening I accepted an impromptu dinner invitation to a friend's house for a family dinner. I asked to bring along "my friend" with me who was visiting. I did not reveal that my friend was Julia. After the initial shock, the evening settled into dining comfortably at home.with Julia. The food and the company were beautifully memorable.
At her home in Santa Barbara. Dagma and I would take her, after each year's first tomato harvest, a box of her namesake "Julia Child" tomatoes, ripe-soft and fresh from the vine. She would share them with all her friends and save some for her favorite Tomato Samich (white bread, thick slice of tomato, mayo and a spray of salt). On her last days with us, we presented her with ripe tomatoes at the hospital.