Food for Thought
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto chronicles the correspondence between the two women during the painstaking process of the creation and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
It’s a fascinating read of the pen pal friendship based on writing, cooking and politics that came about after Child wrote a letter to DeVoto’s husband, concerning an article he wrote for Harper’s bemoaning American knives. One thing led to another and a fast friendship was formed.
But, what the book doesn’t detail, is Child’s correspondence with another, little-known American, a Texan called Maybelle Muleshoe, who also sent a knife to the DeVoto’s, which was forwarded to Child.
Here, for the first time ever, (seriously, ever!) are samples of the correspondence between the chef and the Texan.
81 Rue de L’Université, Paris 7 June 3, 1952
Dear Mrs. Muleshoe:
Mrs. DeVoto kindly forwarded your letter and the enclosed knife. I must say I didn’t think an American knife could be anything like this. I have used it for cutting vegetables and it does well, BUT HELL AND DAMMNATION why is it so large and why is it called a Bowie knife?
Sincerely, Mrs. Paul Child
Last Ranch on the Left
Cut and Shoot, Texas September 29, 1952
Hey there Mrs. Child!
I was gosh darn surprised to get your letter. I am glad you like the knife. We here call it a Bowie knife ‘cause of a big ol’ fight between Jim Bowie (God bless his soul) and some guys he fought off with that 10-inch knife. Some folks call it an Arkansas toothpick but not around these parts. Yes, it’s good for chopping greens but you can also gut a deer with it real well.
Bye now, Mrs. Muleshoe
81 Rue de l’Université, Paris 7 January 15, 1953
I hope the New Year finds you well! Thank you so much for the holiday gift basket. I do not know about the little orange peppers but I shall try to work them into some sort of dish. What sort of wine works well with them do you think? Are they terribly spicy? Perhaps a nice Pouilly-Fuissé do you think? Anyway, I believe Avis has found a publisher for our French cookbook and I am enclosing a chapter on fish recipes I would like to get your thoughts on.
Much love, Julia.
Last Ranch on the Left
Cut and Shoot, Texas April 12, 1953
I don’t know about that wine crap, we always just pretty much drink tequila or beer down here. Do they have a good tequila in France? And don’t use too much of them habaneros, they can be a little warm going in and coming out. You know what I mean? As for the chapter of the book you sent, I can only say that I don’t know nothin’ about those recipes. The only fish we eat are fried catfish and whatever the boys can catch down at the river. You cook your fish in wine? That kinda seems a waste o’ good hooch.
Luv ya, Maybelle
September 2, 1954
Thank you for the case of Lone Star beer. Paul and I drank some of it last night with my Coq au Vin, a rather interesting pairing. Regarding your last letter, there are no French recipes for the cooking of armadillo and I haven’t the faintest idea of what kind of sauce would help “spice it up.” I must say I am intrigued by these Tex-Mex cafes you wrote about and hope to someday come to Texas and try them. The chili con queso sounds a lot like fondue but I have no idea what a “bowl of red” is. This book business is dragging on forever. Sometimes I wonder why I ever started it and wish we’d just stuck with the cooking school.
April 1, 1955
Sorry I haven’t written in a long time, things have been real busy here at the ranch. Was darn glad to hear that you are still working on that book. I sure want to get a copy when it comes out both for all the fancy recipes and ‘cause I think it’ll be heavy enough to keep that back porch door from slammin’ in the wind. I’ve been think’ about what you said and maybe a will start a cookin’ school here in Cut and Shoot. Maybe I could get some gals to do it with me and call it Tres Gordas. Ha, ha! Thanks for the chicken recipe, I’m gonna try it Sunday when we kill one of the hens for supper. And yes, I did ship that armadillo meat to ya, please let me know when it arrives.
Sadly, this is the last of the letters to be found. History does not record whatever happened to Mrs. Muleshoe or her friendship with Julia Child. Or if the armadillo meat ever made it to France. However, we do know that no recipes for roadkill were included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and there appear to be no recipes requiring habaneros.
And this is probably a good thing.