A week or so ago, I went to The French Connection: A Gala Tribute to Julia Child and Charlotte Turgeon held at Hotel Northampton. It was a gathering of good food and memories shared by those who knew, cooked with, dined with or worked with the two.
As you may know, both women wrote cookbooks and taught cooking classes, and graduated from Smith College in 1934, although it was Charlotte who went to France first.
Charlotte attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris in 1937 who didn’t know how to boil an egg before she went and enrolled in the school because she was “bored to death” at the Sorbonne. Julia met her husband Paul while working at the office of Strategic Services. In 1948, they moved to Paris and she too enrolled in the Cordon Bleu upon her husband’s suggestion in 1948.
Julia and Charlotte were also lifelong friends who shared a passion for French cuisine and martinis as I was soon to discover.
Charlotte’s signature martinis and tea sandwiches kicked the evening forward. Six panelists and the moderator offered insights about the women like the time when Julia was about to go on the radio to cook and asked if it would be okay to do so without shoes and of course, she didn’t have to wear make-up.
A man in the audience stood up and shared the story about the time Charlotte invited him to her house for pork chops and martinis. She told him to make the martinis and that the vermouth was in the refrigerator. He said they were the best martinis he ever drank. Years later he discovered that Charlotte made her own vermouth from extra-strong pre-mixed martinis.
Panelist Betty Rosbottom recounted a story she once read in The Boston Globe, Julia was asked to what do you owe your longevity. “Red meat and gin,” she replied. For Charlotte, it was simply gin.
We, a roomful of friends and strangers, were one or two martinis into living a good long life.
As for the red meat, I hadn’t seen the episode of Late Night with David Letterman (from the late ’80s) when Julia Child taught him to make hamburgers. Julia had been at a Good Morning America taping earlier that day and brought her leftover supplies. He grated the onion and shed blood into the mix while Julia seasoned the meat with salt and pepper. They placed them in the pan, and when the hot plate wouldn’t work, she said without pause that they were changing the menu. She pulled out a blowtorch and melted cheese over the raw beef and said we’ll call it beef tartare gratinée.
After the panel ended, it was upstairs for Hors d’oeuvres: assorted pâtés and terrines, baguettes, and more, which I somehow missed. The evening ended with more French food (featuring local restaurants) and buffet-style dinner and desserts, my favorite among them being the assorted triple cream and goat milk gruyère cheeses from the Farmstead at Mine Brook and new potatoes and carrots from Chez Albert. I sipped wines with each plate, mostly the red varieties, skipped dessert and drank a cup of IndoChine Tea (from Cooks Shop Here) that reminded me of wood and orange silk with swirls of mushrooms.
The next day, I made this boozy mushroom sauce and spooned it over tagliatelle in honor of Julia and Charlotte, and while it lacks their beloved gin and Julia’s red meat, I think they would have approved anyway.
Boozy Mushroom Sauce
Yield 2 to 4 servings
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound mushrooms, one or several varieties of ½-pound fresh (cremini) and ½-pound (shitake and wood ear), cleaned
¼ cup shallots, minced
fresh ground black pepper
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup flour (unbleached white or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 ¼ cups milk, warmed
¼ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
If using dried mushrooms, cover with warm water and set them aside to soak for at least 15 minutes and up to several hours. Drain and reserve some of the soak water to use in place of up to ½ cup of the milk.
Slice the fresh and/or dried mushrooms. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, and salt and cook until they’re nicely colored, about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the brandy and cook for 5 minutes more.
Gradually stir in the flour into the mushroom mixture. Whisk the sauce and cook for another 5 minutes over medium heat.
Stir in the warmed milk, crème fraîche, and mushroom soak water if using. Cook over low heat, stirring often, about 5 to 10 more minutes until thickened and smooth. For a heartier sauce, let sauce cool for several minutes, then purée half of it in a blender or pulse with a stick blender several times until desired consistency is reached. Season to taste with black pepper and salt. Add the chopped parsley and tarragon to the sauce, and serve over long noodles (like tagliatelle).