Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume One) by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
Not everyone should own this book today. Most people seem to buy it out of some romantic notion of Francophilia, or perhaps under the assumption that it's a good cookbook upon which to build a collection or a working home kitchen. And, truly, the writing is clear and swift, technique is given honest and thorough attention, ingredients are carefully considered, and the recipes all work very well.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, however, is closer to a textbook than a recipe book. The recipes are detailed and long and precise, require pots and pans and stamina and lots of time. But if you want to learn to cook, reading this book and following its recipes is cheaper than culinary school, and, to my mind, nearly as good.
To be clear, none of that should obscure the historical fact of this book's overwhelming importance. It came at a time when, for the first time, nearly every American home had a refrigerator, a stove, and a newfound but reliable comfort with processed and pre-packaged foods. Just take a look at other books from this era (1961, to be exact) and you'll see what I'm talking about: people were hungry but didn't know what to do about it in their own homes without breaking out a packet of Jell-O. This book reignited imaginations and taught people (women, in particular) to go back to something old and learn something new.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking also ushered in a new mental space in the kitchen: the "foreign" could be brought in and touched and tasted, it could be made by our own hands in the safety of our own homes, and through this process become not foreign but a part of us. After this book, Judith Jones (the editor at Knopf who helped to birth it) went on to make books with Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, Claudia Roden, Lidia Bastianich, and Marion Cunningham, among many others. All of these books were revolutionary in their own ways.
This edition happens to be the twenty second, because, really, there's no need to pay $1000 for a first edition. But if a first edition is what you're after, give me a call. I know a guy.
is on back order