Quiche

The Unforgettable Last Lunch with Julia Child’s Legendary Editor

That, and other lessons learned from the woman who helped bring America’s greatest cooking icons to light.

April 20, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

One afternoon, I found myself in the presence and home of my hero, Judith Jones. Tucked away in northeastern Vermont , we ate thick wedges of quiche draped with sour cream (it was, I learned after one curious bite, a mingling of fat on fat that accentuated the texture of cream and custard alike). We drank white wine from the supermarket that Judith kept stored, re-corked from a previous day’s glass, in the condiments shelf of the refrigerator. Her dog, Mabon, scratched a small hole in the seam of my t-shirt while saying hello, a shirt I still have and a hole I haven’t mended. Ms. Jones told me to call her Judith.

It was August 2016—almost exactly a year before Judith, venerable writer and editor behind some of the most influential American chefs and writers, passed away at age ninety-three. Benchmarks in her long career include, famously, pulling Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl out of the slush pile; publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child after its multiple rejections; and exploding the canon of American home cooking with the works of Edna Lewis, Madhur Jaffrey, Irene Kuo, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich, Joan Nathan and James Beard, among many others. Judith received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, the year before publishing The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (sixty pages of which I read on the floor of a public library in Vermont).

But the story of how I met her actually starts with how I met Bronwyn Dunne—writer, cooking instructor, and Judith’s stepdaughter. I was newly twenty-four when I met Bronwyn. Since graduating college, I had moved from Boston to Shanagarry, Ireland for cooking school. Then, in a tight zigzag, I relocated back to Boston, across the country to San Francisco, and back across the country to Vermont’s Addison County. That first month in Vermont, I picked up an issue of Edible Green Mountains from a milk crate of used magazines at the grocery store, and read a feature on the cook and writer behind a website called In the Kitchen with Bronwyn. Through Bronwyn’s website, I sent a cold email: would she be able to tell me a bit about the Vermont food world over coffee? Shortly after, Bronwyn not only returned my email, but met me for lunch in her neighborhood, at a place known for smoked meats and chili.

A few months later, Bronwyn took me through two enormous storage containers of cookbooks, including her 1975 copy of American Food, authored by her father, the food writer and historian Evan Jones. Bronwyn and I read until we were ravenous, and then grilled off a slab of pork ribs she had stashed in the fridge. Barbecue sauce on our faces, we made our way through every last bone.

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“Fast forward many years later and am a cookbook publicist at a large publishing company in NYC and I am now working on his cookbook, the first new one in decades. I spoke to him on the phone many times before we finally met in person. And he was even more than I had imagined. Gracious. Humble, something he admitted he had not been those years ago. It was as if I had known him all my life....and I suppose I had. He did not disappoint. ”
— Ginger C.
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I understood that Bronwyn was the stepdaughter of a hero of mine, a luminary in both cooking and editing, though I never expected to meet Judith Jones. When Bronwyn asked if I wanted to come to lunch at her stepmother’s house, two realities merged together, gently and without fanfare, like a pair of soap bubbles: my fork and Judith’s somehow eating the same quiche.

The quiche Bronwyn made for lunch was a custard held together by sheer will, baked to velvet with gruyere and smoky wisps of bacon. I didn’t know what to do with the sour cream when it was handed to me, and mirrored both their plates with one fat, collapsing spoonful over the side of my slice. Mabon held court by the leg of my chair, waiting on a newbie for scraps.

Not wanting to arrive at lunch empty handed, I had woken up early that morning to bake a batch of sesame-honey cookies with cardamom, a spiced riff on a 2011 Food & Wine recipe from Anja Scherwin I have made enough to consider mostly failsafe. I fed the first batch to my chickens, because I accidentally broiled them. The second batch I slipped into a paper bag with a thank-you note attached.

Perhaps it was strange to be surprised when Judith went to eat them, but I had never envisioned the cookies getting that far. How did I even get here? She added my paper bag to the table, alongside the pastries she had already set out. She pulled a cookie from the pile, and took a cavernous bite.

“Delicious,” Judith said, her eyes fastening mine below curved bangs the same inner shade of white peaches. There’s a particular vividness to this moment in my memory. I didn’t know it would be preserved in such a way—stuck in my mind, blinking, unintended to be stored with such clarity. She made a point to eat the cookie and tell me it was good. She didn’t have to. It was a small, generous gesture to a new cook and writer who had come around for lunch. It was extraordinarily kind.

...I wonder how our idols reconcile with that expanded, emphasized image of themselves in our minds.

The idea of a hero has undertones of supernatural greatness, and I wonder how our idols reconcile with that expanded, emphasized image of themselves in our minds. It doesn’t leave much room for the everyday acts, like responding to a cold email with plans for lunch, or eating a cookie to make someone feel seen. These snippets of generosity accumulate, with effort, like the rolled-up belly of a snowman.

“Those ‘small moments’ with Judith,” started Bronwyn in a recent email from February. “This is what comes up so often with her friends and colleagues when remembering her. There is something she was able to convey, even in old age, that was intimate and global at the same time.”

It has been four years since that lunch, and Bronwyn tells me she doesn’t remember Judith ever pairing sour cream with quiche. Had she put it on the table by accident? Did she want to try something picked up from another cook? Were Judith and Bronwyn actually mirroring me, with the sour cream, in some sort of comical, cyclical response to a new presence on the table? Funny: we have absolutely no idea.

I scrawled in a notebook as Bronwyn drove us home after that lunch, cruising through a labyrinthine pass in a state sliced north to south by the Green Mountains. I wrote down anything remembered from the last handful of hours. Judith had told stories about other food and writing icons close to her, like M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard and Edna Lewis. Bronwyn took a picture of Judith flexing a muscle at a square table set with woven straw placemats. I had elaborated on the sour cream (oddly perfect!) and the eye contact (very kind), and these things, arguably non-events, have indelibly lasted. Judith Jones knew that paying attention to the minor, in-between moments is itself an act of generosity—and that generosity is what builds a life, and a legacy.


Bronwyn’s Quiche with Sour Cream

Bronwyn’s original quiche was a timeless recipe for quiche Lorraine from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s lasting for a reason. Here, inspired by Julia’s recipe and Bronwyn’s execution of it, I add fresh herbs, white onions and, in a nod to Vermont, swap gruyere for sharp cheddar cheese. Eat this quiche with a fat spoonful of sour cream on top: an oddly perfect taste memory of lunch with Judith Jones.

Makes one nine-inch quiche

  • 1/2 cup sliced bacon
  • 1 cup thinly sliced white onions
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, chives, and/or parsley
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 9-inch blind-baked pie crust (I like this all-butter crust and this olive-oil crust
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a plate with a layer of paper towels.
  2. Add sliced bacon to a medium-sized frying pan; cook over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to the prepared plate to drain. Reserve the pan with the bacon fat.
  3. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the reserved pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, collapsed and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in chopped fresh herbs.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with cream, sour cream, pepper and remaining salt. Stir in the reserved bacon and herby onions. Place the prepared crust on a baking sheet (for easier oven transfer) and carefully pour in the egg mixture. Top with cheddar.
  5. Transfer quiche to the oven. Bake until the edges are completely set and the center still has a slight wobbliness but is no longer liquid when gently shaken, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely before eating—with a spoonful of sour cream on top.

Have you gotten the chance to meet your hero? How'd it go? Tell us about it in the comments!

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18 Comments

Tracey P. May 17, 2020
Lovely remembrance. Thank you.
 
tsjenkinsdds May 17, 2020
What I really want to know is how the cardamom (quantity & type) is added to the cookies you baked brought to the lunch (I love cardamom & want to try your variation!)
 
janet K. May 17, 2020
In 1985 I was on my honeymoon in Venice Italy walking to dinner with my husband. I heard a very familiar voice in the group behind us and said to my husband, “I think that’s Julia Child.”
We arrived at out restaurant and were seated at our table. Low and behold that same voice was echoing nearby.
I looked over and there was Julia Child and her guests. I mentioned to our waiter, in subpar Italian, how wonderful it was to be dining with Julia Child. A lightbulb went off as he realized who his famous client was. A flurry of activity at Julia’s table and a complimentary bottle of wine at our table made for a night to remember.
 
Douglas P. May 17, 2020
Touching Story! I have a very interesting story about food and Julia Child! I used to cook at Harvard-Radcliff. Across the street from Julia's house in Cambridge. On my walk from the Trolly to work. Julia and I would cross walking paths. We gave each other a respectful hi. I am a C.I.A. grad. That background lead to photos in the 9/11 exhibit at the Smithsonian, Ground Zero memorial museum, a book, and so much more. All connected to food! Have a great story if your interested. Thanks! Doug Potoksky
 
JmSmith50 May 17, 2020
This is a lovely article and the happy accident of adding sour cream? Well count me in.
I do not eat meat do you have a substitute for the bacon reccomendation?
 
Tracey P. May 17, 2020
Leave it out.
 
beezus May 17, 2020
Working in food service in and around New Orleans for 25 years, I met quite a few giants in the restaurant industry. In the early 90's I was working at La Provence for renowned chef Chris Kerageorgiou. One beautiful day the restaurant was hosting an outdoor fund raiser featuring popular Louisiana chefs. I was alone inside the restaurant when Leah Chase walked in. My Judith James moment. Mrs. Chase had never been to La Provence before and I gave her a tour. She was very impressed by the beauty of the dining rooms and amazed that Mr. Chris had outfitted the kitchen with an a/c system that would quickly cool down the kitchen after service, for the benefit of the kitchen staff. Despite being a culinary celebrity, she was humble, curious and kind.
 
Lauri B. May 17, 2020
I was in my mid twenties and working in NYC as a graphic designer for a publishing company. My art director sent me to a seminar with my all-time idol, Milton Glaser. The seminar was held in his studio, which was housed within a beautiful brownstone. He was just as I imagined, the space he and his staff worked in was nothing short of brilliant. I knew then I would not attain this gold standard. I soon left graphic arts and found a better fit for my talents in public health.
 
Ginger C. May 17, 2020
I grew up sitting in the kitchen with my mother watching two cooking shows. Julia, of course, and....wait for it....The Galloping Gourmet. Graham Kerr, while not my hero, was such a boisterous presence in my young years. I liked to laugh, and he provided that; and he did make me believe I too could cook. Fast forward many years later and am a cookbook publicist at a large publishing company in NYC and I am now working on his cookbook, the first new one in decades. I spoke to him on the phone many times before we finally met in person. And he was even more than I had imagined. Gracious. Humble, something he admitted he had not been those years ago. It was as if I had known him all my life....and I suppose I had. He did not disappoint.
 
beezus May 17, 2020
Loved the Galloping Gourmet! Would liked to have been in on your meeting with him.
 
Lisa L. May 17, 2020
I recently found a perfect copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a bin at my supermarket in Londonderry NH. Now it is even more meaningful. I will try your quiche recipe!
 
Linda D. May 5, 2020
What a lovely memory you've shared with us! I especially enjoyed the idea of the sour cream being a delicious mistake. Isn't that how moments in life often turn out?
 
Gwynnie April 29, 2020
What a delightful thing to read while having afternoon coffee! I feel like we all got to be sitting at the table with you three :) Thank you so much for sharing this--it was moving and brought a moment of peace and happiness to my day! (And coincidentally, I also went to cooking school in Shanagarry, Ireland...so hello from a fellow Ballymaloe grad!)
 
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Julia C. April 29, 2020
Hi Gwynnie, thank you so much for the kind words! It's great to connect with a fellow Ballymaloe grad :) I was there in 2014 -- I still dream of the butter.
 
Gwynnie April 29, 2020
Yes to the butter! I was there in 2015 and remember thinking it looked unreal, it was so yellow...that and getting all the earliest morning duties for the first couple of weeks! So many good memories :)
 
Jerry April 29, 2020
What a wonderful story and so well told. I will acknowledge that I didn't know the particular chef, but it reminds me of how I would regard Jaques Pepin.
 
Bronwyn April 26, 2020
Thank you, Julia for your evocative memory of Judith in her last year. Sour cream? Why not? Who counts calories at 93, anyway. Well done!
 
Coral L. April 21, 2020
What a sweet story, thanks for sharing, Julia!