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Tracking Julia Child

Converted rice section: DELETED.

No-stick pots and pans section: ADDED.

Amount of lemon juice in Blender Hollandaise: CHANGED.

Introduction to sauces: REWRITTEN.

Blogger Julie Powell may have cooked every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and had a movie made about her.

But Anne Bourget (pronounced “Boor-zhay”), a shy, retired California state worker and obsessive collector of high-quality and rare cookbooks, has simultaneously read every word of “Mastering the Art” editions and did what Child’s publisher, Knopf, never did: kept score.

Bourget lives quietly in a 1918 bungalow in downtown Sacramento, Calif., and formerly worked at the California Arts Council. To compare and contrast, she set her first edition, first printing of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” Vol. 1, published October 16, 1961, in front of her computer side-by-side with her 40th anniversary edition, which first appeared Oct. 16, 2001.Anne Bourget has tracked Julia Child's changes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Bourget’s 40th anniversary “Mastering” is the 11th printing, which came out in 2009. It’s hard to miss: The cover comes with a picture of actress Meryl Streep as Julia Child as a promotion for the movie “Julie & Julia.”

With a ruler placed across the books, Bourget went line by line, ingredient by ingredient, illustration by illustration, noting all changes in a three-column graphic of her own design.

When Bourget was done, she’d finished what is believed to be the only record of the changes, excisions, differences and additions from the first edition of “Mastering the Art” to the most recent.

What got changed?

Bourget says it’s in her nature to be curious, especially about books. She frequents antiquarian dealers and sales. She relies on trusted dealers as she hunts down cookbook prey. Bourget is not interested in what she calls gastroporn — trendy bestsellers and coffee table books.

Her parlor’s bookcase is filled with such holy grails as a first edition and first printing of “Jane Grigson’s Fish Book.” Her 1943 copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Gastronomical Me” is rare because the back cover retains the photo of the author in a sexy repose, which was quickly pulled and replaced by a staid portrait.

Bourget owns a stack of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” There’s a “cooking” copy so her first edition is spared the devaluing wear of spatters and spills.

“I was reading ‘My Life in France,’ ” Bourget recalls of the autobiographical book published two years after Child’s death. “Julia refers to changes made in the various editions.” What, exactly, got changed? It mattered to the meticulous Bourget.

She emailed Knopf.

“Could you please tell me where I can obtain a list of the corrections for ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’ There must be an errata list. I would be most grateful. My copy is a first edition, first printing: Sept. 16, 1961. Could you forward this to Judith Jones?”

Jones, Child’s editor, received Bourget’s email and handed it off to an assistant in an email, saying, “Who is she and why does she need this information? Is she doing a story … Let’s talk about it.”

“Oh, bother” was the assistant’s reply, even though Bourget got a prompt and disappointing response from Jones.

Jones: “I’m afraid that we don’t have a handy list of the corrections made over the years to ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and that you would have to compare your first edition with the most recent one.”

Beyond ‘Oh, bother’

Jones’ email confirmed that the changes had not been recorded, tracked or otherwise documented, which puzzled Bourget’s inner proofreader.

“I was surprised that a seminal book such as this didn’t have a record.”

But something unintended came in Jones’ email. It accidentally included the thread with her assistant’s comment, “Oh, bother.”

“Dear Mrs. Jones” Bourget replied by email. “I read through the string of e-mails and see that I have caused a slight dust up and have been referred to as a bother, and for that I apologize.”

To sweeten the correspondence, Bourget told Jones she met Julia Child in France in 1984 while studying with Child’s co-author Simone Beck, known as Simca. The Childs (Julia and husband Paul) happened to be staying at their home on the grounds of Simca’s La Pitchoune. Today, Bourget recalls Child came to breakfast in hair rollers.

Bourget also told Jones that a recipe of hers — Scrambled Eggs Bourget — made its way into “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” by Marion Cunningham, also published by Knopf and edited by Jones.

“No, I am not a foodie journalist or blogger,” Bourget assured Jones, as if either of these occupations might repel the powerful editor. “The reason for my want of a list of corrections made by Julia over the years … was one of great curiosity …”

Jones’ final reply softened as she realized Bourget was determined to discover the differences between the editions herself.

“That’s quite a task you’ve undertaken,” Jones wrote. “Good luck with it.”

Notes in a database

It took a weekend — starting with the first notation on page vii to the last found nit on page 684 in the desserts chapter.note from Julia Child editor Judith Jones

The last entry in Bourget’s chart is a heavily revised Glaçage au Chocolate. The new recipe has more icing, a revised order of ingredients, the quantifying of chocolate up to 2 ounces from 1 ounce and more rum.

“It wasn’t really that hard,” Bourget says of the copy editing. “Bourget’s chart appears long to the eye, but she remains in awe of a book of such scope with so few revisions. There’s not that many changes and there are very few errors.”

  • Tournedos Rossini is rewritten with artichoke bottoms substituted for artichoke hearts.
  • Finishing temperatures for lamb (leg or shoulder) are decreased 20 degrees.
  • The word “electric” as an adjective for blender is deleted.
  • The poultry weights chart is changed.
  • On page 580, a typo from the first edition is caught and French is capitalized.
  • Food mill is renamed vegetable mill. But on a subsequent page, food mill is retained. “An oversight?” Bourget wonders in her chart.

Bourget decries one revision as sloppy editing. In a sentence about beating egg whites, the word “lightly” is replaced with “nicely.” “Who writes ‘nicely’?” Bourget scoffs.

After the email exchange, Jones sent Bourget a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with a lovely inscription: “Good luck tracking down all the additions and changes Julia made, Judith Jones.”

In September 2009, Bourget sent Jones her finished chart. Bourget never heard from Judith Jones again.

Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.

Photos, from top:
Anne Bourget, comparing two editions of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Credit: Anne Bourget

A note from Julia Child editor Judith Jones. Credit: Elaine Corn

Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and The Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.

  • Carol Thomas 4·2·14

    Dear Anne Bourget, I too am retired, and have just finished reading, “My Life in France”. Having a very curious mind about the later printings of Julia Child’s MTAFC, my mind also questioned if there were any changes. You have taken on a great feat… and I just want to commend you. Sincerely, Carol Thomas

  • Deborah Herzog 11·21·14

    Dear Anne,
    I have been trying to track you down for years, to no avail. Then Richard found a copy of the menu from your class from April 9, 1981. I used that and found this article. I hope you remember Richard and I. We all worked together for a brief moment in time in SF at Great West Life, and you and I became friends. Anyway, please send me an email so I can talk to you directly. Richard is a Chef and Culinary teacher now in NJ. His specialty is Classical French cooking, thanks to you.
    Look forward to hearing from you,