Julia Child

Julia Child, left, confers with Judith Jones, her Knopf editor, on galleys for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2." The drawing of various French breads shown in the foreground may be found on page 58 of the finished book, which was published in 1970. This photograph, taken by Paul Child, dates from the late 1960s. (From the collection of Judith Jones)

Child kept copious notes of her work, so much so that the loose-leaf reference guide she kept of her trials, successes and mistakes became fodder for her last cookbook, 2000's "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime in Cooking."

Greenspan was always struck by Child's habit of asking questions of other chefs while working together in the kitchen for the shows.

"She would ask such great questions and she would ask them like a knowledgeable home cook,'' Greenspan said. "What was it like to work in a kitchen? What might be a problem? What might be a visual cue in making the recipe?"

One time, in order to make sure she had it down exactly right, Child asked Jones to make puff pastry by reading and following a recipe under development.

"It was tricky to make,'' Jones said. "She watched me do it. She saw where I stumbled. She carefully observed my body language."

Some readers — home cooks and pros alike — complained Child's recipes were too long. Some recipes do seem to go on forever, like the 19-page treatise on French bread in 1970's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II." Jones defends the length of the recipes, saying Child wanted the space to explain things properly so all cooks, regardless of training, could make the recipe correctly. (And, honestly, didn't making French bread right leave you wanting to open a boulangerie?)

Alex Prud'homme worked with Child, his great-aunt, on her memoir. A New York City-based author and journalist, Prud'homme thought at first that her recipes from that time tended to "go on a bit."

"Then I began to think of the recipes as short stories, distilled tone poems of her experience,'' he said. "It was her way of getting a grip on the reality of living in France and learning about its wonderful customs and foods."

Later, Child began to move away from the classic French cuisine of the "Mastering" books toward a more personal style of cooking. Spitz, like Jones, believes Child was able to "step out" as a writer beginning with "From Julia Child's Kitchen."

"She loosened up a bit, she offered more personal stories, she became more used to talking to the reader,'' he said. "Her writing became less academic. 'Mastering' is a difficult book to use. The recipes are very long and complex; there's no excuses for the home cook who wants to cook quickly. It's a little stiff."

Greenspan, however, came to have a renewed respect and admiration for "Mastering" by working with Child on the "Baking with Julia" project.

"I had read the book, but going back to it after getting to know her I felt her in every page. 'Mastering' is very straightforward, she's getting a lot of information in every line, but there's a little humor here and there that's typically Julia,'' she said. "Julia had a way of bringing you into the recipe, to make it attractive enough for you to want to do it."

"The best part of her writing is that she is right there with you, working with you," Greenspan added. "Read her and you can practically hear her breathing. It just startled me."

Paul Child played a key role in Child's writing. According to Prud'homme, he nurtured her intellectual curiosity and served as an important reader and "first editor" for her writings. Jones, of course, gets rightful credit in helping to shape Child as a writer by editing the books, from "Mastering" in 1961 through "My Life in France" in 2006.

Did the editor and the writer ever butt heads? Not really, she said, in a telephone interview from her Vermont summer home.

"The one time we really disagreed was when I said, 'Julia, you are using so many pots' and she said, 'Judith, you can never be a good cook if you worry about the pots you have to clean,' '' Jones recalled.

What was the outcome of that dispute? Well, Jones added with a chuckle, "It is very important to put that pan in to soak if you can't clean it right away."

Bill Daley is a food and features reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

Listen to Julia talk about food and literature

People have long been able to read Julia Child in books and watch her on television and in videos. But how many of her fans know they can listen to her too? And on the theme of food in literature, too.

"Hungry: The Literary Julia Child" was the name of a public radio series produced in 1997, but never broadcast then because of lack of funding. Tapes of the eight shows Child narrated can be heard for free at prx.org, the Website of Public Radio Exchange.