I Love Lard, But...

Last night I had my first look at Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron's movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell that opens next month, at the studios of WGBH, in Boston, the place where it all began. Or at least the television part that "changed the world," as Child's husband Paul keeps telling her she's going to do while she's trying to finish her first book. (And I got to see myself in it: to my surprise and delight, Ephron got me dressed up as an extra the day I was lucky enough to watch Meryl Streep as Julia.)

Much more on the movie closer to the time it opens, with special contributions from many of the people who helped with it. Also, I hope, a link to the video of the discussion panel I led after the screening with Judith Jones, Child's longtime editor (a character in the movie), Russ Morash, the show's original producer, and Jasper White, a great chef and great friend of Julia's.

Alas, they didn't film the reception afterward where students from a new local branch of the Cordon Bleu--the original of which is sternly portrayed in the movie--put out many sumptuous tables of desserts I learned from Julia's books: Paris-Brest, that cream-puff-dough, whipped cream, and pastry cream dream croquembouche with its conical mountain of caramelized puff-pastry balls, Gateau St.-Honore. The students had clearly gone all out for Julia, who presided in the form of a mural-sized photograph smiling benignly over the banquet. Or maybe it was Streep as Julia. As Jones herself said, since seeing the movie she's been having trouble telling which is which.

For now, though, links to the kind of story, and competition, that Julia would have dug right into: lard vs. butter vs. shortening vs. oil in pie crusts. The discussion over dessert turned to technique, the kind of discussion that would get Julia's intense attention. Sheryl Julian, food editor of the Globe and one of the numerous guests who had often cooked with Julia in her kitchen--I did too, and we all got a little teary when the kitchen, long ago ripped out of her Cambridge house to be recreated at the Smithsonian, appears at the end--told me that she'd spent much of the past week as impresario of a pie-crust competition to see which fat produced the best pie crust. I'm on the record as a lard-lover, and one of my first columns for this magazine was on mastering the technique of working fat into flour, a lifetime's work that still continues.

Sheryl's shocking conclusion: vegetable oil made the crust that won in a blind tasting. She proudly introduced me to the crust's author, Ike DeLorenzo, who was using his aunt's recipe from a label on a Wesson oil tin. Here's her introduction, here's his piece on the "impossibly easy" crust, and here's the recipe.

I really don't want to believe this. But I know what my weekend duty is. Even if I began the discussion panel by asking "What would Julia have thought of the movie?" I don't have to wonder what Julia would have done after our crust conversation. She would have driven home, changed back into pants, gotten out the flour and fat, stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00, and called Sheryl and me at 7:00 this morning, cup of coffee in hand, with her report.