In this 1960 letter from Julia Child to her editor Judith Jones, the cook and author suggests a long list of potential titles for the book that eventually sold millions of copies as Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Written from Oslo, where Child had moved with her husband Paul for his State Department job, the letter is a freewheeling brainstorm, with the eventual winner penciled in at the last minute.
The book, written with Simca Beck and Louisette Bertholle, took ten years to produce, and was rejected by two other publishers before finding a home at Knopf. In other words, this letter was sent when Child and her co-authors were in the final steps of a long and arduous process.
Some of the discarded titles seem to have nothing to do with the book’s essence (it is, as Regina Schrambling wrote in Slate in 2009, a rigorous tome that can “make cooking feel like brain surgery”). Cooking For Love? Cooking Is My Hobby? The Compulsive Cook? All of these suggestions are far from the serious and aspirational final choice.
In their blog post about Child-related items in the Harry Ransom Center’s Knopf archives, Anna Chen, Katherine Kelly, and Francisca Folch note that Alfred A. Knopf, the head of the firm, didn’t like the name that Jones and Child settled on. “I’ll eat my hat if that title sells,” he said. Not being Werner Herzog, Knopf settled for humble pie.