The Tenth Muse

I recently read The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones, the editor for an array of cookbook and food writers, most famously Julia Childs. She worked with James Beard, Edna Lewis. She was friends with M.F.K. Fisher. And her own voice is quietly confident on the page. The woman knows food.

There is one particular passage that I dog earred in order that I could share it here. It's something I attempted to say a few weeks ago and that Judith Jones summed up in one sentence.

I certainly learned, as I made one inspired dish after another, how, when the seasons dictate what goes together, flavors and colors and textures play off each other and create a natural harmony that is always naturally delicious.

That is exactly what I was trying to say.

Which brings me to something that has been bothering me. A small thing really; it's the strawberries and tomatoes on the market. It's lovely to see bright red fruit after months of primarily green everything but somehow the red fruit seems wrong. Even in California. Okay, Northern California.

The insides of my chest pucker when I see the summer crops laid out across folding tables with my jacket zipped choking to my chin. Where did these fruits get the warmth to be big and red? In my backyard the dogwood has yet to bloom and I can't imagine cultivating a full grown tomato or strawberry through these last months of winter.

Last Sunday I bought Watsonville strawberries because my desire for citrus was waning and it was Easter. I stood in the front row next to the table loaded with fruit and I took a bite of the first fresh berry since last year with the memory of summer strawberries past ready to dance on my tongue. I expected a symphony or stand up reggae.

I got a junior high marching band practicing for the homecoming game. The strawberry had potential, it had notes that imitated summer but it was juvenile, filled out but unsure of itself. It didn't have its full strawberryness.

I eyed the tomatoes suspiciously. They were too perfect, too uniform. They looked like Hollywood plastic, painted smiles. If they wore shoes they would have fake stones and lucite clear heels. And what would they go with? Tomatoes and kale wouldn't pass even my liberal views of food diversity. Tomatoes and brussel sprouts? Tomatoes and carrots? With asparagus? I don't think so.

I'll wait until the season catches up with them. I'll wait until the tomatoes have had a chance to be seasoned with spring showers, to reach for the first ray of morning sun and to collect the still heat of long and hot afternoons. And then I'll be first in line.

The true taste will be worth the wait and the natural harmony that Judith Jones describes will happen. In the meantime I'll happily stick to citrus and greens.


Green Bean said...


I had to smile at your post - even as I sit here with my full flat of Rodriguez Farms organic strawberries fresh from this morning's market. :)

In eating seasonally, I've definitely noticed the difference in taste at the beginning and the end of a fruit or vegetable's season. I've said that I need to learn to let go sooner. I typically hear that a particular food will be gone next week or the week after and buy up remaining quantities like a mad woman - only to bring them home and find that they don't taste all that great. I want to go out on a high note.

As to the beginning of the season, well, no, I can't wait for these strawberries! I easily passed up the Oxnard and Santa Maria ones but Watsonville - well that falls squarely within my 100 mile radius and I am indulging!

As to the tomatoes, well, I'm with you on that one. I've bought a few from Swank Farms. I later found out he grows them in a heated greenhouse so I haven't bought any since and, honestly, they weren't quite ready yet. I can wait a bit longer on those but it is nice to know that, in a pinch, they are at least local.

kale for sale said...

green bean - I haven't caught up to you yet but I'm going to pay attention to the end of the season. I do have the mad woman at the market thing going on though - wherever the season is. I'm glad you are enjoying the strawberries. The man selling those has such a sweet smile it nearly makes up for the youngness of the fruit. He's one of my favorites.

A long time ago I bought hot salsa from Swank Farms and it was damn hot. They meant it and I loved it. I'm liking being more in tune with the seasons but I'm not going to make myself crazy with it. Well, maybe a little, but I'm with you that in a pinch, at least their local.

Bailey said...

Hello -
I am a filmmaker in Atlanta. I read your latest blog about Judith Jones and her book, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food".

I just wanted to let you know I produced a 21 minute documentary about Miss Edna Lewis. Judith Jones edited her most memorable cookbooks including "The Taste of Country Cooking". There is extensive commentary by Judith Jones about her relationship with Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock in the documentary, which is called 'Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie

It is viewable in its entirety on Internet at a Gourmet Magazine website:

and at a Georgia Public Broadcasting website:

My website, has more information about the film and the story of Miss Lewis.

Bailey Barash

kale for sale said...

Bailey - I love documentaries and will check it out. Thank you for leaving the information. You are so wonderfully polite.