The Surprising Thing Julia Child Always Served At Thanksgiving

There's a lot of things to love about Julia Child, the perennially cheery, no-fuss cookbook author and star of The French Chef on WGBH. She loved butter. She made French cooking approachable (via Vogue). She broke barriers as one of the first women to have her own cooking show and made cooking fun without taking it too seriously (via PBS). And though she may have made hosting a multi-course French meal easy, her recipes aren't necessarily known for their speediness and ease (her coq au vin boasts 17 ingredients).

There were a few exceptions, however. Julia Child wasn't above a little bit of processed food here and there, and according to a blog post by Harvard University's Radcliffe University for Advanced Studies, "She found organic food elitist, thought McDonald's French fries and Burger King hamburgers were the best, argued we ought not to worry about GMOs, and supported MSG." How prescient she really proved to be, now that we know MSG isn't really that bad for you (via Washington Post).

This Thanksgiving appetizer Julia Child served wasn't quite on-brand

Though we know Julia had a penchant for whole goose, coq au vin, and complicated sauces like beurre blanc, she scrapped the fussy recipes once a year — at least for an appetizer. According to Fast Company, Child put out Goldfish crackers each year for her Thanksgiving dinner, as an accompaniment to her "reverse martinis," or upside down martinis, which were mostly vermouth with a little less gin than the traditional drink. How good does a cheesy cracker and a strong drink sound before a Thanksgiving feast?

So this holiday, consider honoring Julia (and public health guidelines) with a socially distanced small gathering, complete with some of her favorites. Consider the current restrictions a chance to try out something new without the pressure of a crowd, like her recommended Petits Choux au Fromage (cheese puffs, via NPR), Choux de Bruxelles Étuvés au Beurre (Brussels sprouts braised in — what else — butter, via NPR), corn bread, sage, and sausage stuffing, with an easy-peasy appetizer of, yes, Goldfish.

Julia Child served for many years as an unofficial Thanksgiving hotline

Serving Goldfish crackers as an appetizer wasn't the only odd tradition Julia Child made part of her Thanksgiving Day plans. Back in the 1970s and '80s, Child was at the height of her fame, according to The New York Times. The chef never let that notoriety go to her head, however, and refused to unlist her home phone number from the phone book. Sheryl Julian, writer and former food editor of The Boston Globe (via Twitter), spent quite a few Thanksgivings with Child and told the outlet "The phone would ring all day, every time she hung up, it would ring again, and it would be another total stranger with a turkey problem."

Child appeared to embrace this role of unofficial Thanksgiving hotline operator, with Julian stating that she would often hear the chef reassuring the frantic callers regardless of what their mistake seemed to be. "...she usually just told the callers not to worry. I even heard her tell people that turkey wasn't meant to be served hot. She just wanted them to relax."

Julia Child was never afraid to experiment, even on Thanksgiving

In the 1950s, Child and her husband Paul lived in France, and while they still celebrated Thanksgiving, they put a decidedly French spin on the holiday. Their great-nephew, Alex Prud'homme (who helped the famous chef write her memoir, My Life In France, before she passed in 2004), told The New York Times that back then turkey wasn't really eaten in France. "They would have oysters and Champagne and call it a night," Prud'homme said.

After returning to the U.S., Child may have returned to more traditional Thanksgiving fare, but she was clearly still willing to experiment. The outlet states that the chef shared recipes for things like over-stuffed turkey sandwiches, rutabaga gratin with garlic and ginger, and even suggested that people top vanilla ice cream with a mincemeat filled fruit sauce. 

Child's feeling towards Thanksgiving, and cooking in general, are summed up nicely in this quote shared by The New York Times: "A meal doesn't have to be like a painting by Raphael, but it should be a serious and beautiful thing, no matter how simple. What nicer way for a family to get together and communicate? Which is what life is all about, really." We'll raise an upside down martini — complete with a handful of Goldfish — to that.