It is the Summer of Julia, when teenage girls will soon be lining up along the hot concrete sidewalks of Wilshire Boulevard to watch Meryl Streep flip omelets and deconstruct ducks onscreen. A good moment, perhaps, to swivel the spotlight to Larousse Gastronomique, Julia Child's favorite book and quite possibly the one book you should have in your cookbook library. Well, other than Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Larousse Gastronomique is not precisely a cookbook but an encylopedia, a catalog of culinary terms, techniques and recipes. First published in France in 1938, the book was edited by Prosper Montagné, contained a preface by Georges Auguste Escoffier, and numbered 1087 pages. Larousse was translated into English in 1961, and in 2001 an updated version, expanded a few hundred pages to include more cuisines and photographs and overseen by culinary luminary Joël Robuchon, was published by Clarkson Potter.
The book covers a lot of ground, from abaisse (a sheet of pastry) to zuppa inglese (a 19th century Neapolitan dessert), weighs a hefty 8 pounds (useful to weight terrines), and packs in a surprising amount of recipes. It's an awesome book, pleasurably daunting in its scope, and you can see why Child revered it. “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library,” she wrote, “Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”
(There's a touching moment–it is a Nora Ephron movie–when Stanley Tucci's character presents a misty-eyed Streep with a massive, as-yet-untranslated copy of Larousse for her birthday.)
Although Larousse is worth every centime or Euro (a hardback copy of the book sells for $85), you can page through the book online using Amazon's Search Inside This Book feature. A handy tool, but one that would deprive you of the matchless joy of thumbing through actual pages, spattered with veal demi-glace and a confetti of fines herbes. I don't know about you, but I just can't picture Julia squinting at a recipe for paupiettes of beef Sainte-Menehould on Kindle.