In September I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. A happy prosperous town of red maple leaves, varsity sweatshirts and cafes populated with graduate students chatting about their studies. It is also a town where second generation Portuguese immigrants sprinkle chorizo into Boston clam chowder, local oysters are served for brunch with make-your-own-bloody-Marys and lobster is so abundant this year that the price has fallen to $5 a pound. I am very happily situated, thank you, right on Kirkland Street, equidistant between two farmers’ markets resplendent with Fall New England bounty: honeycrisp apples, pumpkin blossoms, maple syrup, molasses rye bread. And as luck would have it, in this abundant and wholesome foodscape, my nearest grocery store is the venerable and quirky Savenor’s.
There’s a case to be made that Savenor’s is ground zero of the foodie transformation of middle-class America over recent decades. When Julia Child returned to the US from Europe in the early 1960s, she lived just off Kirkland and became a regular. Back then Jack Savenor ran a high-end butcher shop catering to a discerning clientele of the professorial classes who had been warned (an early food alarm, before red meat, eggs and bread were to be demonised) that supermarket beef was full of steroids and antibiotics and responsible for allergies. Instead, they were advised, “game meat” was healthier and from early on Savenor’s sold venison, rabbit and bison.
Julia Child is fondly referred to as just “Julia” among the Cambridge cognoscenti and Savenor’s old-timer customers, who remember her offering cooking tips as they waited at the counter together. “Julia really knew how to butcher,” Ron Savenor, who took over the business when his father died, told me one morning sitting outside in the sunshine with a copy of a butchers catalogue. “She would talk to my father about the difference between French and American cuts.”
Julia’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published in 1961. Soon she began her cooking show on Boston Public Television and her high New England voice—exhorting, coaxing and warmly school-marm—persuaded a generation of housewives that they too could produce fancy French dishes. Before Julia, the American home kitchen was filled with boxes of industrialised convenience and pap. After Julia it was a place where housewives took pride in cooking from scratch. From the start, she championed real food and quality and encouraged…