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Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

Child's kitchen is back at the American History Museum in time for what would have been her 100th birthday

Julia Child’s Kitchen on display at the NMAH is exactly as it was in Child’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1961. Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

The kitchen is the heart of the home—especially when filled with the sounds of cooking: The knife on the cutting board, the clinking of pots and pans, the laughter of good friends and family around the table. Inside Julia Child’s kitchen, add to the mix the delightful sounds of her chuckle and that famous vibrato and you’ve got a recipe for happiness.

Phila Cousins, Child’s niece and trustee of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, can attest to this.

“When you came for dinner, you didn’t come into the living room or the dining room, you came into the kitchen,” she says. “I  had so many moments with Julia in this room. It’s somewhat surreal now to look at this place where I spent so many hours, in a museum. I can’t go in and sit down—Julia’s not there.”

Child would have been 100 years old today, and even though she can’t be present to celebrate, the National Museum of American History  will host a soirée pour son in her honor by unveiling the limited re-installation of Julia’s Cambridge, Massachusetts Kitchen through September 3. (The kitchen had been dismantled and taken off view last January as part of the museum’s on-going renovation.)

Nothing about the 20-by 14-foot room has changed—down to the jar of Skippy peanut butter to the right of the same six-burner “big Garland” stove she cooked on in her home on 103 Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachussets. The pots and pans hang on the blue peg board built by her husband Paul. There are the maple counter tops which were constructed a few inches higher than the standard to accommodate Julia’s 6’3.” And her vast collection of kitchen gadgets are still in the drawers.

These pans, two examples out of hundreds of objects in the collection, are hung on the blue peg board Child’s husband, Paul, built for her. He outlined each pot in black marker on the board. Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Curator Rayna Green, who in 2001 worked with Child during the donation process, says that since the kitchen was first installed at the American History Museum 10 years ago, it has only grown in popularity with visitors and the curators.

“This exhibit is personal for us . It’s not just keeping fingerprints off the walls and the usual museum maintenance that we do, this is something we really do take personally. Things in the kitchen conjure up stories that we’ve heard from Julia and that we’ve heard from other people. With every new visitor a new story appears.”

Julia’s knives are arranged on magnetic strips mounted between the windows and above the sink. Julia collected knives her whole life. Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Today’s celebration includes screenings from three episodes from WGBH’s The French Chef and appearances from authors like Bob Spitz who will sign copies of his new book, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. Visitors will also enjoy Child-inspired meals.  Free. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a birthday surprise at 1 p.m. in the Flag Hall. Julia’s kitchen will soon be joined by at least 300 objects in the new exhibition: “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000” which opens November 20.

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About K. Annabelle Smith
K. Annabelle Smith

K. Annabelle Smith is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico who covers a wide variety of topics for Smithsonian.com. Her work also appears in OutsideOnline.com and Esquire.com.

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