Saffron Afternoon with Julia Child

Julia Child has garnished the Spice House with her presence a few times. My personal highlight was a visit to our shop in Milwaukee. It was quite fun showing her around our store, chatting about spices and food. The photo shown above was taken during a cooking class at Ecole de Cuisine, a Milwaukee area culinary school. Julia and I are opening a very rare one pound tin of the highest grade of Spanish saffron, which is known as coupe saffron.

Saffron is the stigma of a fall blooming crocus flower, and each flower produces exactly three threads! They must be hand-picked when in bloom, the threads are then dried and packaged. To be designated Coupe grade, all the yellow saffron threads are selected out. Thus leaving only the purest red saffron threads, which produce the most color and flavor. Approximately 75,000 flowers are picked to fill this one pound tin. A pound of saffron is typically worth several thousand dollars!  

My Dad was always in awe of what an amazing endeavor it was to import such an exotic and rare ingredient, and he sought to pay it proper reverence. To that end, he would save the unopened tins for very auspicious occasions. When he learned Julia Child was coming to town, and saw that she was making Bouillabaisse, which of course required saffron, he devised a plan. My Dad was a man of many plans, most of which were assigned to his children! He decided I should take one of these unopened tins, colorfully wrapped in bright yellow cellophane, and give her the honor of opening it during the class.

“You mean, you expect me to pop up from my chair in the middle of her class, thrust the saffron tin under the nose of one of the most famous people in the culinary world, and get her to spontaneously open it?  Come on Dad!

There was no talking him out of it, but fortunately Tom and I had taught a few classes of our own there and knew the school owner, Jill Prescott. I called her in advance, and Jill very graciously introduced me and my saffron sidekick to Julia. I told Julia that when you open a saffron box of this size it should fill the entire room with its aroma.

“Well let’s hope so my dear,” she quipped.

And it did, I mean it really did. We then got to chat about saffron and how special it was and why. She used two really large pinches of saffron in that recipe, and it was amazing. Bouillabaisse has many different ingredients and is a bit of work to make, but like most things that are worthwhile, the time you put into it rewards you with delicious end results. You can try making Julia Child’s famous recipe here. Using a pound of saffron is optional of course!

The completion of  any Spice House saffron ceremony was having the opener autograph the box lid. We’ve compiled quite a collection of these over the years, but hers remains one of my favorites.  

Bon Appétit,” signed Julia Child.

Patty Erd’s parents, Bill and Ruth Ann, started The Spice House in 1957. Bill’s father was introduced to the spice trade in Europe as a boy and brought his knowledge along to America. Spices are a complex trade steeped in history, agriculture, folklore and a love for the exotic and sublime. Patty and her husband Tom, aka The Spice Boss, have lived the life of modern spice merchants–bringing spices from around the world to your table and home. Patty’s passion for learning, teaching and sharing the joy of culinary spices have made The Spice House what it is today.




    Oh man, that would have been so awesome to have met her and to have cooked with her and then sat down to dinner afterwards! What an incredible experience that must have been!

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