Mississippian introduced Julia to fried okra


Daily Journal

Tom Blanton grieved Friday at the death of his friend Julia Child, but he remembered with laughter how she delighted in the Southern delicacy to which he introduced her: fried okra.

Blanton, a Hattiesburg resident and University of Mississippi graduate, became her friend when he was a student at Harvard Divinity School in the mid-1970s.

“She was a warm, kind and wonderful person,” Blanton said. “I introduced her and her husband, Paul, to fried okra, and they loved it.”

Blanton, who was a Rockefeller Fellow at the seminary in Cambridge, Mass., said he and Child lived on the same street and she shopped at the market where he worked.

“The name of the market was Savenor's Wine and Cheese, and it was about three blocks from where she lived,” he explained.

“Their yard adjoined John Kenneth Galbraith's place. Savenor's was a world-class place. It had about 80 kinds of cheese and may have been the leading wine shop in the country at that time. Julia was there every week, and that was where we met.”

Blanton, who loves the foods of his native Mississippi, struck a deal to plant a garden in the back yard of divinity school Dean Krister Stendahl. He shared the tomatoes, okra and other vegetables with the dean, other faculty and the Childs.

That sharing led to almost weekly visits and frequently meals with Child and her beloved Paul for the three years Blanton lived in Cambridge.

“They liked sandwiches and simple meals. They really liked BLTs. He sliced the French bread they bought at the market. He sliced slab bacon and cooked it. She made mayonnaise, and sometimes we had fried okra with the sandwiches,” Blanton said.

Blanton described the Childs as a very down-to-earth couple, at ease with all sorts of people, but he said they were also people of extraordinary intellectual gifts.

“They met while serving in the OSS in the World War II years – that was the precursor to the CIA – in Ceylon, and they were deeply in love. They both played the piano, and they loved to entertain with their set of friends. And, no, I was not that kind of friend,” Blanton said.

“They did want me to house-sit for them when I was coming back to Mississippi, but it was time for me to come home and do other things.”

Blanton, who works in the oil business, said he lost contact with Child in later years after her health failed.

Contact Joe Rutherford at 678-1597. His email is joe.rutherford@djournal.com.