August 19, 2016
Although it’s almost forgotten now, this was one of the best selling cookbooks of the 20th century. It had some pretty notable fans: James Beard among them, who supposedly once said, “If I consult a cookbook at all, it is likely to be by one of these sensible flat-heeled authors like the famous Mrs. Kander.”
The Settlement House, a Milwaukee community center founded in the early 20th century was created to help newly-immigrated Russian Jewish women acclimatize to American norms of domesticity. There were showers, sewing lessons, deportment lessons, and even cooking classes – most taught by an upper-middle-class German Jew, Lizzie Black Kander. Faced with the task of sustaining operations, Kander came up with the notion of a simple cookbook to sell to the larger Milwaukee community. That “simple” cookbook -the entire first edition of 1000 copies cost 18 dollars to print in 1901- went on to see over 20 editions.
Notably absent from the first edition? Jewish foods of any variety. Kander’s goal, after all, was to Americanize poor immigrants; the German Jews who arrived first looked down on the Russian Jews, and did not want to be embarrassed by them. (They actually feared that they’d set off a wave of antisemitism.) The early editions contained no Kosher recipes, although they did include recipes for Christmas and Easter feasts. Over time, the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage became an equal goal: in my edition, from 1938, I found these curious matzo recipes.
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