Monday, July 24, 2017

Cooking to America

Lizzie Black Kander, who passed away on July 24, 1940, has been a household name for generations via the simple cookbook she created. The Settlement Cook Book (full title: The Way to a Man’s Heart...The Settlement Cook Book) was first published in 1901. The initial 1,000 copy run quickly sold out. It has now been through 34 editions, with 2 million copies sold.

Leafing through the recipes included in the first Settlement Cook Book, one might puzzle over its Jewish connection, as many of the recipes feature non-kosher ingredients. However, the history of the book and its author are demonstrative of a very distinct era in American Jewish history.

In the mid-19th century, a great wave of German Jews arrived in America, settled down, prospered and, in many ways, assimilated. When, at the end of the 19th century, great masses of Russian and Eastern European Jews came to America, the cultural and social-economic gap between the groups was enormous.

Kander, like many upper-middle class women of her time, was dedicated to progressive reform. As a member of the Milwaukee Jewish Sewing Society (later, Milwaukee Jewish Mission) she became aware of the dire poverty of these new Jewish immigrants. She then got involved in Settlement House, a multi-purpose reform organization for Jews, where she taught cooking classes and incorporated lessons on nutrition and hygiene. When Settlement House struggled for funding, Kander proposed her cookbook, which the board rejected. She printed it anyway, and the revenue generated supported Settlement House for years (and eventually helped build the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center as well).

At the heart of the cooking lessons and the cookbook filled with household tips was a desire to help those new immigrants become Americanized, which accounts for the non-kosher recipes. Yet it is interesting to note that a fair number of Jewish holiday foods, not included in the original, were added to later editions.

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1 comment:

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