04 June 2009

How many Jewish cookbooks are too many?

Too many cookbooks is a relative term. Roberta Saltzman (Queens, New York) has 1,500 of them, 700 purchased on eBay.

Why are cookbooks so important in terms of Jewish history? Researchers can learn about Jewish ritual observance and cultural practices among members of the tribe in different time periods and places.

For a woman who says she doesn't cook that much, her passion for Jewish cookbooks has resulted in a major collection now at the New York Public Library's Dorot Jewish Division, where she works, according to this Forward story.
The collection is more than double the number in the Library of Congress, and far more than Harvard’s Schlesinger Library collection, two other major repositories of historic Jewish cookbooks.

Among her finds, which she pays for herself (averaging about $15 per volume):

- Marion, Indiana's Sinai Temple Sisterhood cookbook (a recipe is venison with sour cream).
- The cookbook of the Women's Auxiliary of the Jewish Community of the Philippines.
- 1912 cookbook of the Joplin, Missouri's Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society.
- A 1937 German/Hebrew cookbook, from Tel Aviv.
- A 1935 fundraising cookbook by the Judischer Frauenbund (Berlin), an early German feminist organization.
- 1950 cookbook by the Children and Youth Aliyah Committee for Great Britain.
- 1909 cookbook by the National Council of Jewish Women, San Francisco.
- 1950 Polish cookbook, Israel.
- 1930, “Sunshine Kosher Recipes,” Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, Spokane, Wash.,
- 1950 Mogen David Wine Corporation’s “Recipes the Whole Family Will Enjoy,” Chicago.
- 1953 Margit Lobl’s Hungarian cookbook, Israel.
- 1959 “Koscheres Ambrosia,” Frieda Hochstim’s Austrian cookbook from Vienna.

Online, Saltzman has tracked down community cookbooks from nearly every state. Although Wyoming, Mississippi and Montana are missing, she has found them from San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Saskatchewan, Salonika and other communities. The majority are community cookbooks, compiled by synagogue sisterhoods or chapters of national Jewish organizations across the US and elsewhere.

Among the oddities of some books: Sophisticated non-kosher recipes - such as lobster canap├ęs or the venison with sour cream — were popular in early Reform Jewish cookbooks and later post-World War II community cookbooks. In 1959, a Greensboro, North Carolina Hadassah cookbook contained an appetizer recipe for porcupine relish: a head of cabbage studded with toothpick kebabs of assorted cheeses, onions, olives, radishes, gherkins, cauliflower and pineapple chunks.

According to the story, the NYPL hasn't until now publicized the collection or Saltzman's role, but the Jewish Division is planning a section on its Web site for later this year. She has catalogued and indexed all the cookbooks for public use.

Princeton University professor of Judaic studies and American studies Jenna Weissman Joselit, said that "community cookbooks are one of the most potent and unmediated sources reflecting region, religion, class, women’s history and all kinds of social practices.”

Saltzman continues to buy cookbooks on eBay.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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