24 January 2008

Library of Congress: Jewish cookbooks

Did you know that the Library of Congress has a collection of several hundred Jewish cookbooks? This includes the very first Jewish cookbook known to have been published (1871) in the United States:

Mrs. Esther Levy's Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy, Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, with the Addition of Many Useful Medicinal Recipes, and Other Valuable Information, Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management (Garden Grove, Calif.: Pholiota Press, 1982, TX724.L4 GenColl; Philadelphia: W.S. Turner, 1871; RBSC).

The stories of our families are tied to our ancestors' kitchens and family recipes, and provide a window into the Jewish household of days gone by. Levy's book included a Jewish calendar and special instructions for preparing for Passover.

In 1901, the first Yiddish cookbook was published in the US: Hinde Amchanitzki's Lehrbukh vi azoy tsu kokhen un baken (Textbook on how to cook and bake)((New York: S. Druckerman, 1901; TX724.A47 Hebr); click here.

Most of the Jewish cookbooks provide kosher recipes, lists of what foods may be used or not, how to set up and keep a kosher kitchen. There were also food columns in the Anglo-Jewish, Yiddish and Hebrew press that provided more information, recipes and carried advertisements. In 1935, 48,000 Jewish homes received the first copy of the Organized Kashruth Company's Kosher Food Guide (New York, n.d.; BM710.K67 GenColl).

And, with the advent of modern technology, famed writer Joan Nathan made 39 half-hour PBS programs based on her book Jewish Cooking in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998; TX724.N368 1998 GenColl).

Just walk into any major bookstore - my favorite is Barnes & Noble on New York's Upper West Side - and visit the cookbook section. In addition to the many international guides, the Jewish section seems to grow with each visit. My visits there are usually expensive, even when I try to convince myself that I'm just looking!

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