Jewish Cookbooks

A history from the traditional to the treif.

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This Germanic or Anglo-oriented community in the US also produced the first Jewish community cookbooks in the early 20th century. Although these cookbooks rarely demonstrated adherence to kashrut, they raised funds for synagogues or explicitly Jewish causes such as the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York Orphan Asylum (The Auxiliary Cook Book, 1909).

Cookbooks, such as The Practical Cook Book (c. 1910) contained recipes compiled by the Sisterhood of the West End Synagogue in New York City, featured dishes such as Lobster à La Newburg, Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, and lebkuchen, as well as chapters devoted to Passover and menus for “Washington’s Birthday Luncheon.”

Treyf or Kosher

While the audience for each charitable cookbook was often limited to the community or city in which they were published, The “Settlement” Cookbook and later The Jewish Home Beautiful represent two major exceptions to this rule. First published in 1901 by Lizzie Black Kander, The “Settlement” Cookbook raised funds for recent Jewish immigrants in Milwaukee.

One of the most popular Jewish cookbooks of all time, 40 editions and nearly two million copies of The “Settlement” Cookbook have been sold. Like other early 20th century Germanic-oriented Jewish cookbooks, this cookbook called for butter with meat, and routinely listed ingredients such as shrimp and lobster.

In contrast, The Jewish Home Beautiful was produced with the intention of inspiring Jewish ritual observance by heightening attention to the aesthetics of the Jewish table and ceremony (e.g., paired cheese blintzes dusted with ten lines of cinnamon to represent the Ten Commandments for a Shavuot table). This wildly popular cookbook was first published in 1941 by the United Synagogue of America and reached its ninth edition by 1958.

In the post-World War II era, the publication of community cookbooks proliferated, owing in part to the advent of micropublishing as well as the exponential growth of the Jewish community in the US, where the greatest number of community cookbooks--and Jewish cookbooks in general--have been published.

Among the thousands of postwar community cookbooks, a range of practices appear from little explicitly Jewish content to strict adherence to Jewish ritual observance. For example, A Peak Into Our Kitchens, a cookbook compiled by the Boston chapter of National Council of Jewish Women in 1954, features traditionally Jewish recipes such as creplach and tzimmes, yet dishes also found in the volume include Beef with Sour Cream or Shrimp Creole.

In what would be the State of Israel, Jewish cookbooks began to appear as early as 1936, with Erna Meyer’s German-language cookbook for recent immigrants to the country. Ruth Sirkis’ cookbook Mehamitbah Beahava (From the Kitchen with Love) achieved canonical status in Israel since its publication in 1975. More recently Israeli cuisine has been marketed abroad with glossy cookbooks such as Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Cuisine: A Culinary Journey (2008).

In Israel and in the Diaspora, ethnic cuisines form the basis of many Jewish cookbooks published in the last third of the 20th century, with titles from Greek, Indian, and Yemenite communities, for example. Cookbooks geared to Orthodox Jews also began to appear during this period, including fundraising cookbooks for the Chabad Lubavitch community, and Deal Delights, a cookbook now in its third edition since first appearing in 1976 by the Sephardic Women's Organization of the Jersey Shore.

At the turn of the 21st century, a number of Jewish cookbook authors, such as Susie Fishbein of ArtScroll’s Kosher by Design series, have large followings not unlike their historic counterparts, while the Internet has made recipe sharing instantaneous. A number of comprehensive cookbooks traversing the Jewish world have also appeared from chef/authors such as Joan Nathan, Gil Marks, and Claudia Roden--ensuring that the diversity and history of Jewish cuisine may be replicated in any kitchen today.

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Lara Rabinovitch is a Joint PhD candidate in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Department of History at New York University, where her field is modern Jewish history, with an emphasis on foodways and immigration. She serves as Managing Editor of Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures / Revue des cultures culinaires au Canada (www.cuizine.mcgill.ca).