Not a Chef, Not a Restaurateur, but an Expert on Jewish Culinary Literature
Meet Janice Bluestein Longone, the woman behind one of the most important collections of American culinary ephemera
Robinson’s own research exemplifies the history and context provided by these texts and what they say about how people ate, where they were from and what, from one moment to another and one region to another, they felt about their Jewishness. Consider, for instance, the implications of something as seemingly minor as whether a kugel recipe has raisins in it as indicative of which side of Europe’s so-called “Gefilte Line” a group of Jews might hail from.
“North and east of this line, which runs along eastern Poland and dumps down southeast into the Ukraine, you tended to eat savory foods,” Robinson said. “Your gefilte fish did not have sugar, and you would never put raisins or any more than a scant teaspoon of sugar in your kugel or other foods. If you lived west or south of this line, you would have sweet kugels, you would have lots of raisins.”
Beyond the exhibit’s charity cookbook collection, Longone and Robinson plan to show how Jewish foods affected the broader culture as well. In The Virginia Housewife, published in 1846, author Mary Randolph advises readers to seek out meats from kosher markets because she trusts “none but the Jewish butchers, who are paid exclusively” to know how to avoid the “flesh of diseased animals.”
Longone, who says she’s put in more than 60,000 volunteer hours curating her collection for the library, is still formulating the lecture she is scheduled to give on Sept. 24 to officially kick off the exhibition. She is likely, she says, to explain that as much as she has learned about Jewish life in the United States from the books that she has, she remains vexed by the limited information available about the life of Jewish Cookery Book author Esther Levy. Part of her enthusiasm for her avocation has been a sense that she can reclaim the stories of and provide credit to female pioneers, and to that end she and her husband have traveled the nation trying to learn more about women like Levy, Simmons, and Malinda Russell, author of the 1866 pamphlet believed to be the first cookbook written by an African-American.
The quest, Longone says, continues and with it more revelations even for her. “What I’m learning through this exhibition is that many of the things that I could attribute to what I’m finding among the Jewish cookbooks are exactly the same thing as the Protestants were doing but early on,” she said. “I mean, it’s really very interesting.”
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