By Ellie Gettinger, Education Director
Today you may be expecting to see something funny or unexpected, it is April Fool’s Day after all. But I want to mark another celebration on this day. Today is the 115th anniversary of the publication of The Settlement Cook Book. This is an artifact that just keeps coming up–we hosted a successful program with the Wisconsin 101 project, in which we detailed the cookbook’s impact on state and national culture. I was interviewed recently by a national source to talk about the book and its Jewish content and next week I am giving a presentation about it at a local senior center. I won’t say that it gets the most attention, but it is certainly one of our most central stories. I have had visitors from everywhere–Atlanta to Ashwaubenon (one of my favorite Wisconsin town names), Jewish and non-Jewish–who relate to this cookbook and tell me their stories of growing up with it.
The cookbook appeared in numerous editions, but here is the story of the first. Lizzie Kander, leader extraordinaire of the Settlement House, goes to her board of directors, all men that she had recruited to be part of this endeavor to ask for $18 (roughly $500 today) to publish a cookbook. While the men signed on to Lizzie’s mission to acculturate new immigrants, they did not really see the practical application of a cookbook. Most of these men had cooks and I would venture that none of them had ever made anything in a kitchen. She went to her friend and publisher Merton Yewdale, who agreed to help her find advertising. They sold their product at the Boston Store and gave the first twenty to her students. This is the beginning of an icon…it became nationally known and famously James Beard said, “If I consult a cookbook at all, it is likely to be by one of these sensible flat-heeled authors like the famous Mrs. Kander.” That first edition raised over $500–more than $13,000 by today’s standards.
Below are two of my favorite icons from Settlement Cook Books–the formal table setting and some of the early ads that made it possible. Perhaps you can celebrate Settlement Cook Book Day as I like to call it, by using just as much cutlery as the illustration below shows!