by Kosher Today Staff Reporters
NEW YORK — It probably wasn’t a surprise that unlike recent Kosherfest shows, there were no Kosher Cookbook author book signings back in 1989 when the kosher food trade show first started. The kosher market in the US was not very rich when it came to kosher cookbooks. Back at the turn of the 20th century, there was "The Settlement Cook Book", authored by a woman who sought to help the wave of immigrants that swept into the United States at that time. There was Crisco that was a basic staple in Jewish homes and occasionally published kosher recipes. But when Kosherfest started, the most successful kosher cookbook was Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook, published by the Lubavitch Women’s Cookbook Publications who at that time were said to have sold more than 300,000 copies.
But within a few years, as kosher began its meteoric rise, a host of kosher cookbooks began to appear, most notably by authors like Joan Nathan with her Jewish Cooking in America, whichwon both the James Beard Award for the best American cookbook and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award. The roster continued to grow with names like Levana Kirschenbaum, Jeffrey Nathan, Gilbert Marks, Susie Fishbein, Jamie Geller, Victoria Dwek, Leah Schapira, Ethel Hofman and more. What happened?
Kosher was in the midst of a transition, from the basic foods that had made their way from Eastern Europe and perhaps in many homes the Middle East to America to a new cuisine of upscale dishes that were never intended to be kosher back in the olden days. Kosher was no longer about the food category, but about taste, exotic ingredients, presentation, and method of preparation. The new cookbooks took many bland and taken for granted dishes and turned them into a culinary experience. Nothing was the same anymore.
The matzoh ball could be flavored, the chicken and brisket fused with something else or doused in tasty sauces, frozen gefilte fish enhanced to suit every table, and almost every dish (even grandma’s) was tinkered with. Most importantly, the cookbooks catered to a new generation of young Jews who coveted the thrill and adventure of creative cooking, even as the homemakers dealt with the challenges of working, larger families and increased volunteerism. Kosher would never be the same again and with time the new cooking experience became part of the growing number of weekly Jewish publications as did special cooking magazines, first with Gil Marks’ Kosher Gourmet and more recently h publications like Jamie Geller’s Joy of Kosher. Of all the Jewish books sold today, kosher cookbooks are clearly bestsellers.
But there is no question that no review of the kosher food industry in the past quarter century would be complete without taking a closer look at the role kosher cookbooks have played in the growth of kosher foods.