Lizzie Black Kander has been called the “Jane Addams of Milwaukee” for her tireless social service work, which included editing and publishing “The Settlement Cook Book” in 1901.
The book provided more than recipes; it taught newcomers to this country how to cook and eat like Americans. Over 113 years, 40 editions and more than 2 million copies sold, “The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart” remains the most famous and profitable charity cookbook ever published.
“She is the perfect ideal of an American. Something has to be done, and she does it,” says Jan Longone, adjunct curator of American culinary history at the University of Michigan’s Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library in Ann Arbor.
“She really made a difference across America. She introduced new cuisine, new techniques and helped people assimilate.”
For as Angela Fritz wrote in a 2004 article for the Wisconsin Magazine of History, the cookbook’s goal “was not to catch a man but to become an ‘American.’ It was Lizzie Black Kander who set those goals, and in the course of achieving them created a piece of American culture that could be found in kitchens throughout the country.”
Born in Milwaukee, Kander spent much of her life working with and for the city’s poor and immigrant communities, notably recently arrived Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1898, she began offering cooking classes to girls at the Milwaukee Jewish Mission, which merged in 1900 with another Jewish charitable group to become The Settlement. Kander served as its president for nearly 18 years, according to the biography “A Recipe for Success: Lizzie Kander and Her Cookbook.”
As author Bob Kann wrote in the book, Kander noticed students were spending too much time copying down the recipes instead of cooking with them. So she suggested a cookbook be written for use in the class. When The Settlement board rejected her request for $18 (about $500 today) to publish the cookbook, Kander went out and found the money.
“The Settlement Cook Book” was “an immediate success,” notes the Wisconsin Historical Society in its online page about Kander. “Combining recipes with instructions on cleanliness, food storage and housekeeping, Kander’s cookbook was an amalgam of Jewish and American traditions, all presented within a modern domestic science framework,” the society wrote.
What seems surprising today is the number of non-kosher dishes in the cookbook.
“There were few so-called Jewish recipes in the book, because there was an assumption that the immigrants already knew how to prepare those,” said Ellen F. Steinberg, author of “From the Jewish Heartland: Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways.
Besides learning to cook in the American way, readers learned how to entertain like Americans, whether that meant mixing a Manhattan cocktail or coming up with lemonade for 150 people. And then there was advice on how to live American, from properly dusting a room to setting a table to lighting a fire.
“That sounds funny to us, but for someone who didn’t know how to work in someone’s house, learning how to light a fire was important,” says Steinberg, a food writer and cultural anthropologist living in River Forest, Ill.
A second edition followed in 1903. Kander, as Kann and Langone noted, was not satisfied with just reprinting the first edition. She corrected recipes, reorganized them and added new ones. And so it went.
“There were recipes for everyone in there,” Steinberg said
There were 23 editions published before Kander died in 1940 at age 82. Proceeds from the book, as her obituary in The New York Times noted, raised the initial $75,000 needed to organize the Milwaukee Jewish Center.
“Her cookbook is still being used throughout the world. Her cookbook is still cherished with families,” says Kan.