THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART*

*it’s not what you think

Little did I know that going through my old cookbooks would be so thought-provoking. Going by the “one year rule” – tossing whatever I haven’t used in the last year – these cookbooks should have been donated years ago.

The One and Only Settlement Cookbook

Let’s start with The Settlement Cook Book. It was first published 118 years ago. It was written by Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Black Kander, a social worker in Milwaukee. She taught cooking classes at the Settlement House – an organization that helped poor European immigrants find their way in America. She believed Jewish women had an obligation in “advancing the history and customs of their forefathers.” Her thought was that if these women knew how to cook and clean, they would be rewarded with a happy husband and a happy life. This woman was no suffragette.

Mrs. Lizzie Black Kander

The book’s tagline was “The way to a man’s heart”. Besides the recipes, it gave strict instruction on how to set the table and clean spills. Kander wanted the man to..

“be surprised and pleased when he gets to the table. That is where he should forget all of his worldly cares”.

This part is great:

The hostess should serve the soup, salad, dessert and coffee, and, at a family dinner, the vegetables and entrées. The host serves the fish and meat.

The first copies sold out within a year. It was a way to reach the ultimate goal – finding a man and taking care of a home. Cooking gave women the means to assimilate while still maintaining a connection with their roots. The advertisements in the book are classic:

A Good Milkman
The beer that made Milwaukee famous!

There have been at least 40 editions since that time. By 1991 the sexist tagline was gone. The Settlement House was renamed the Milwaukee Jewish Center and then the Jewish Community Center ( AKA the JCC, or for the real old timers, “the Center” ;). Most of the women I know have a copy right up there with The Silver Palate.

As dated as it is to the point of absurdity, the housekeeping and cooking duties are still done by women in most American homes. For some this is out of choice, to those I say ‘sababa’! They may see cooking as a means of creative expression and culinary art. There are women who do love to cook and clean. I love to cook – not every day- and hate to clean.

For others it is a pattern dictated by gender alone. It is an added job for the woman at the end of a long day. Sure, the men do the classic male stuff – they are in charge of the barbecue of course or the grocery shopping if the woman makes the list. This is true even if the woman works and when she is the only breadwinner in the family.

My cookbook collection…

Women come up with all the excuses – I don’t trust him to buy what is in season, he doesn’t know how to cook, he can’t boil an egg, he doesn’t keep the house as clean as I do – without actually saying how much it sucks and you hate having to do it all the time. This is the quintessential “problem that has no name”, described by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique from 1963.

People ask me how to raise a feminist boy or girl? The answer is by example. Build a home without gender-dictated roles and your kids will learn.

The Settlement Cook Book started with the goal of finding a man. Considering its humble roots, it now it holds a place as one of the greatest American cookbooks of all time. The schoolteacher language of early editions has softened. Non-kosher recipes appeared among the traditional kishke, kreplach, borscht and kasha varnishkes. I don’t use my Settlement Cookbook much, except during the Jewish holidays when I’m feeling the diaspora blues.

Hummus with Israeli pickles

I’m proud to say my mom was a true feminist and one of the later contributors to The Settlement Cook Book.

Do you own a copy of this legendary book? Who does the cooking in your house? Who “mans” the barbecue?

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4 comments

  1. In our house we treasured the Beth El cookbook, I’ll send you a photo of it when I get home. I loved this read because “I’m from Milwaukee and I ought to know…..” Mwah!

    1. Yes, please send me the picture. The Settlement cookbook was associated with Temple Emanuel-the one we belonged to (reform)

  2. I have copies of The settlement cook books in both my homes. My Aunt Alyce who was a fabulous cook left me her copy which I have here in FL. I occasionally reference it for recipes or measurements. This one has a copyright of 1976. I’ll never give them way.I’ll send you a picture of mine.

  3. Good to keep these- they do spark joy. Mom loved that book but never let her tether her for too long. Thanks- this piece is wonderful.

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