The deep, dark recesses of the brain of any student of early 20th century American history should light up, tingling, when they compute the importance of The Settlement Cookbook and the Settlement House, established by Lizzie Black Kander. Both the concept and the woman made an indelible mark on America.
A native of Milwaukee, Lizzie Black Kander (b. 1858) was a moving force in establishing Milwaukee’s first social settlement in 1900. This organization, under the auspices of the Federation Jewish Charities of Milwaukee, was known everywhere as "The Settlement" or "The Settlement House." It offered instruction to newly arrived immigrants in vocational and domestic skills, plus classes in English, American history, and music, in hopes of introducing immigrant women to American consumer culture.
From the classes at the Settlement House sprang the need for somehow replicating recipes, household hints, and advice on housekeeping that were written on the chalkboard. The students, most of them high school girls, needed to get home before dark but were spending way too much time copying the lessons.
Mrs. Kander thought the creation of a cookbook would help alleviate the situation and allow more time for actual instruction. Since the gentlemen on the Settlement Board of Directors weren’t willing to risk the magnanimous amount of $18 on this venture and no other Jewish organizations were offering help in funding, Kander went to the printer husband of one of her female friends in hopes of assistance. He printed this landmark cookbook which was supported by selling advertisements from establishments such as the Boston Store, the Pfister Hotel, and the Plankinton House Hotel, to name but a few.
Because of the funding, Kander was able to augment the contents of the original book with more recipes donated by her friends, Milwaukee society matrons, favorite European recipes from her students and their families, and even was able to include recipes from noted chefs here and abroad.
In April, 1901, the first run of the cookbook made its appearance in the guise of The Way to a Man’s Heart...The Settlement Cookbook. Divided equally between simple recipes for girls just learning to cook and more involved and complex recipes for those cooks with previous training, The Settlement Cookbook also included household tips, and housekeeping advice. Spill grease on your floor? Immediately pour ice water on it to harden the grease. How to properly set a table? Always use clean linen, even if it is coarse and cheap. And so forth. Throughout the book, an underlying current implies that if you follow all the recipes and other directions implicitly, you will become a good American.
The Settlement Cookbook was Jewish by association only. After learning the book was written for and financed by a Jewish organization, many people automatically assumed it was a Jewish cookbook, not meant for any other group of Milwaukee residents but the Jews. From the very birth of the project, The Settlement Cookbook displayed a patent disregard for Jewish food regulations: it offered recipes for borscht, chopped herring, and paprika schnitzel in the same breath as recipes for oyster bisque and scalloped ham and potatoes for its non-Jewish readers. Just in the space of the two above-mentioned dishes, several rules of Kashrut (dietary laws, or the body of regulations in keeping Kosher) have been broken: oyster bisque contains oysters (shellfish that are prohibited) and cream; scalloped ham and potatoes is a double whammy with ham (from the pig which has a cloven hoof) and scalloped potatoes covered in cheese (milk and meat must not be consumed together). The Settlement Cookbook was a combination of Jewish, German, and other European recipes.
It is quite easy to be deluded with the ethnicity of the book. I have a tattered, hand-me-down copy of The Settlement Cookbook from my mother whose mother was Hungarian. I still remember my surprise the first time I let my fingers walk through the recipes, stopping here and there, to look at early 20th century standards in food and housekeeping. What were all these non-Jewish recipes doing in the book? They don’t belong here! It must be a printing error; they must belong in another cookbook. I was in mild shock looking at pork recipes and others of their ilk. Where was the recipe for Eastern European sweet and sour cabbage soup with chunks of beef and dozens of plump raisins floating throughout? What do I need to make Gefilte fish from scratch? Do I boil or bake my bagels?
Conceivably the most successful fundraising cookbook in American history, The Settlement Cookbook was initially sold for 50 cents per copy. It has been revised into 40 editions, including one in Yiddish for the young immigrant women for whom the book was written. It has sold more than 2 million copies and still funds charitable projects to the present. It is still a source of funding for the all-purpose Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee and remains a vibrant reminder of American social history.
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