Determined to teach Milwaukee’s Eastern European Jews to cook American, in 1901 Lizzie Black Kander and her committee of Jewish clubwomen raised $18 to publish what was to become the most successful fundraising cookbook in U.S. history, according to author Bob Kann. Originally titled “The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cook Book,” editions of the cookbook sold more than 2 million copies over the course of a century.
While the book contains such Jewish classics as Noodle Pudding with Apples and Nuts, “Matzos” balls, and Brisket and Carrot Stew, the word “Jewish” doesn’t appear to crop up anywhere.
In fact, with such decidedly un-Jewish recipes as Lobster Thermidor, Cream of Oyster Soup and Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce, the book’s Jewish origins are hidden, and are not even mentioned in the preface of a 1965 edition.
Kann, however, can shed some light. The Wisconsin educator and author of “A Recipe for Success: Lizzie Kander and Her Cookbook,” will reveal the backstory of Kander and her cookbook on Sunday, Jan. 29, at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Library. The event is co-presented by the Culinary Historians of Northern California.
“She was catering to everyone, not specifically kosher households, to say the least,” Kann said wryly during a phone interview from his home in Madison, Wisconsin.
Kander (1858-1940), a well-to-do volunteer, taught cooking classes to girls at the Settlement House, where their mothers learned American housekeeping and hygiene. The facility, which contained a bathhouse, was originally called the Keep Clean Mission.
In teaching her classes, Kander decided to print the recipes, so she and her cadre of Jewish clubwomen got together to share their recipes as well as her students’ family favorites. When the men on the Settlement board refused to authorize the $18 needed for printing, the women solicited advertisements and eventually raised enough funds to build a new Settlement house. In 1928, cookbook funds helped finance Milwaukee’s first nursery school.
While the cookbook contained kosher recipes favored by the immigrant families, it also included favorites of the women on Kander’s committee, mainly American-born German Jewish women who did not keep kosher. Hence, lobster and pork. Not to mention Hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew) as well as Lebkuchen and Pfefferneusse, popular German baked goods, and the British Good Friday classic, Hot Cross Buns.
Like many of the women who were involved in America’s settlement movement, the motives of the German Jews who founded Milwaukee’s Settlement House may not have been entirely altruistic. In her 1883 poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, the New York-born Emma Lazarus characterized the new immigrants as “wretched refuse” and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
That attitude prevailed among assimilated Jews like Lazarus. While Milwaukee was “pretty tolerant,” Kann said, the Settlement House founders were “still leery” that the newcomers would reflect poorly on the wider Jewish community and trigger anti-Semitism. “They wanted to both help the immigrants and get them off the streets, and get them integrated into Milwaukee society.”
They wanted to both help the immigrants and get them off the streets, and get them integrated into Milwaukee society. — Bob Kahn
While “the original goal was to clean up and reform” the Eastern European immigrants, “much to Lizzie’s credit, she changed over time,” Kann said. “The older she got, the better she got to know them and the more she appreciated their determination, the more she was interested in [helping them achieve] justice and get good jobs.”
Yet Kander opposed the suffragette movement and believed the role of women was to be “good homemakers, providing good food and moral guidance. This was the context in which women could express their Jewish identity,” Kann said.
He called her “a walking contradiction,” as Kander served as Settlement board president for 18 years, as well as on Milwaukee’s school board. In addition to writing and editing the cookbook, she wrote a newspaper cooking column.
“She was a mover and shaker in the city,” Kann said. “As much as she talked about women staying in the home, she was [the kind of] modern woman that we think of today, a woman who did it all. What she said and what she did were two different things.”
Kann, who has been involved in other projects for the Wisconsin Historical Society, stumbled upon Lizzie Kander while exploring the stories of Jewish immigrants to the upper Midwest. When the society initiated a series of books for young people on famous Wisconsinites, he jumped on board, writing Kander’s story as well as five others, including a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Growing up in Skokie, Illinois, Kann said his mother had a copy of “The Settlement Cook Book,” but he hadn’t perused it himself until researching Kander. “My mother reigned supreme in the kitchen and she barely let me dry the dishes.”
His favorite “Settlement” recipe is for brownies. “Just the thought of it makes my cholesterol go up a couple of hundred points,” he said. “ I have to do it in limited doses.”