A few years ago I was shopping at a used bookstore in Brandon, Manitoba. I stumbled across a cookbook and the first thing that caught my attention was the author’s name: Mrs. Simon Kander. I thought it quite peculiar. I picked it up and a little insert suggesting recipes for entertaining at bridge games fell to the floor. The title of the book was The way to a man’s heart… The Settlement Cookbook I was tickled pink.
I paid the store clerk the $15 dollars for the book and walked away with a book that I thought represented the history of women’s existence. Previously reduced to a formal married name on a cookbook filled with basic recipes and life skills such as hosting dinner parties and basic cleanliness.
Until very recently, it sat in my kitchen serving as an item of discussion for anyone who stumbled across it. Some time back, I pulled it out to show Nick. We had a good chuckle about its contents and even the measurements (Honestly, what is a quart or a pint?!) Then my curiosity got the better of me. This was not the first edition of the book. Who was Mrs. Simon Kander and what was all this about?
So I consulted Wikipedia.
As it turned out, the author’s name is Lizzie Black Kander.
She was the wife of a wealthy real estate developer – so that sufficiently explained why she was published as Mrs. Simon Kander. As for the multiple editions of the Settlement Cookbook, there was a method to the madness.
Kander was involved with a Settlement House in Milwaukee. After working as a truancy officer, she saw the struggles of newcomers to America assimilating into the culture. Especially the less wealthy newcomers. After working with some other women to provide basic necessities, such as clothing, to America’s newcomers, she and her colleagues came to realize helping newcomers was about more than providing clothing.
There was a serious need to provide the skills needed to adapt to life in the United States.
They started a settlement house. Kander served as president and also taught cooking classes.
After a while, they came to realize they needed a more stable source of income to keep the Settlement House running. Their board of directors refused to pay the $18 to publish the Settlement Cookbook, so Kander approached a printer who agreed to print the book, which was supported with advertising revenue.
After funding the settlement for nine years, the proceeds of the book allowed the settlement to grow to a new location as well as the establishing of a Jewish Community Centre.
None of the women involved with the Settlement House accepted pay until 1917. Kander didn’t accept a royalty from book sales until 1921. These women did this for the sake of helping immigrants.
In short, this cookbook has a history far richer than I could have imagined. While its title is still hilarious to me, it sold 2 million copies and helped countless immigrants settle into America with some much needed supports.
In light of today’s political climate, this seems somehow ironic. The concept of “making America great again” by reverting to what – this? A place where a bunch of women help immigrants who practice a different faith settle into their new home? Funny how items like this in history can really alter that “slogan”.
I have a completely renewed interest in this cookbook. It’s no longer just the cheeky little book in my kitchen. I’ve got dinner in the oven made right from this book. The recipes offer incredible insight into how people ate in the early 1900’s. It’s completely insightful to how trends in the kitchen have shifted – we definitely don’t cook the same today. If you happen to see a copy of one of the various editions, absolutely don’t hesitate to scoop it up. It’s worth it to own a little piece of history – both American and culinary.