Review: The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart, by Mrs. Simon Kander

by Rebeca on May 24, 2009

settlement-cook-bookThe Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart
by Mrs. Simon Kander
The Settlement Cook Book Co., 1949. 623 pages.

I come from a long line of cooks. My paternal grandmother was famous for her chocolate cakes, and my father was always trying out a new recipe and tweaking old ones. One of his favorite cookbooks was Mrs. Simon Kander’s The Settlement Cook Book.

The edition I have is from 1949. It could have well been my grandmother’s. The yellow cover has faded, the binding is torn and has been taped. The pages are yellow and there are several thumbstains. It’s a book that’s been used over and over again. According to the cover page this is the 29th edition–enlarged and revised. The first one was published in 1901!

Not knowing much about Kander, I went ahead Googled both her and the cookbook. What I learned from the Historic Cookbook Projects was that her full name was Lizzie Black Kander, a community service leader and cookbook author. Below is her full bio along with information about the cookbook:

In her twenties, Kander began working to help Jewish immigrants -comprised mainly of Russian Orthodox Jews arriving in large numbers-overcome poverty and adjust to American ways. She joined the Ladies Relief Sewing Society, where she collected used clothes and repaired them for needy families. As president of the society in 1894-95, she expanded the group’s activities and philosophy, making personal contact between volunteers and immigrants a priority. Their name changed to the “Keep Clean Mission” in 1895 and quickly changed again to the Milwaukee Jewish Mission (1896) as activities expanded beyond lecturing children on cleanliness, to include industrial education, sewing, paperwork, painting and drawing. In 1900 the Mission, under Kander’s direction, merged with another Jewish charity, the Sisterhood of Personal Service, to form Milwaukee’s first settlement called simply “The Settlement.” Settlements — institutions founded by educated, affluent citizens to provide services within a congested urban area – were already established by this time in Chicago (Hull House) and New York City (University Settlement). Kander succeeded in attracting financial and volunteer support for “The Settlement” from Milwaukee’s Federated Jewish Charities. As president from 1900 to 1918, she expanded the educational services to assist children and adults, recent Jewish immigrants and long-time citizens. There were night classes in English and American history, instruction in Hebrew, a mothers’ class, athletic and cultural clubs for children, a lending library, a savings bank, a gymnasium and public baths.

The first edition of 1,000 copies of The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart appeared in 1901, and was an immediate success. Since assimilation necessitated adjustments between Jewish and American culinary traditions, the cookbook contained Jewish and American recipes, and recipes that were amalgams of these traditions. In this way the cookbook reflected some of the foods and recipes that Jews brought with them, foods they encountered for the first time, and variants from other parts of Europe, all presented within an up-to-date domestic science framework. Also, given the anecdotal evidence that poor cooking was responsible for much marital discord, the readers of the day probably took the sub-title quite seriously.

The second edition appeared in 1903, and sold 1,500 copies. To date the book has gone through more than 40 editions and has sold more than two million copies, which makes it the most profitable charity cookbook ever. Kander served as cookbook editor from 1914 until her death, revising each edition and adding new recipes. The skeptical trustees – who once joked that they would gladly share in any profits should the ladies publish a cookbook without their financial support – would see cookbook royalties provide more than a quarter of the sum paid for a brand new building in 191l; the Settlement values of service and education would endure, even as the needs of Milwaukee Jews changed. Immigration tapered off in the 1920s, and by 1931 the group had changed location again, to a building five times larger; now called the Jewish Community Center, it offered an expansive program of vocational, cultural and communal activities, as well as sports and social events. The cookbook royalties, again, covered a large portion of the building’s cost.

Sections include:

  • How to feed a family
  • How to set a table
  • Directions for serving with a maid, no maid, in the Russian style, platter service, buffet style, etc.
  • Cooking for invalids (Pre-politically correct days)
  • Menus and food combinations
  • Cooking for camping and how to build a campfire

Some of my favorite, but not heart-healthy, recipes are the following:

  • Berliner Pfann Kuchen (Filled Dougnuts)
  • Chocolate Icebox Cake made with Lady Fingers, lots of butter, eggs, and cream
  • Potato Cakes made with cold mashed potatoes
  • Chicken Liver Timbale
  • Cheese Sticks

FInding these recipes takes me back to a time when I was an underweight kid and my mother insisted that my father make something to fatten me up. He tried, I ate massive quantities of doughnuts, cheese sticks, and cake, but I never gained any weight.

Now, well, that’s a different story. I never make any of these recipes, but maybe when I start picking wild raspberries I’ll get a hankering for Berliner Pfann Kuchen, make a dozen, and take my cue on how to serve them.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Randall Radic May 25, 2009 at 8:39 am

I enjoy your weekly review of a cookbook. Which, as far as I know, is unique. I have never before read a cookbook review. The next time I go to B&N, I’m actually going to visit the Cooking Section of the store and look around. Thanks!

Michele May 25, 2009 at 10:46 am

Love this review! I love cookbooks, especially old ones that give an idea of culture at the time.

Rebeca May 25, 2009 at 11:09 am

Thanks. I wanted to do something different and I thought why not cookbooks! It’s a lot of fun.

Rebeca May 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

The Settlement Houses have always intrigued me. I used to live on the Lower East Side next to the Henry Street Settlement House and I’ve always wondered if my grandmother ever belonged to it when she first came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia.

Jaci Opsahl November 28, 2009 at 11:54 am

I purchased the cookbook but it was the 1903 edition. My problem is that the cookbook says to bake at low, moderate, and high temperatures. Please let me know where I can purchase a revised cookbook.

Jaci Opsahl

Rebeca November 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm

If you go on Amazon you’ll find revised editions. When I use the cookbook for recipes that need to be baked, I usually go with 350-400 degrees. This is how I try to break it down: Low: warm to 300; medium: 325-400; high: 425-500. Obviously, you’ll have to experiment with your oven and, of course, it also depends whether you have an electric or gas oven.

Nancy Cooke June 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

My mom, God rest her soul, had this cook book and always used it. I was looking for a certain recipe that she got lfrom your book. I would love it if you can end me recipes. THANK YOU

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Cathy Moll December 9, 2011 at 12:41 am

My mother was given a copy of this cookbook from her soon to be sister-in-law — 1942. I have since bought several copies from ebay for gifts to my daughters and an aunt. The banana cake is one of my favorites. I love this step back in time as it makes me feel connected to my past. Thanks for the insightful review.

Loretta Siegel January 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Wanted to show the interior of the Settlement House in Manhattan, but it was closed.I used to attend lectures while attending Brooklyn College. Would love info. about it now.

Marsha Wernick February 29, 2012 at 2:40 am

As a child in the 50’s in Bedford Stuyvescent in Brooklyn, I remember frequently thumbing through my mother’s Settlement Cookbook. I viewed this cookbook as the blueprint for successful womanhood and looked forward to one day mastering all the traditional Jewish recipes. I envisioned my brood of 25 grandchildren running all over my small apartment, stopping periodically to gaze at the homemade delights I would be preparing just for them. Of course, they adored their bubbe….. me!

I am almost 65 now, educated with two master’s degrees, living in a beautiful home in Central California, and still no grandkids! I never turned into the great cook I had in mind, nor the consummate housekeeper.

But…… I always remember the photo – the fronticepiece – of the Settlement Cookbook of a very kind and sweet gray-haired older lady who I assumed to be the author. I always hoped that one day I would look just like her. She was almost the clone of the wife of Nikita Kruscheve! LOL I have searched in vain for this photo. Would you happen to have a copy? Thanks so much. Marsha Wernick

Jim Willette December 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm

My mother, who is approaching 90, has this edition or one very close to it (it could have been ’47 or ’51). It was among the first cook books she acquired. It was a gift from a neighbor in North Carolina who must have lived in Wisconsin. In any case it figures large in my childhood as the source of a number of basic good dishes. I went so far as to find a 1965 edition in a used book store, and a “New Settlement Cookbook” found in a wine store in central Illinois. The recipes change a bit over time, but the essentials seem to endure. Thanks for the review!

Jim Willette December 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm

BTW, Ms. Kander’s name did not appear as the author until relatively recently (after 1965, at least).

Sarah January 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Lovely! Such a cultural and historical trip as well as a very insightful and delicious selection of yummies!

Lynne July 21, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I have my mother’s copy which was a wedding present in 1945 with Mrs. Kander’s photograph in it. I love the cream puff and peanut butter cookie recipe.

Overall I just love this cookbook-although mine is falling apart with pages torn , stained and yellowed with age.

Claudia December 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

My grandmother, Omi, whose own mother died soon after her birth was an excellent cook. Her only cookbook and household bible was The Settlement Cookbook a Way To a Man’s Heart. Omi didn’t waste anything and enjoyed the adoration of family and friends for great tasting nurishing meals. Her history included living as an unmarried immigrant from Berlin at the wrong time in history. Putting a good meal on the table for herself, her daughter and Omi’s friends was of momentous importance. Her son-in-law who battled with her daily, would bring his Navy buddies from Floyd Bennett Airbase to our upstate home for the week end. They ravished her roasted chicken and I did too.

Val December 15, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I am looking for a butter tart recipe. My mom thinks it may have been from this cookbook. If there is this recipe, could someone share it with me.

Linda Yelle March 22, 2015 at 5:27 pm

I have a fifth edition of the cookbook that was given to my grandmother in 1914. Our covers look similar, except mine is gray. My book is in quite good condition. If you are curious I can send a picture.

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