‘Celebrity’ Behind First US Yiddish Cookbook

While walking his dog several years ago, John Lankenau stumbled upon a mysterious tombstone on East Fourth Street in Manhattan, which he took home in hopes of uncovering the mystery of the name etched on the stone: Hinda Amchanitzky. With help from experts and a New York Times reporter, Lankenau discovered that Amchanitzky had written and self-published the first Yiddish cookbook in the United States.

Manual of How To Cook and Bake (translated from "Lehr-bukh ṿi azoy tsu ḳokhen un baḳen") (Image via The Jewish Daily Forward)

“Manual of How to Cook and Bake” (translated from “Lehr-bukh vÌ£i azoy tsu kÌ£okhen un bakÌ£en“) (Image via The Jewish Daily Forward)

In a post for the Jewish Daily Forward food blog “The Jew & the Carrot,” Gianna Palmer details the life of the woman whose tombstone eventually made its way back to its proper grave on Staten Island in 2011, over a century after her death.

Born in Russia, Amchanitzky came to New York in 1895 and with a background in cooking, opened restaurants on the Lower East Side. When she published her cookbook, she became a local celebrity among Jewish women in the neighborhood, said Jane Ziegelman, a food historian and the author behind “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.”

Ziegelman’s sense that Amchanitzky was likely a “local East Side celebrity” stems from the fact that Jewish women living on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century had essentially one place to look for new recipes: Amchanitzky’s “Manual of How To Cook and Bake,” which she self-published in 1901.

“In a sense, they adopted Hinda as a kind of culinary [prophet]: someone who spoke their language, who shared their values, but who could also lead them into the new food territory which they discovered in New York,” Ziegelman said as she presented her research on Amchanitzky at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Wednesday evening, where she was joined by Annie Polland, head of education and programs at the museum, and Sam Roberts, the Times journalist who originally broke the story of Amchanitzky’s tombstone.

By putting recipes down in print, Amchanitzky broke with the Jewish tradition of orally passing them down from generation to generation. And thus her cookbook became one of the first in Yiddish to be published in the world.

Though many of the cookbook’s 148 recipes are Jewish classics — gefilte fish, chopped herring, chicken soup, stuffed spleen — less-than-traditional dishes that Amchanitzky came across in her travels or as a New York immigrant also make the cut, including English pot roast, hamburger steak, oatmeal and eight kinds of pie.

Visit The Jewish Daily Forward for one of the recipes, Cranberry Strudel – just in time for Thanksgivukkah.

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