How one editor sparked a cookbook revolution

Judith Jones never set out to be a cookbook editor. “The idea of working on cookbooks never even occurred to me,” Jones wrote in her 2008 memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. But even though it wasn’t a career she sought, she ended up introducing the world to many culinary greats like Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey, Lidia Bastianich, and Claudia Roden. Jones is the subject of a new biography titled The Editor: How Publishing Legend Judith Jones Shaped Culture in America by Sara B. Franklin.

The New York Times just published Melissa Clark’s review of the book (gift link), which traces Jones’s path from a poetry-loving undergraduate to one of the most powerful and influential cookbook editors in the world. Her success came in part for having great intuition – as noted in the NYT article, Jones plucked The Diary of Anne Frank from a slush pile – and because she made cookbook authors write to the same literary standards as an author in any other genre. She also promoted authors from diverse backgrounds, bringing the foods of India, the Mediterranean, and other regions into American homes.

“Judith wasn’t just interested in recipes,” said Madhur Jaffrey, who published her first book with Jones in 1973. “She was interested in the people behind them and their culture. This was radical for the time.” Jones was the type of editor who immersed herself deeply into the books. She would test recipes, ask insightful questions, and ensure that the recipes were clearly written and would work in a home kitchen. All of this set the books that Jones edited apart from the mainstream volumes, which were more utilitarian and perfunctory. To say that Jones sparked a cookbook revolution is not hyperbole: everyone who loves today’s cookbooks should be thankful for the world she created.

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  • KatieK1  on  June 14, 2024

    Also in the review, Melissa Clark trashed The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Twice! A cookbook which was my mother’s favorite and which I still use because it has some really excellent recipes in it.

  • KatieK1  on  June 14, 2024

    I’m referring to an old spiral-bound copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.

  • Cathyw  on  July 16, 2024

    Thanks for your review. Judith Jones was inspiring and a pioneer in publishing cookbooks, including all of Julia Childs. Everyone should know her name!

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