Monday, June 15, 2015
Turning a Long Lost Cookbook Into a Bestseller By Joy Bean | Jun 12, 2015
A cookbook published in 1938 in Yiddish doesn’t sound like a slam dunk to be a bestseller in 2015, and yet that’s precisely what happened with The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today’s Kitchen by Fania Lewando, translated by Eve Jochnowitz (Schocken). The book, released on May 26, debuted at #8 on PW's cookbook bestseller list.
With only about 1,000 copies printed and sold throughout Europe before WWII broke out, the cookbook would have been lost to history if it had not been for two women, Wendy Waxman and Barbara Mazur, who found a copy of the long out-of-print book in the rare book room at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. The women found a champion of the book in Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan who, in turn, brought the book to the attention of Schocken editorial director Altie Karper.
Bringing new life to a long-forgotten gem is one challenge, but promoting a book in which the author is deceased (Lewando died in 1941 while fleeing from the Nazis), and therefore doesn’t have a current platform, is even trickier. In order to do the book and its history justice, Schocken went back to the cookbook's roots, which are surprisingly current. “With all of Fania Lewando’s excellent advice about using the freshest, best quality fruit and vegetables you can get, and about using every part of the fruit or vegetable, and about not discarding even the cooking water, it seemed as though the book was written last week, and not 70 years ago,” said Karper. “I was particularly intrigued by the vegetable juice and fruit juice recipes. How much more 21st century can you get?” Read more...