This year, if your search for the perfect honey cake recipe takes you into a community cookbook, take a moment to flip through the whole volume. You might find that its pages lend a richer and more complex flavor to Jewish history than you thought.

For many, preparing traditional Jewish holiday meals means seeking out recipes in cookbooks published by synagogue sisterhoods or other Jewish communal organizations. For generations, these types of groups created and sold cookbooks as a fundraiser. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the vast majority of contributors to and consumers of these cookbooks were women. They shared old family recipes, as well as new favorites reflecting contemporary tastes.

In addition to recipes, many community cookbooks articulated a message about the role of women in preserving Jewish foodways while celebrating an American identity in the home. They offered instructions for day-to-day home management as well as entertaining, all with an eye to helping the reader create the “model” Americanized Jewish home.

In some volumes, between pages of recipes for everything from gelatin molds to kreplach, are illustrations that communicate a message of what it means to be Jewish, American and, often, an American-Jewish woman. Like the recipes, accompanying drawings and photographs were usually contributed by community members.

The following illustrations are a sampling from the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s collection.

The photos are as follows:

  1. The Ten Condiments: and Other Sinful Delicacies, B’nai Brith Women, Mitzvah Chapter, Columbia, MD, cover by Debora Adler (1992).
  2. This image featuring a reclining woman depicts a model hostess. Perhaps in contrast to her immigrant ancestors who struggled to put food on the table, she leisurely enjoys hors d’oeuvres while surrounded by cocktails and finger foods.
    From Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 years of Jewish Cooking in America – with over 4,000 Years of Heritage, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (1975).
  3. Rather than an image of a traditional Jewish dish—such as kishka (stuffed derma filled with meat and meal)—a festooned hotdog opens the meat section of A Pinch of This, A Dash of That.
    From A Pinch of This, A Dash of That, Sisterhood of the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center, illustrations by Rachelle Sandra Meiselman (ca. 1960s).
  4. Though neither Jewish Creative Cooking nor A Pinch of This, A Dash of That offers a recipe for authentic kishka, the latter offers a mock kishka recipe for the vegetarian at your meal.
    Mock kishka recipe, contributed by Frances Seidenman, in Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 years of Jewish Cooking in America – with over 4,000 Years of Heritage, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (1975).
  5. Readers expecting kugel recipes behind this image of steaming casserole dishes are more likely to find instructions for “American” dishes such as cheese cornflake pudding, cheese grits and Mexican cheese casserole.
    From Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 years of Jewish Cooking in America – with over 4,000 Years of Heritage, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (1975).
  6. Nearly all Jewish community cookbooks include a section for holidays. This table is set with dishes from every major Jewish holiday.
    From Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 years of Jewish Cooking in America – with over 4,000 Years of Heritage, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (1975).
  7. Here, a happy couple of matzahs invite the reader to peruse Passover recipes.
    From A Pinch of This, A Dash of That, Sisterhood of the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center, illustrations by Rachelle Sandra Meiselman (ca. 1960s).
  8. Perhaps some chefs need a promise that the food of their ancestors was indeed as delicious as today’s haute cuisine. The image seems to promise latkes on par with any dish at the finest French bistro.
    From Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure, Shaare Tefila Sisterhood, illustrations by Sulvia Hecht, Sylvia Cort and Mildred Nefdle (ca. 1958).
  9. This image presents a caricature of the “ideal” Jewish-American woman: She preserves Jewish religion in the home by lighting candles, serving sacramental wine and preparing delicious traditional food for holidays.
    From The Happy Cooker, compiled by Ohr Kodesh Sisterhood, Chevy Chase, MD, illustrated by Sharon Lande and Judy Koenick (ca. 1970s – 1980s).
  10. This schematic is meant to help the reader accomplish the mitzvah of eating meals in a sukkah for Sukkot. It opens a section of recipes for holiday meals.
    Plan for sukkah by William Rabin from Celebrations from Our Kitchen, Temple Sinai, Washington, DC (1993).