Earlier this year at the 2017 James Beard Awards, Judith Jones was awarded the 2017 Cookbook Hall of Fame award. Each year, the honor is given to a book or body of work that had a significant and enduring impact on the way we cook and understand food.
Jones, whom The New York Times reports passed away on Aug. 2 at the age of 93 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was most deserving of the award. She joined New York's Alfred A. Knopf publishing house in 1957 after some time at Doubleday in Paris where she pulled "The Diary of Anne Frank" out of the slush pile — the pile of unsolicited manuscripts.
At Knopf, she championed another classic book — the one that would eventually be titled "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.
Over the years, she edited the books of many respected cooks and chefs. In my personal cookbook collection, which I keep pruned to a manageable three shelves, I have seven cookbooks that I know Jones edited, although there may be more in my collection that I'm unaware of.
When Jones won the Cookbook Hall of Fame award, the James Beard Foundation wrote, "It’s not too much to say that without Jones, armed with her innate sense of storytelling and powerful eye for editing, cookbooks as we know them today would not exist."
Here are five classic cookbooks that Jones' "powerful eye for editing" made better.
'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'
Perhaps the book Jones is most well-known for editing, particularly after the 2009 movie "Julie & Julia" that told the story of Jones working with Child and her co-authors and the frustrating process of getting it to print. The manuscript that caught Jones' eye was 800 pages long and titled "French Recipes for American Cooks." It had been rejected several times by other publishers, according to The New York Times, but Jones knew there was something there. She had lived and cooked in Paris and saw how well these recipes were explained for an American audience. Her instincts paid off, and after much re-writing and editing, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was published in 1961.
'More Classic Italian Cooking'
Italian cook and author Marcella Hazan was not happy with the publisher of her first cookbook, "The Classic Italian Cook Book," so Child sent her to Jones, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. Jones edited her second book, and although the two did not have an easygoing relationship, "More Classic Italian Cooking" was a better book because of Jones' editing. Eventually the two books were combined and revised into "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," which is considered a must-have cookbook for Italian cuisine, or any cuisine for that matter.
'The Taste of Country Cooking'
Edna Lewis, the African-American cook and restaurant owner, published three cookbooks on Southern cooking and is often credited with bringing African-American cooking from the South to the rest of the United States. Her most famous book, according to her New York Times obituary, was "The Taste of Country Cooking," and it was edited by Jones. Originally published in 1976, the book contains recipes and reminiscences of the country cooking that Lewis grew up with in Virginia. Along with her two other cookbooks, "The Taste of Country Cooking" helped Lewis win her own James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame award in 2003.
'Beard on Bread'
Before she wrote her own bread cookbook, "The Book of Bread," Jones became intimately familiar with bread recipes a decade earlier when she edited James Beards' "Beard on Bread," published in 1973. The Washington Post reported that Jones had the idea for a book on bread and asked Beard for recommendations on who should write it. After a few lunch meetings discussing the potential authors, Beard told her that he'd like to write the book. He did and it became a bestseller, described sometimes as the Bible of bread.
'Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen'
Jones was an early editor of Lidia Bastianich's cookbooks, and she edited this 2001 book, which contains both recipes and stories of Bastianich's cooking life, particularly the cooking she found when she came to America in her youth. The book recognizes that cooking Italian food in America is different than cooking Italian food in Italy. The book won a 2002 International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the Chef and Restaurant category.
Jones also edited cookbooks by Marion Cunningham, Rosie Daley, Madhur Jaffrey, Scott Peacock, Joan Nathan, Jacques Pépin, Claudia Roden and Nina Simonds. So check your cookbook shelf. There's a good chance if you have a cookbook collection that you have at least one that was edited by Jones, or at least one that was written by a cook that Jones edited at one time or another.