Home book seller Janice Bluestein Longone, cookbook collector, dies at 89

Janice Bluestein Longone, cookbook collector, dies at 89

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Janice Bluestein Longone, a former bookseller who amassed thousands of cookbooks and other relics of American cuisine into a collection that helped give food a place at the table of history, died on March 3. August at a nursing home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was 89.

She suffered from congestive heart failure, her nephew Jay Bluestein said.

Ms. Longone had no doctorate in history, no formal training in library science and no Michelin star to her name. But over more than half a century, it has amassed an archive of gastronomy that is revered by chefs, scholars and foodies alike as an unparalleled repository of culinary history. Julia Child and James Beard were among cooks and cookbook authors who reportedly turned to Ms Longone, a self-proclaimed “researcher”, for help locating particularly hard-to-find recipes or volumes.

The Culinary Archives Janice Bluestein Longone, housed since the early 2000s at the University of Michigan, includes more than 20,000 cookbooks, menus, brochures, labels, posters, and product advertisements. Together, these materials help reveal not only the history of American cuisine, but also American history itself – the arrival of immigrants who brought with them the foods of their homeland, the women’s movement, and the changing roles of women in the home and in society, even the effect of the introduction of refrigeration in American homes.

“Women’s voices, so often lost, featured prominently in cookbooks, and the collection she acquired was extraordinary.” Ruth Reichl, the food writer and former editor of Gourmet magazine, said in an interview. “She saw in [a cookbook] much more than recipes. She really saw that it was a way of understanding the past.

In its early days, Mrs. Longone’s collection was a project undertaken to satisfy her personal curiosity. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, she grew up in a Boston tenement and remembered the kitchen as the center from his family’s home. She gained much of her early knowledge of food from her lifetime subscription to Gourmet magazine, a gift from her husband when they were newlyweds in 1954.

Ms. Longone began collecting historic cookbooks and in 1972 opened the Wine and Food Library, a bookstore she operated from her home in Ann Arbor. It quickly rose to fame, attracting a devoted coterie of mail-order customers as well as cooking enthusiasts who traveled great distances to browse its teeming shelves. For older volumes, prices ranged from $10 to $8,000.

“She was the oldest American cookbook dealer,” said Bonnie Slotnick, the owner of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, an out-of-print and old bookstore in Manhattan. “I don’t know if there’s anyone else around today who might approach her.”

Ms. Longone kept her personal collection of cookbooks in her living room and books for sale in the basement. The volumes were organized by subject but “certainly…not using the Dewey Decimal system,” Nick Malgieri, a famous pastry chef and author who frequented Mrs. Longone’s shop, remembers with admiration. Such an attempt at rigid categorization would have “collapsed under the weight of the hard-to-classify amounts of books,” he remarked.

Mrs. Longone’s collection was the most robust in its 19th and early 20th century holdings, but expanded into the 18th and 21st. She recalled her outrage when, at a conference in Oxford, England, someone said that “America has no history, let alone culinary history.” Ms. Longone responded with a thorough rebuttal, she told the St. Petersburg Times, citing dishes such as Rhode Island apple slump, Florida guava jam, Idaho miner’s bread and a recipe she called “Kansas Poor Man’s Pudding”.

In addition to more formally bound cookbooks, Ms Longone collected “benefit cookbooks” published, often by women, to raise money for churches or other places of worship and for causes such as suffrage. women.

“The women used what they knew, what they could, to make their case,” Ms. Longone, a frequent speaker on culinary topics, observed at a conference. “If that meant baking a cake or cooking dinner or writing a cookbook, they did it.”

Among his most notable holdings was the only known copy of “A household cookbookby Malinda Russell, an 1866 text that Ms. Langone determined was “the first unequivocal American work by black authorship devoted solely to cooking.” He had arrived at the bottom of a box of other articles.

“When he arrived, I almost fainted”, Ms Longone told the Detroit News in 2020. “I was amazed: here was a book no one had ever heard of — and I had the only copy! I thought, “This is probably one of America’s most important books. ”

Mrs. Longone also procured a copy of the “Jewish Cookery Book”, an 1871 volume which, according to the frontis generally considered to be the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States.

She collected mountains of items known to archivists as “ephemera” – restaurant menus, brochures, advertisements for products such as Jell-O, a World War I poster calling on Americans to help ” to re-chicken devastated France”.

“She was interested in all these everyday objects around us, but most of us look at them but don’t think about their deeper meaning because they’re not great art,” said Darra Goldsteinthe founding editor of the food journal Gastronomy.

“My vision is to create the best collection in the world for the study of American culinary history,” Ms. Longone told the Newhouse News Service, “and catalog it properly for the use of historians.”

For all the obscurity and exoticism in her bookshop and collection, Ms Longone said the most frequent request she received was for “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”, the best-selling cookbook in the world. American history, with 75 million copies sold since its introduction. in 1950. “Nostalgia,” Ms. Longone told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, by way of explanation.

Janice Barbara Bluestein was born in Boston on July 31, 1933. Her father sold kitchen utensils and her mother was a housewife. His parents did not keep kosher but served traditional Jewish food, and they always ate as a family.

“I grew up in a household where I knew the importance of food,” she told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “and the importance of sharing it with people and sitting around it. ‘a table and talk – whether you’re 3 or 93. .

Mrs. Longone received a bachelor’s degree in education and history from present-day Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts in 1954. She and her husband, Daniel T. Longone, her childhood sweetheart, both attended graduate school at the ‘Cornell University, where they hosted international students. for the meals. Ms. Longone embarked on her study of American cuisine in part to show these students that one existed.

“I started searching and finding, then collecting books,” she said. says the front“and unbeknownst to me, I had to decide to open an antique cookbook store because I had bought all the books I could find at rare bookstores, but I would buy four copies.”

It was also during these years that she began her readership of Gourmet magazine. To the devastation of epicureans around the world, the magazine was discontinued in 2009. Six years later, when a reporter inquired about it, Ms. Longone was still searching for the one issue of the magazine that was missing from her collection – the March edition. 1941.

Mrs. Longone and her husband settled in Ann Arbor, where he became a professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. Besides her husband, of Ann Arbor, the survivors include a brother.

Ms. Longone has written for Gastronomica, writing a column called “Notes on Vintage Volumes” and contributed to reference guides including “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America”. The encyclopedia, noted a Toledo Blade reporter, would have been incomplete without an entry on Mrs. Longone; he described her as a “scholar, detective, collector, rare book dealer, lecturer, and … mentor and primary resource for countless food professionals, scholars, authors, entrepreneurs, and journalists”.

Visitors to Ms. Longone’s shop and collection might have been surprised to learn that she didn’t cook from cookbooks, or at least not directly. She preferred to study several recipes for a particular dish, combining the most appealing elements of each into a creation of her own.

Of her most enduring creation—her collection—she once told the Detroit Free Press that “it’s me. It’s who I am. It is not just a profession or a hobby.

She was content to know, she said, that long after her death, the records would remain available to anyone curious, as she had been, about the dishes and traditions of the past. The cookbooks that had passed through the generations to hers would still be waiting for new ones.

“Isn’t it wonderful that someone saved all those things?” she says.