Today the culinary world remembers legendary book editor Judith Jones, who passed away last night at the age of 93. “Our food publishing world has lost a giant. Judith was one of the first people I wanted to meet when I became president of the James Beard Foundation. Over our first lunch, she spoke so fondly of her close friendship with James Beard reflecting ‘I miss him every day,’" says Susan Ungaro, James Beard Foundation. “Now she will be missed by her beloved authors and those of us who had the pleasure of knowing her.”
Jones not only made cookbook writing a respectable art, she made it a writer’s art. Her background, after all, was not home economics, but literature. (She famously rescued Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl from the slush pile at the Paris office of Doubleday publishing—“That book by that kid?” her boss said.) Even as she set about establishing higher expectations for cookbook writing—insisting that the cook’s voice should be heard in recipes and banishing clunky phrases like “in a bowl, combine”—she continued to edit the fiction of John Updike, Anne Tyler, and other notable authors at Alfred A. Knopf.
With an eye for discovery, Jones introduced us to new worlds of cooking, and to authors who taught up-and-coming chefs and home cooks to seek out unfamiliar flavors as well as forgotten foodways from their own neighborhoods and family traditions. Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, Claudia Roden, Irene Kuo, Nina Simonds, Joan Nathan, Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pépin, and Julia Child are just a few of the important writers who have credited Jones as a true collaborator in shaping their books. When Jones came up with the idea to revive The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and hired Marion Cunningham (who was recommended by James Beard) for the job, she helped spark a new interest in American cooking and, in Cunningham, gave us another beloved food icon. “Judith’s success goes way beyond passion, hard work, attention to detail, and dedication,” said Lidia Bastianich of Jones earlier in 2017, when Jones won the James Beard Award for Cookbook Hall of Fame. “She has a unique talent that has allowed authors from all walks of life to truly shine and leave a lasting effect on their readers.”
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.