Judith Jones, the legendary editor who rescued Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl from a publisher’s reject pile and later introduced readers to the likes of Julia Child and a host of other influential cookbook authors, died on 2 August at age 93 in her summer home in Walden, Vermont.
Jones helped open a world of cuisine to a public previously bound by convenience foods, and her impact on cookbook publishing, home cooking and the American palate was monumental. Beginning in the 1950s, she followed her own curiosity and her instincts for what readers wanted to cook and needed to know, and she championed the work of unknown authors who became icons and whose books became classics.
The list of these scholar-cooks who owe her their career includes Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Joan Nathan, Edna Lewis, Lidia Bastianich, Anna Thomas, Hiroko Shimbo, Michael Field and Nina Simonds. She also edited some of Alfred Knopf’s most famous fiction writers, including John Updike and Anne Tyler.
Without her discovery of Frank’s memoir, while she was at Doubleday in Paris, American readers might never have been introduced to Frank’s startling first-person narrative, one of the first Holocaust accounts to reach the States. Her role was small but pivotal, and it was enough to get her noticed – and hired – by Knopf co-founder Blanche Knopf in 1957.
As a junior editor at Knopf, Jones began primarily as a translator of such French writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and she had no intention of editing cookbooks, the work for which she became famous. But she had fallen in love with French food when she lived in Paris after college, and upon returning to the US with a new husband, she was desperate for help unlocking one of the world’s most well-known cuisine’s secrets in their New York kitchen.
James Beard, Jones (centre) and Julia Child
One day in 1959, a huge manuscript arrived on her desk. “From the moment I started turning the pages, I was bouleversée, as the French say – knocked out,” she wrote in her memoir, The Tenth Muse (2007). “This was the book I’d been searching for.” This was also the book that Julia Child, with co-authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, had spent six years unsuccessfully trying to shorten for an editor at Houghton Mifflin. Child worried that the book “was unpublishable”, she wrote in her own memoir, My Life in France. “Maybe the editors were right. After…