Remembering Judith Jones and Her Recipe for Food Writing

“I was terrified,” Ms. Martin said. “Wouldn’t you be?”

It was a sentiment shared by many in her stable at Alfred A. Knopf, where she worked from 1957 until she retired in 2013.

“I think all of us were terrified to hand in our manuscripts,” said Joan Nathan, who wrote four books on Jewish cooking with Ms. Jones. “If she put a green ‘nice’ on anything you’d written, you would fly through the sky.”

Over the years, her roster included fiction writers like John Updike and Anne Tyler, as well as the chef Jacques Pépin and Edna Lewis, a Southern cook whose book “The Taste of Country Cooking” Ms. Jones pulled out of her one handwritten yellow legal-pad page at a time.

“You did not want to raise her ire,” said Scott Peacock, the chef who would go on to write “The Gift of Southern Cooking” with Ms. Lewis under the firm hand of Ms. Jones.

On Wednesday, he recalled a story that Marion Cunningham, another of Ms. Jones’s authors, liked to tell about the time she went to Ms. Jones’s Episcopal Church. Ms. Cunningham was a lapsed Roman Catholic, but still mindful that Catholics should take communion only from a Catholic priest.

“Once communion commenced, Judith turned to Marion and said, ‘Now you know, Marion, you can go up with me and take communion,” Mr. Peacock wrote in an email. “In that moment, Marion said she had to decide who she was more afraid of, God or Judith Jones? Needless to say, she took communion.”

Though Ms. Jones was an agile fiction editor whose break came when she flagged “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a book that should be published in English, she built her reputation on finding well-educated, underappreciated cooks like Ms. Cunningham, Marcella Hazan and Madhur Jaffrey, turning them into stars at a time when home cooking and those who practiced it were looked down upon in a male-dominated publishing world, and celebrity chefs had yet to grip the nation’s imagination.

Ms. Jones discovered Ms. Cunningham when she was seeking someone to rework nearly 2,000 recipes from Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1890 cookbook, and turned to James Beard for advice. He sent Ms. Jones a stack of letters about food from Ms. Cunningham, a California homemaker who was working as his assistant. It started her career.

“What she did for Marion and for many of the other women she edited was such an act of kindness,” said Ruth Reichl, the author and former editor of Gourmet…

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