Influential food history researcher Jan Longone dies at 89

Jan Longone, a curious, cordial, and diligent food expert who started a mail-order cookbook business from her Michigan basement that led...


Jan Longone, a curious, cordial, and diligent food expert who started a mail-order cookbook business from her Michigan basement that led to friendships with towering culinary figures like Julia Child and became one of the nation’s great cookbook collections, died August 3. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was 89 years old.

The death, in a palliative care center, was confirmed by her husband, Daniel Longone.

Mrs. Longone’s career had the most practical of beginnings. In the 1950s, when she and her husband were both at Cornell University, where she was studying Chinese history and he was studying chemistry, some classmates invited them to a dinner party where they served Indian food that they had grown up eating.

The students asked Ms. Longone to return the favor with a typical American meal. She realized she had no idea what it was or how to prepare it, so she went to a library and discovered the vast world of cookbooks.

That journey led to a lifetime of collecting food-related books and ephemera, including Jell-O pamphlets, kitchen appliance instructions, and the nation’s first cookbook,”American kitchenwritten by Amelia Simmons and published in 1796. The 47 pages of this book contain recipes for pumpkin pie and the first pairing of cranberry sauce to accompany roast turkey, mainstays of Thanksgiving that endure today.

She also obtained an 1871 text considered the country’s first Jewish cookbook.

Ms. Longone had a fondness for charity and community cookbooks from the 1800s and early 1900s, which she said painted a picture of the country’s scientific advancements, immigration patterns and cultural shifts.

Although her collection was largely Eurocentric and lacked elements of American immigration history, it included the only original copy of the first known American cookbook by a black woman. Food scholars had long believed that this distinction belonged to “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cookery,” published in 1881. But then a West Coast bookseller called Mrs. Longone and asked if she wanted a flimsy 39-page book by Malinda. Russell, “A household cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen,” printed by a newspaper in Paw Paw, Michigan, in 1866. She paid $200.

Janice Barbara Bluestein was born on July 31, 1933 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants and secular Jews. His father, Alexander Bluestein, was a restaurant equipment sales manager. His mother, Edith (Gropman) Bluestein, made the family table, often filled with classic Ashkenazi dishes, the center of their domestic life.

She met Mr. Longone when they were teenagers and spent their summers swimming in Revere Beach, near Boston. “I splashed on her and she turned around and said, ‘You’ll be sorry,'” Mr Longone said in a telephone interview. They married in 1954, after earning a bachelor’s degree in history from what was then Bridgewater State Teachers College (now Bridgewater State University).

Mr. Longone, a wine connoisseur, soon became an enthusiastic partner in his wife’s literary pursuits. The two sought out small bookstores on their summer strolls from their home near the University of Michigan, where Mr. Longone was a professor, to Massachusetts, and then on long trips to Europe.

In 1972 Mrs. Longone realized she could sell some of their acquisitions and started the Wine and Food Library, a mail-order bookstore. His reputation grew with his collection. James Beard became a regular customer. Before long, the basement of their modest home was full of books that became the nexus of a growing culinary movement.

“Every day I got a phone call saying ‘James Beard told me to call you. Julia Child told me to call you. Craig Claiborne told me to call you,” she said in a 2012 interview with the weekly Concentrate.

She sold literary works as the author MFK Fisher (which she knew, of course) and less ostentatious books, like “Betty Crocker’s Illustrated Cookbook (1950). She had a special fondness for Gourmet review, which began when her husband gave her a copy of the first Gourmet cookbook, followed by a $50 lifetime subscription. Over the years they have collected every issue except the rare March 1941 edition.

Ruth Reichl, who chaired Gourmet from 1999 to Condé Nast the farm in 2009, said Ms Longone was one of the first to understand the power of story telling through the lens of cooks.

“She knew the value of looking at cookbooks undiluted by a historian’s perspective,” Ms. Reichl said in an interview.

Ms. Longone’s collection, nearly 25,000 items strong, has become the culinary archives of Janice Bluestein Longone at the University of Michigan and the antecedent of dozens of other culinary libraries. It has also fueled the development of university food studies programs.

“Other libraries weren’t interested in collecting food materials, but she knew exactly what she had and why it was important,” Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University, wrote in an email. “I was impressed to meet her and wanted all of this for NYU” Ms. Nestle went on to create the nation’s first food studies program, which relies heavily on collecting food and cooking supplies at NYU . Fales Library.

Ms. Longone also influenced a new generation of booksellers who, like her, understood the importance of cataloging rare and essential works on food and drink.

“His legacy is vital to my existence,” said Celia Sack, owner of the San Francisco bookstore. omnivorous books.

Mrs. Longone had a significant influence on modern American dining culture, particularly in the late 1970s and 1980s, as she shed the constraints of continental cuisine and began to develop a more eclectic, regional style. and adventurous.

She was a yenta for chefs, passing on her vast culinary knowledge and connecting them to each other before Instagram provided a networking space and allowed them to search the web with a few keystrokes for a particular style of cooking.

Using material from his collection, Ari Weinzweig opened Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor and his artisan food mail order business in 1982 with Paul Saginaw.

“I knew relatively little about food and we were about to start selling artisan cheese and smoked fish, so I needed to learn,” he said. “As a history student, going to Jan’s basement to look at books was way more exciting for me than going to a candy store.”

Without this basement of books, the chief Rick Bayless said, he may not have had his career. In the late 1970s, he had taken a year off from writing an anthropology dissertation to teach cooking. He turned to Ms. Longone for help.

“She would lead you up the rickety stairs to her basement with all these dehumidifiers running and metal shelves full of books and you could hang out there as long as you wanted,” he said in an interview. . “I thought I had struck gold.”

She told the editor of The Ann Arbor Observer about Mr. Bayless and his courses, and the following article launched his cooking career.

Ms. Longone founded the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor in 1983 to bring together those interested in the study of culinary history and gastronomy. She was a founding member of the American Institute of Wine and Food and served on the editorial board of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She also hosted “Adventures in Gastronomy”, considered the first cooking show on public radio, and was a judge for numerous cookbook awards.

Besides her husband, she is survived by her brother, Bernard Bluestein.

Despite her generosity with cooking information, Ms. Longone was tight-lipped about her sources. But she always gave budding collectors the same advice: “When you see something you want, buy it.”

“I was guilty of that mistake myself,” she said. “I never regret the things I bought, but I do regret some things I didn’t buy.”

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