Learn about the new Special Collections Center
The Campaign for Penn's Libraries
Learn about the new Special Collections Center

Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books on the Culinary Arts

Jules and Esther Aresty

Household Words: Women Write From and For the Kitchen
In this tribute to Esther Aresty, cookbook author and food historian Elisabeth Rozin of Les Dames d'Escoffier recalls how the Mrs. Aresty's book, The Delectable Past, influenced her life's work and ultimately helped lead to her fulfilling career:

"Some thirty years ago I was a graduate student working toward a Ph.D. in English literature. It was an acceptable and appropriate enterprise for a young woman with intellectual inclinations, and I pursued it with dedication, if not with any noticeable enthusiasm. I did have a true passion - the kitchen - but there seemed no way to turn that passion into a career.

Then, in 1964, a little 95-cent paperback book fell into my hands; it has been with me ever since. The book is The Delectable Past by Esther B. Aresty, a learned and charming compilation of recipes updated for the modern cook taken from Esther's superb collection of rare and historic cookbooks.

That book opened my eyes and changed my life. It was eloquent testimony to the liberating idea that food was a suitable, if indeed not essential, subject of discourse, that the cook and the kitchen were not wholly defined by domestic obligation. Esther's work opened a door for me and, I am sure, for many others, encouraging us to come out of the kitchen closet, to express our vision and to share our passion with others, as she had done with us.

The world is certainly no poorer for the loss of one disgruntled professor of English literature, but my life is infinitely richer for having been able to do the work that mattered most; it was a sweet reward when my first book, a cookbook with a theoretical approach to cuisine, was used as a text in college classes all over the country, confirmation that what goes on in the kitchen is as dramatic and important an expression of our lives as what goes on in the boardroom or on the battlefield.

It is utterly fitting, then, that Esther Aresty is at the center tonight, as we celebrate the intersection between the cook and the book, the kitchen and the academy, the pleasures of the table and the life of the mind. Esther, I salute and I thank you."