Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Esther B. Aresty (1908-2000) was a cookbook collector and culinary historian who wrote on cuisine, cooking, cookbooks, and etiquette. Aresty and her husband, Julian Aresty, donated her exceptional collection of rare cookbooks and manuscripts to the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 shortly before they passed away in 2000 and 1999, respectively. Her publications include The Grand Venture (1963), The Delectable Past (1964), The Best Behavior (1970), and The Exquisite Table (1980), in addition to a number of pieces of non-fiction and fiction. She also drafted and published the teen romance novel, Romance in Store (1983) under the pseudonym Elaine Arthur.
"Esther Bradford Aresty was born March 26, 1908, in Syracuse, New York, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to the small town of Chariton, Iowa, where she and her siblings enjoyed a suburban life surrounded by a family that valued good food. Her mother was not only a talented pianist but a brilliant cook, who prepared delicious meals for family and friends. So enthralled was her mother by the art of cooking that in middle age she attended culinary classes offered locally by the gas and electric companies. Aresty's childhood exposure to the culinary arts informed much of her personal and professional pursuits throughout the rest of her lifetime" (Theophano, 1996).
Aresty met her husband while working for Mandel Brothers Department Store in Chicago. They married and shortly thereafter settled in Trenton, New Jersey, where they worked, raised their two children, Robert and Jane, and entertained a circle of friends.
After World War II, Mr. and Mrs. Aresty traveled to Europe nearly every year and twice circled the globe. It was on these trips that Aresty began her collection of varied and exquisite rare books.
Before delving into her historical writings, Aresty tested the publication waters with a romance novel, entitled The Grand Venture (1963), which tells the story of a young lady who develops a fascination with her employment in a department store, an environment quite familiar to her due to her own work experience and her husband's position as the head of a department store in New Jersey at the time of writing.
In 1964, she published The Delectable Past, the fruit of her research into her own vast collection of rare cookbooks and manuscripts, which she describes as "the joys of the table-from Rome to the Renaissance, from Queen Elizabeth I to Mrs. Beeton. The menus, the manners-and the most delectable recipes of the past, masterfully re-created for cooking and enjoying today" (Aresty, 1964).
Having already given a comprehensive account of culinary history in The Delectable Past, her next book featured the results of her inquiry into etiquette, entitled The Best Behavior (1970). This book, also drawing from her comprehensive understanding of her own collection, deals with "the course of good manners-from antiquity to the present-as seen through courtesy and etiquette books" (Aresty, 1970).
Aresty published The Exquisite Table in 1980, a book highlighting "the fascinating history of more than 300 years of remarkable cooking that has come out of the great kitchens of France" (Aresty, 1980), recounting the contributions to cuisine of the famous French chefs La Varenne, Carême, and Escoffier.
Her final book, Romance in Store (1983), written under the pseudonym Elaine Arthur, marks a return to her romance novel bent. This publication is part of the First Love from Silhouette series marketed toward young adults in the 1980s.
Aresty lived an equally productive work life. Among her many achievements, besides a career in advertising and promotion, was her role as writer/producer of Elsa Maxwell's radio show, Elsa Maxwell's Party Line. Interestingly, Maxwell was not only a gossip columnist and author, songwriter, and professional hostess renowned for her parties for royalty and high society figures of her day, but an accomplished pianist and culinary expert, like Aresty's mother, who was born in Keokuk, Iowa, just shy of 150 miles from where Aresty was raised in Chariton. As an accomplished woman in the thick of New York intellectual and cultural life, Aresty developed friendships with the well-known cookbook and magazine writers of the day. These associations enhanced her already outstanding reputation and widened her circle of influence.
Esther Bradford Aresty's scholarship and insight both foreshadow and contribute to a growing body of research in culinary and social history. Books on the culinary arts explore social history from the vantage point of food and cooking, from the perspectives of men and women whose writings focus on, but are not limited to, the kitchen. The books provide a sensate view from which to observe changes in language, culture, economics, and society from the fifteenth to the twentieth century.
Aresty, E. B. (1964). The Delectable Past. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Aresty, E. B. (1970). The Best Behavior. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Aresty, E. B. (1980). The Exquisite Table. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company.
Theophano, J. (1996). Household Words: Women Write to and for the Kitchen. Philadelphia: Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.
HOUSEHOLD WORDS: Women Write from and for the Kitchen, An Exhibition from the Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books in the Culinary Arts, Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania
The Esther B. Aresty papers, dating from 1937 to 1989 (bulk 1963 to 1989) document Aresty's personal and professional life as a collector of rare cookbooks and manuscripts, a writer, and an expert on the cooking, cookbooks, and etiquette. The bulk of this collection consists of incoming and some outgoing correspondence with publishers and other individuals and organizations about her publications and culinary expertise, in addition to drafts and research materials pertaining to her books The Grand Venture (1963), The Delectable Past (1964), The Best Behavior (1970), and The Exquisite Table (1980).
Aresty's rare cookbook and manuscripts collecting is best represented by her auction and dealer catalogs spanning the years 1937 to 1989, some correspondence with individuals and organizations, and lecture notes that discuss her history as a collector and her fascination and knowledge of the culinary world. Additionally, the collection contains incoming correspondence from the American Institute of Wine and Food (founded in 1981) pertaining to her position on the board of advisors. This material includes early administrative paperwork such as its statement of purpose, bylaws, membership forms, agendas, newsletters, and other documentary evidence of the organization's early life. Otherwise, there is a substantial portion of incoming correspondence from individuals and organizations regarding Aresty's expertise in the culinary arts, civic activities in which Aresty took part, and some records supporting the auction and dealer catalogs, in addition to some personal associations and activities. Items within the correspondence sub-series are arranged alphabetically; however, researchers should be aware that when Aresty indicated a filing convention, that convention has been preserved. Therefore, researchers should search for the correspondent's name as well as the organization for who he or she was affiliated.
The collection also contains records of her writing career, through correspondence with a variety of publishers, drafts of books, other publications, and unpublished work, and research materials. The correspondence is arranged chronologically and primarily deals with publication details, edited drafts, potential publications, contracts, and copyright transfers with companies including the Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Simon and Schuster, Meredith Press, Hawthorn Books, among others. The publications that are most well-represented in terms of drafts and research materials are two of her books entitled, The Delectable Past (1964) and The Best Behavior (1970). There is also documentation of a variety of other publications, including drafts and research materials for her other two books The Grand Venture (1963) and The Exquisite Table (1980), a romance novel written under the pseudonym Elaine Arthur, Romance in Store (1984), and a number of drafts of articles, chapters, and other writings of fiction and non-fiction.
Gift of Julian and Esther Aresty, 1996.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Samuel Sfirri
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 July 22
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.