Visu­al Arts

Leave Me Alone with the Recipes: The Life, Art, and Cook­book of Cipe Pineles

Cipe Pine­les; Rich, Mac­Naughton, Mill­man & Popo­va, eds.

  • Review
By – October 9, 2017

At a time when cook­books have become so elab­o­rate, filled with lush, care­ful­ly styled pho­tographs of per­fect­ly pre­pared food no home cook could actu­al­ly turn out, it’s a plea­sure to dis­cov­er one that feels so real. Actu­al­ly, Leave Me Alone with the Recipes, notwith­stand­ing its title, is less about the actu­al recipes than it is about the woman who record­ed and illus­trat­ed them, and the sto­ry of how this per­son­al note­book from 1945 came to be dis­cov­ered, re-cre­at­ed, and published.

The note­book was dis­cov­ered at an anti­quar­i­an book fair in San Fran­cis­co by illus­tra­tor Wendy Mac­Naughton and her friend, writer and edi­tor Sarah Rich. Wendy was excit­ed about the art, Sarah by her affin­i­ty with the Euro­pean Jew­ish recipes. The hand­writ­ten recipes, illus­trat­ed with gor­geous­ly bright paint­ings in deep greens, reds, and oranges that almost seem to con­tra­dict the gray­ness and heav­i­ness asso­ci­at­ed with so many of the dish­es, intrigued them. Perus­ing the book’s pages, a read­er under­stands why. The paint­ings, which express a kind of free­dom not found in more for­mal cook­books, dec­o­rate the pages as if illus­trat­ing the fla­vors themselves.

With two oth­er friends, writer Maria Popo­va and design­er and author Deb­bie Mill­man, Mac­Naughton and Rich — with an eye to its pub­li­ca­tion — began to look into the woman who cre­at­ed the book. Their suc­cess is a gift to read­ers — with or with­out an inter­est in cook­ing — as it intro­duces a woman like­ly unfa­mil­iar to many, known in her time but for some rea­son large­ly for­got­ten today, who left a piece of her Jew­ish self on its pages.

Cipe Pine­les, it turns out, was not an ama­teur, sketch­ing and paint­ing for her own amuse­ment. She was an artist and design­er, the first woman art direc­tor at Conde Nast and the design­er for Vogue, Made­moi­selle, and oth­er pop­u­lar magazines.

Born in Vien­na to Ortho­dox Jew­ish par­ents, Pine­les moved to Amer­i­ca as a young girl. She earned a schol­ar­ship to Pratt Insti­tute and grad­u­at­ed in 1929, seek­ing, not too suc­cess­ful­ly, to work as a com­mer­cial artist. Then Conde Nast saw some of her work and hired her. By the 1940s, with her cre­ativ­i­ty, visu­al sense, and design exper­tise, she had shaped the look of numer­ous glossy mag­a­zines. It was dur­ing this peri­od that she pur­sued her inter­est in the graph­ic and culi­nary arts and where they inter­sect­ed, work­ing on Leave Me Alone with the Recipes. It seems to have remained a pri­vate pursuit.

Repro­duced here with her fre­quent mis­spellings (pota­toe and toma­toe, kar­away), the book is charm­ing and enjoy­able, re-intro­duc­ing a sin­gu­lar woman and her remark­able achieve­ments, which remain new and fresh.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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