Leave Me Alone with the Recipes /

De­sign pi­o­neer Cipe Pine­les’ un­pub­lished il­lus­trated cook­book fi­nally finds an au­di­ence


Dis­cov­er­ing the il­lus­trated cook­book of Cipe Pine­les

It be­gan with the borscht, ren­dered in vi­brant fuch­sia paint with a mint-green scalloped bowl. Wendy Macnaughto­n spot­ted the il­lus­trated pages in a glass case, tucked among the shelves of brit­tle, yel­low­ing manuscript­s at San Fran­cisco’s An­ti­quar­ian Book Fair. An il­lus­tra­tor her­self, she ex­am­ined the whim­si­cal spread in front of her—the bowl of borscht, the hand-let­tered recipe, two pink beets with roots crossed in a beck­on­ing X. It was a sketch­book, each page filled with recipes and illustrati­ons, the paint laid down with a prac­ticed hand and the text let­tered with mas­ter­ful brush­strokes.

When her friend, writer and food edi­tor Sarah Rich, ar­rived, they devoured the man­u­script, turn­ing up recipes for stuffed cab­bage, pot­ted liver, potato soup—the un­her­alded dishes of an East­ern Euro­pean Jewish up­bring­ing. “It’s the food of my fam­ily,” Sarah says of the dis­cov­ery, “and it was amaz­ing to see it ren­dered in this vi­brant, cel­e­bra­tory way.”

Sarah and Wendy asked the man be­hind the counter who had cre­ated this re­mark­able work, ex­pect­ing to hear a fa­mil­iar name—the de­sign aes­thetic was sim­ply too apt, the recipes too rel­e­vant to both Sarah’s and Wendy’s per­sonal work for it to be oth­er­wise. “Cipe Pine­les,” the man said.

Cipe (pro­nounced like C.P.) Pine­les, they dis­cov­ered, was an Aus­trian em­i­grant of Or­tho­dox Jewish her­itage who, af­ter years of be­ing turned down for mag­a­zine jobs, fi­nally broke into the in­dus­try when Condé Nast him­self of­fered her a po­si­tion af­ter see­ing her pat­tern de­signs in a win­dow dis­play. First the as­sis­tant to art di­rec­tor M.F. Agha at Van­ity Fair and Vogue, in 1942 she be­came the first au­ton­o­mous fe­male art di­rec­tor to work at an Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. She shaped the artis­tic voice of Glam­our and Charm, say­ing once in an in­ter­view that she ap­pealed to “the at­trac­tive­ness of re­al­ity, as op­posed to the glit­ter of never-never land.” She used her pro­gres­sive de­signs to present her mag­a­zines’ fe­male au­di­ence as bright and am­bi­tious pro­fes­sional women, rather than friv­o­lous tro­phy-wife ma­te­rial. She pi­o­neered the still-present trend of hir­ing fine artists for mag­a­zine ed­i­to­ri­als, and af­ter decades of de­sign awards, match­ing and ex­ceed­ing her male col­leagues’ ac­co­lades, she was the first woman to be in­ducted into New York’s pres­ti­gious Art Di­rec­tors Club.

The pair felt an im­me­di­ate kin­ship to Cipe, and an urge to share her story. As Sarah says, “She was the artist great-grand­mother we never knew we had.” While a few recipes at the end of the sketch­book were left un­fin­ished, the metic­u­lous de­sign lay­out sug­gested that Cipe had meant to pub­lish it. But no such book ex­isted. Think­ing quickly, Sarah and Wendy called up their friends, writer Maria Popova and De­sign Matters podcast host Deb­bie Mill­man, to tell them about their find. They pooled their money and walked away with it that af­ter­noon.

Their next mis­sion: to get it printed. Wendy wrote to her agent, Char­lotte Sheedy, say­ing, “We found this book we want to bring into the world. The au­thor’s name is Cipe Pine­les.” Ten min­utes later, a phone call came from Char­lotte: “Cipe Pine­les? Oh, I knew Cipe,” Char­lotte said. “She was like a men­tor to me.”

Sarah and Wendy learned that Cipe had passed away in 1991 but had a daugh­ter named Carol liv­ing in Toronto. They planned a visit. Carol, who had seen some of the im­ages be­fore in Cipe’s an­nual hol­i­day cards, had never seen the book in its en­tirety. As she looked through it, Carol said that the traditiona­l recipes de­picted weren’t the dishes that Cipe would typ­i­cally en­ter­tain with, but rather they were the fam­ily meals she would serve on Jewish hol­i­days.

The trick­i­est part of pub­lish­ing the book was up­dat­ing the recipes for a mod­ern au­di­ence. “They clearly hadn’t been tested,” Sarah says. “Most likely she was sit­ting with her mother in her kitchen, watch­ing her cook, and writ­ing it down from mem­ory. When you fol­low ex­actly what she says, you don’t al­ways get quite what you thought you’d end up with.” No­tably, the kalacha, meant to be a form of meat­loaf, looked more like bolognese.

Sarah spent months cook­ing through Cipe’s recipes, ref­er­enc­ing those of her own grand­mother when details seemed to be miss­ing. She tweaked mea­sure­ments and ad­justed in­gre­di­ents. Some recipes were vague, one sim­ply call­ing for “bones,” while oth­ers called for cuts of meat that would have been com­mon at a kosher butcher in 1945 but are less widely avail­able to­day. “I tried to stay true to the tra­di­tions,” Sarah says, “but still make sure the recipes felt tempt­ing.” Leave Me Alone with the Recipes was Cipe’s orig­i­nal ti­tle for the book, per­haps a tes­ta­ment to her keen de­sire to im­merse her­self fully in the things she loved. The book was fi­nally brought to life 72 years af­ter she sat down to cre­ate it. “Cipe’s is just one of so many un­told stories,” Sarah says, “and so many projects that never got all the way to com­ple­tion.”

“We felt like it was our duty,” Wendy adds, “to fi­nally give Cipe the spot­light she de­serves.”

“Cipe was the artist great­grand­mother we never knew we had.”

One of the book’s most mem­o­rable spreads, the chicken soup recipe feels at once com­fort­ingly nos­tal­gic and play­fully con­tem­po­rary.

Dur­ing her ten­ure at Condé Nast, Cipe Pine­les pi­o­neered a new vis­ual voice for women’s mag­a­zines, oc­ca­sion­ally pub­lish­ing her own hand-let­tered recipes and paint­ings.

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