An unsung culinary influencer

Craig Claiborne’s legacy will not soon be forgotten: he has earned a spot in the food writer hall of fame. The long-time NYT food editor is perhaps best known for 1961’s The New York Times Cook Book. No one writes a book like that alone, and as the old saying goes, ‘behind every successful man there is a strong woman.’ For Claiborne, that woman was Jane Nickerson. She discovered and edited many of the recipes that made the NYT Cook Book such a roaring success. In a recent article, Sam Sifton explores Nickerson’s contributions, both to Claiborne’s career and to the culinary world at large.

Nickerson preceded Claiborne in the NYT food editor’s chair from 1942 to 1957, although she is not nearly as well-known as her successor. Even though she may not be a household name, journalism professor Kimberly Voss credits Nickerson with laying the foundation for modern food journalism. Instead of just getting recipes from food companies, Nickerson sought out recipes from railway dining cars, restaurants, and even from people’s homes.

It was Nickerson who first reported about the invention of the cheeseburger, and she introduced green-goddess dressing and steak Diane to the NYT. She was also the first person in the US to use the term “food writers” in a 1949 article. “These recipes, these stories, Craig Claiborne — they don’t exist without Jane Nickerson,” says Voss.

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  • mzgourmand  on  April 12, 2021

    Thank you for highlighting Jane Nickerson’s career and contributions. There is so much history that has been invisibilized and/or ignored and it is fascinating – and important – when the historical record starts to become more complete.

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