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. This collection formed the nucleus of the University of Pennsylvania’s comprehensive collection of cookbooks and books on the culinary arts. Her own publications include The Grand Venture (1963), The Delectable Past (1964), The Best Behavior (1970), and The Exquisite Table (1980), and a number of pieces of non-fiction and fiction. Additionally, she composed and published the teen romance novel, Romance in Store (1983) under the pseudonym Elaine Arthur.
Aresty’s rare cookbook and manuscripts collecting activities are best represented by her accumulation of auction and dealer catalogs, some correspondence from individuals and organizations regarding Aresty’s expertise in the culinary arts, civic activities in which Aresty took part, in addition to some personal associations and activities, and lecture notes that discuss her history as a collector and her exhaustive knowledge of the culinary world. Additionally, the Esther B. Aresty papers contains incoming correspondence from the American Institute of Wine and Food (founded in 1981) pertaining to her position on their 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.
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of her writing career, through correspondence with a variety of publishers, drafts of books, other publications, and unpublished work, and research materials.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 publications that are most well-represented in terms of drafts and research materials are her books The Delectable Past (1964)–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)–and The Best Behavior (1970), which deals with “the course of good manners-from antiquity to the present-as seen through courtesy and etiquette books” (Aresty, 1970). There is also documentation of a variety of other publications, including drafts and research materials for books The Grand Venture (1963) and The Exquisite Table (1980), and a romance novel written under the pseudonym Elaine Arthur, called Romance in Store (1984), and a number of drafts of articles, chapters, and other shorter writings.
While this collection doesn’t provide records of activities beyond of her personal, collecting, and writing endeavors, it is interesting to note that Aresty was quite productive in her professional 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, a mere 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.
Aresty, E. B. (1964). The Delectable Past. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Aresty, E. B. (1970). The Best Behavior. New York: Simon and Schuster.