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New book documents the extraordinary life of food editor Judith Jones

"The Editor" tells the story of how Judith Jones shaped culture in America.
Courtesy of Atria Books
"The Editor" tells the story of how Judith Jones shaped culture in America.

Julia Child. Sylvia Plath. James Beard. John Updike. Anne Frank. These authors were all championed by the same legendary editor, Judith Jones.

Jones' storied career in publishing began in the 1940s and lasted through the 2010s. She helped shape and grow the cookbook industry into a respected genre, while nurturing a diverse cast of authors who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. She split her time between New York City and Walden, Vermont.

In her later years, Jones became close with the food writer, historian and professor Sara Franklin. The two would talk and cook together, and after Jones died in 2017 at the age of 93, her family offered Franklin access to her materials. Franklin's book on Jones, "The Editor: How Publishing Legend Judith Jones Shaped Culture in America," came out in May.

"I both knew her personally and had our wonderful conversations and interviews together," Franklin said. "I also had access to who she was across her lifetime based on written materials and photographs, that had never before been seen by an historian."

Jones' familial connections to Vermont date back generations. Her parents met on the shores of Caspian Lake. Her paternal grandparents, the Baileys, were a prominent Montpelier family — Jones lived with them for a year in her girlhood. She went on to study at Bennington College, and eventually bought a house in Walden.

"It became Judith's most sacred place," Franklin said.

Jones' Vermont life influenced many of her professional interests. After watching the back to the land movement gain traction in the late 1960s, she reached out to a fellow Bennington alum, Catharine Osgood Foster, to write a book on organic gardening. After some ups and downs in the editing process, "The Organic Gardener" came out in 1972.

When asked what she misses the most about her friend, Franklin cited Jones' "incredible comfort and kind of wild whimsy that I experienced most with her in Vermont."

"Her ability to inhabit the world fully, particularly as a woman in America, I think is a very rare thing," Franklin said.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.