WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s children banished her from the kitchen decades ago; her tuna fish casserole the target of family jokes. Dinner duties instead fell to her husband, an accomplished tax lawyer who became a talented chef.
When he died last year, Martin Ginsburg left behind more than 100 recipes he had perfected, including cookies beloved by his grandchildren and cakes baked for the birthdays of Supreme Court justices. Now, with the help of another high court justice’s wife, those recipes have become a cookbook.
“Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg” was published this month. It contains nearly 50 of Ginsburg’s creations, ranging from a five-page treatise on the perfect baguette to a frozen lime souffle favored by his wife.
Ginsburg said her husband would be overjoyed.
“He was quite an artist in the kitchen, and he wanted to communicate to others the pleasure that he derived from making something successfully,” Ginsburg said in a telephone interview.
If he hadn’t become an attorney, he might have gone to culinary school, she said.
“My husband was a great tax lawyer, but we had more cookbooks than tax books at home. We had an entire section in the living room — three sets of shelves from floor to ceiling — with nothing but cookbooks,” she said, adding that he read them with the same interest he read mystery novels.
After Martin Ginsburg’s death from cancer at the age of 78, Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice Samuel Alito, proposed compiling a cookbook in his memory. Alito said in an email that the idea came to her when the spouses were gathered together at the court.
“One of the goals as spouses is to be supportive to each other as well as [to] the court family. Marty led the way with perfect pitch,” she wrote, adding that Ginsburg’s “culinary creations awed and delighted.”
With the help of the Supreme Court Historical Society and a CD of Ginsburg’s recipes, which he had typed so he could easily share them with dinner guests, about 150 of his recipes were whittled down to 47. Only one of his three recipes for celery root made the cut, for example. The editors also tried to choose recipes he cooked often and those that showed his humor and knack for explaining.
Cooks who attempt his Decadent Chocolate Bombe, for example, are told that, “Only a crazy person would try to make this dessert on a single day.”
A recipe for shrimp pasta says whole milk can be substituted for heavy cream, in which case: “your sauce will still be very good and your arteries not so bad.” And his instructions for Chicken Liver Pate, which involve lighting apple brandy on fire, explain, “Your ceiling is not likely to burn.”
“When the going is going to get tough, he tells you ahead of time,” said the book’s editor, Clare Cushman.
Martin Ginsburg met his future wife on a blind date when they were both undergraduates at Cornell University in New York. The couple entered Harvard Law School a year apart, though she finished her degree at Columbia University when her husband took a job in New York. He followed her to Washington in 1980 when she became a federal judge, taking a position as a professor at Georgetown Law School.
Around that time, their children decided that dad’s cooking — until then reserved for weekends and special occasions — was vastly superior to mom’s.
“I was phased out of the kitchen by my food-loving children,” Ginsburg said.
Martin Ginsburg explained the result this way: “As a general rule,” he said in 1997, “my wife does not give me any advice about cooking, and I do not give her any advice about the law. This seems to work quite well on both sides.”
His wife’s biggest booster, he enthusiastically took on the role of Supreme Court spouse after President Bill Clinton appointed her to the court in 1993, making her the second female justice. He was a regular participant in lunches held by the justices’ spouses, and interspersed throughout the 126-page cookbook are their remembrances. For example, Maureen Scalia, wife of Justice Antonin Scalia, remembers Ginsburg volunteering to make fresh bread for an event when he learned she planned to use store-bought.
The Supreme Court gift shop began selling the cookbook in early December, and the Supreme Court Historical Society’s website also sells it.
The first printing sold out and another is under way. Profits from the book, which costs $24.95, go to the society to support programs and scholarship on the court.
Ginsburg said she hasn’t tried to make any of her husband’s recipes and hasn’t taken up cooking since his death. Their daughter, who inherited her father’s love of cooking, visits once a month to fill the justice’s freezer with dishes.
Ginsburg said she never understood her husband’s delight at spending hours in the kitchen.
“I could spend hours writing an opinion. But when it’s done it’s there on paper, and I can see it again,” she said. “What Marty made was consumed too quickly, but he didn’t regard it that way.”