SHE'D BE KNOWN as Julia Child's editor if she weren't also James Beard's editor. And Marcella Hazan's. Simone Beck's. Madhur Jaffrey's. Irene Kuo's.

Judith Jones, in fact, might be called the Julia Child of cookbook editors.

There are, after all, far more great cooks than great editors. The gentle handling that a souffle requires is nothing compared to the handling of an author. As Jones put it, the fact that someone can cook has nothing to do with whether someone can write. And what transforms a good book of recipes into a great cookbook is its ability to convey the character of the cook as well as the cooking. That's the delicate task of the editor -- to keep herself out of the book yet to develop the flavor of the author.

"You need that sense of person and of presence," said Jones. At the moment she was halfway through her paupiette of salmon in a Washington restaurant, having negotiated with her husband, cookbook author Evan Jones, that he would order the duck and she the fish.

As it turned out, he forgot to save her a taste of the duck. But he did interject, "Darling, you try to make the book say something. That's what makes you a good editor."

"Sometimes I almost feel in the relationship of a therapist," explained Judith. There's Anna Thomas, wanting to make movies rather than cookbooks but having the potentially best-selling "Getarian Epicure" in hand. And Irene Kuo, who's more adopt at cooking than communicating. One day it was a matter of trying to draw out of Edna Lewis what her family's Thanksgiving dinner was really like, only to have her reveal eventually that the holiday was not that important among the blacks in her community; for them Emancipation Day was the real Thanksgiving.

Now it is Aniela Rubinstein, wife of pianist Artur Rubinstein, doing a cookbook Jones refers to as "the care and feeding of a genius." Though the Rubinsteins have traveled constantly, making a home in hotel rooms for 30 years didn't stop Aniela Rubinstein from cooking on a little burner, having a party for dozens of people, rolling out noodle dough on a trunk. Jones' task is to translate those years into a cookbook that shows "how easy and loving it is to do it," she said.

Of course there is always another James Beard book -- the current one, to be published next spring, being "Beard on Pasta." After that will be Ed Giobbi's book on light Italian cooking, which he is writing in collaboration with a heart specialist.

That one is going to include expensive ingredients, Jones warned, since she had previously declared, "I'm so damn sick of elite cooking." But she predicted that the cookbooks of the future are more likely to be of less-expensive alternative foods, with more use of grains. Homemade breads and homemade soups are becoming increasingly important. "One of the most heartening things that is happening in the cities is that there are real farmers' markets." She expects "The Victory Garden Cookbook" by Marian Morash, another of her editing projects, to be around a long time. And a project that has captured her enthusiasm at the moment is a second cookbook by Edna Lewis that will be about Virginia country cooking. It is not soul food, she emphasized; besides "a lot of foraging" this cooking has more finesse.

"It is a very romantic thing, a new cookbook." Judith Jones grew romantic herself as she spoke of encountering new cookbook. "It stretches your own cooking imagination." She also waxed romantic about the cookbook business. Each year hundreds of cookbooks are published, and most quickly disappear. "There's a shakedown; the good books last," she declared. "The nonbooks disappear in one season." Her optimism about the best surviving is fueled by the growing trend of selling cookbooks in cookware stores: "Cookbooks should be where people are thinking about food." She sees a need now for publishers to deploy special salespeople to cover the cookbook shops.

With all those cookbooks being published year after year, said Jones, "It's very hard to find something fresh."

Which didn't stop her from finally writing -- with Evan -- her own cookbook. On bread. By the editor of "Beard on Bread." In the year following Bernard Clayton's bread book, "The Complete Book of Breads." The task, as she put it, was "whether we could honestly say something new."

Since Jones had worked on Julia Child's famous 18-page French bread recipe for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two," and has kept a supply in her freezer ever since, she clearly had a strong interest in the subject. She also is sufficiently committed to homemade bread that Evan has to sneak in his occasional loaf of commercial bread when he wants it for sandwiches. These days Judith, who considers cooking her therapy, craves cooking more than ever; "I need it at the end of the day," she said. In that pursuit she learned that grinding a little grain coarsely in a coffee mill and adding it -- about a half cup per loaf -- to commercially ground flour greatly improves the texture. And that purees of the vegetables from her garden -- say turnips and parsnips -- are delicious additions to bread. She and Evan experimented sufficiently to realize that bread dough was so flexible that it could rise during dinner and be baked afterwards, or that it could be refrigerated and baked in the morning before work. Thus their bread book, "The Book of Bread" (Harper & Row, $15.95).

What she has still to discover is what no editor yet has been able to reliably predict: whether it will sell. But, said Jones, "My feeling is that more and more people are building a cookbook library. I'm sure there are people who are buying Jim Beard's and Clayton's and our book," so that they can then turn to just the right one for their purposes.

While they are doing that, their children can be occupied with the Jones' previous joint project, "Knead it, Punch It, Bake It!," (Crowell), a bread book for children.

And as they look up from the book to the clock to check whether it is time to take the bread from the oven, next to the clock -- if publishing plans continue on course -- may be a Jones' bread calendar.

As Judith Jones has found, "You can work bread into a busy life." PUMPERNICKEL BREAD (Makes 2 9-inch or round loaves)

You have to make the starter for this bread at least a day in advance, and the bread itself requires long, slow risings to give it its deep, rich, tangy flavor. Molasses or caramel coloring will add color, but the inclusion of last week's toasted crumbs, undoubtedly a more authentic way of darkening the bread, was used simply as an economical device by European peasants. For the starter. 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk 1 cup warm water 3/4 cup white flour 1/2 cup rye flour For the dough: 1 1/3 cups starter 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk 2 1/2 cups warm water 3 to 3 1/2 cups white flour, preferably unbleached 2 to 2 1/4 cups pumpernickel flour 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 2 tablespoons coarse salt or 4 teaspoons table salt 3/4 cup stone-ground corn meal 2 tablespoons caramel or molasses 3/4 cup toasted rye bread crumbs or wheat germ Corn meal (for round loaves) For the glaze: 1 tablespoon molasses or caramel mixed with 1 teaspoon water

* Note: If you cannot get a coarse pumpernickel flour, usually available only in health food stores or mail order flour sources, use instead rye flour (preferably dark rye) and bran in proportions of 2 to 1.

Mix starter ingredients together in a mediumsize bowl, beating into a smooth batter. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place, such as on top of the stove near a pilot light or close to a radiator. The starter will rise and bubble up, then sink back. It is ready to use after 24 hours.

To keep: Put in a screwtop jar -- 1 quart size or larger, if you want to keep adding to it -- and refrigerate. About every five days feed your starter 1/2 cup flour (3 parts white to 1 part rye) and 1/2 cup water mixed with 2 tablespoons dry milk. Leave, covered, in a warm place until it bubbles up again, then use what you want of it to make bread; return the rest -- or all of it, if not using immediately -- to the refrigerator.

Make a sponge first by mixing 1 1/3 cups of the starter, the dry milk, 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1 cup of the white flour and 1 cup of the pumpernickel flour. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place 2 to 3 hours.

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the remaining cup of warm water. Stir in the sponge, salt, corn meal, molasses or caramel, the bread crumbs or wheat germ, and the remaining flours, holding back about 3/4 cup of the white flour. Turn the dough out on a floured working surface after it becomes too stiff to stir and let rest while you clean out the bowl.Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary. The dough will be very sticky. After 10 minutes of kneading, return the dough to the cleaned ungreased bowl, cover, and let rise until double in volume -- about 2 hours.

Punch down the dough, knead briefly in the bowl, cover and let rise again until double in volume -- about 2 hours.

Turn the dough out and divide in half. Either shape into 2 loaves to go into 2 greased 9-inch bread pans or make 2 round loaves and place far apart on a greased baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Let rise, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour.

Brush the loaves with the glaze. Bake in a 425-degree oven -- if you have tiles or baking stone, slide the round loaves directly onto the hot surface. Bake 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake 35 minutes more. Remove and cool on racks. SPICED CRANBERRY ROLLS (Makes 2 dozen) 1 cup milk 4 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt 2 tablespoons active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 4 1/2 to 5 cups white flour, preferably unbleached 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries

Heat the milk to the boiling point and dissolve the butter, sugar and salt in it. Let cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the cooled milk mixture, eggs, ginger and cinnamon. Stir in almost all the flour until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out and knead about 3 to 4 minutes, adding more flour as necessary. Sprinkle some flour over the cranberries, then knead them into the dough. Clean your bowl and butter it. Return the dough to it; let rise, covered with plastic wrap, until double in volume.

Turn out and roll the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut into 2 1/2-inch circles, plump the dough up by pulling the sides under and pinching together on the bottom, and place on buttered baking sheets an inch apart, seam side under. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise about 30 minutes. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve warm. SEMOLINA BREAD (Makes 1 8-inch loaf)

One is generally told that semolina, the pure heart of the wheat kernel that is used to make pasta, is not good as a bread flour. But on a tip from James Beard, who never takes anything as gospel until he has tried it, we experimented with a loaf of pure semolina. It is excellent -- the ice cream of breads, you might say. It has a lacy texture, a luscious creamy yellow color, and it tastes a little bit like a delicate corn pudding. 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1 1/2 cups warm water 2 tablespoons soft butter 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk 2 teaspoons coarse salt or 1 teaspoon table salt 3 cups semolina flour

In a medium size-bowl dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Mix the butter and the dry milk into the remaining cup of water and add to the yeast along with the salt. Stir in the semolina.

Turn the dough out onto a working surface dusted with a little more of the semolina flour and let rest while you clean out and grease your bowl. Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until it is smooth and lively, then return it to the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in volume -- it will take about 1 1/2 hours, maybe more.

Turn the dough out, punch down, then form into a loaf and place in a greased 8-inch bread pan. Cover with a towel and let rise until double -- about 50 minutes. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes. Turn the loaf out and let cool on a rack.