The History—and family—behind America’s most beloved cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, which was first published in 1931.
In 1931 Irma Rombauer, a recently-widowed mother of two, self-publishes her personal collection of recipes and cooking techniques into a book and calls it The Joy of Cooking. The cover was a papercut done by Irma's daughter, Marion, and depicts St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooks, slaying the dragon of kitchen drudgery. Irma typed up the recipes and Marion helped her test them. In a cookbook first, they took the ingredients out of the directions and listed them in chronological order. Chicken a la King, Molded Cranberry Nut Salad and Charlotte Russe are among the recipes.
This revision of The Joy of Cooking is known as the wartime edition. Irma included information in the book to help cooks cope with rationing, including ways to replace or stretch meat and sugar.
“The Joy of Cooking is the result of a long practical experience, a lively curiosity and a real love for cookery,” Irma wrote in this edition. “In it I have made an attempt to meet the needs of the average household, to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out of the commonplace.” Recipes included Mushrooms Under Glass, Nut Roast and City Chicken (made with veal and pork due to the high price of chicken then).
The first edition to be revised solely by Marion with the help of her husband, John. There's a section devoted to frozen foods and the largest selection of stuffed tomato recipes in any edition. A whopping 23 variations—hot and cold! This edition also includes new chapters on pressure cookery and electric blenders.
Marion wanted this to be an American kitchen reference, the go-to source for culinary knowledge. New chapters deal exclusively with ingredients and cooking methods. Coverage of game and wildfowl include muskrat and opossum. There’s an increase in coverage of French cuisine as well as a smattering of other European dishes like paella, pesto, lasagna and tacos.
Marion’s son, Ethan, becomes a contributor to this edition. Julia Child gives it a glowing review: “It is, and should continue to be a staple in any good culinary collection because Irma’s voice is there with you in the kitchen giving guidance and encouragement.” This is the first edition to give directions for making tofu as well as other DIY projects like walnut catsup and Worcestershire sauce, as well as more international recipes including West African beef stew, Ghanian peanut soup and hummus.
The 75th anniversary edition had an intentionally retro vibe. Some recipes returned that predated the 1975 edition, such as Shrimp Wiggle and Golden Glow Salad (a savory aspic mold). Six years later, in 2012, the Library of Congress named the Joy of Cooking as one of the 88 books that shaped America.
After almost a decade of research and recipe testing, Irma’s great-grandson, John Becker and his wife, Megan Scott, continue the family cookbook legacy and in November 2019 publish the ninth edition of the Joy of Cooking. They developed more than 600 new recipes, tested thousands of recipes from previous editions and updated all the information to reflect the latest techniques and available ingredients. Recipes include gluten-free breads as well as instructions for curing bacon, fermenting kombucha and charring shishito peppers. A new chapter called “Streamlined Cooking” includes how to meal plan so that dishes can be repurposed and supplemented throughout the week.
John Becker and his wife, Megan Scott, the husband-and-wife team behind the ninth edition of the Joy of Cooking, have followed in the footsteps of the book's original authors, John’s great-grandmother Irma Rombauer and grandmother Marion. For more info go to thejoykitchen.com.
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