The Joy of Cooking is a classic tale of American-style success. Rejected by an Indianapolis publisher, plucky 54-year-old Irma S. Rombauer decided to self-publish her cookbook in 1931 with the proceeds of her late husband’s life insurance after he committed suicide. She later sold a revised version to the same publisher; through a maze of acquisitions the book is now published by Scribner and may be the best-selling cookbook in history with more than 18 million copies of its various generations sold. Among the least popular editions: the 1997 edition, scrubbed of its home-style common sense, canning section and appetizers served on toothpicks in an effort to “update” the book that The New York Times food writer Kim Severson referred to it as the “new Coke of cookbooks.”
But I’m more than happy to stick to the version that my mother gave me, the twenty-something anticipated spinster. Bananas muffins? Sugar cookies? How to preserve pears? It’s all there. The layout of the recipes compels, feeding information and ingredients just as needed, like someone offering advice over the shoulder as you work along the instructions.
Why It’s Important: It’s rare to see a cookbook with such a strong allegiance after 80 years, and for good reason. In an age where so many people go online to seek answers to common culinary issues, often with frustration, it’s refreshing to know that there’s a novel solution for most of those queries – and it’s a book!