The Joy of Cooking

It’s pretty tough to beat The Joy of Cooking as a basic reference when it comes to American cooking. My mother gave me my first copy as a 28th birthday present. I was mortified at the time; she gave it to all of my other siblings as a wedding present. Yet, that edition still earns a coveted place among my limited kitchen cookbook collection.

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.”

The most recent version, released in 2006, seeks to reclaim the essence of the Joy of Cooking, notably the lauded 1975 edition. With some 4,500 recipes, the most recent “75th anniversary” offering has every possible recipe covered, along with much of the original folksy first-person description. They’re both great resources, and if I were out to buy a copy of the Joy of Cooking, I’d opt for the most recent one.

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!

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One response to “The Joy of Cooking

  1. I’ve been thinking about the online vs. book form of recipe research, as well. Having been given The Joy of Cooking for a wedding gift, it’s become a staple for learning about nearly any vegetable, for example, I might come home with and how to prepare it. While more exciting, trendy (did I just say “trendy” for food?!?) recipes may be found online, they won’t have the tips and background one may find in a book like The Joy of Cooking. So glad to have it (actually two of them) on my bookshelf.

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