To say that The Joy of Cooking is an American classic is slightly misleading.
It’s more accurate to say that it is an institution, shifting its form, adapting to the way Americans live and eat. With each edition new recipes are added, old ones dropped, almost all of them revised. Even entire sections have changed substantially. In the 1997 edition an encyclopaedic section called ‘Know Your Ingredients’ was eliminated and the information spread throughout the rest of the book. And in 1943, Irma Rombauer altered the recipes to reflect the war rationing, which made that edition a very useful and successful book indeed.
So it is entirely possible to have a ‘favorite’ Joy of Cooking. In this final post of the series I’m having a look at the different Joys through the twentieth century, how they reflected the times and how they may still be worth a look.
Irma’s first edition, self-published. About 450 recipes. She included what one historian calls ‘casual culinary chat’, making the book not just easy to cook from but easy to read. There was a facsimile reprint done in 1998. Fantastic dragon illustration on dust jacket.
Within a few years The Joy of Cooking had become a local sensation and was spreading to other parts of the nation. Irma had the momentum to get a publisher, so she revised her book, inventing the unique recipe format that has been a Joy hallmark since.
Bit of trivia for you: this was Julia Child’s first cookbook. To this edition were added a number of quick recipes and substitutions for rationed items then hard to find. This was the first American cookbook to make serious use of soy. Technology developments of this decade begin to leave marks on – or rather appliances in – the American household.
Times were a-changing. After the war refrigeration spread into the American heartland and new ways of eating followed.
As Irma grew older her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker began to take a hand in the production of Joy. Marion brings an interest in gardening, herbs, and wholefoods (she had an eight-acre homestead in Cincinnatti), as well as related philosophies on health and eating. The index was considered incomplete and was revised for the 1953 reprint.
Now double the size of the 1931 edition. Following a series of strokes, Irma had died and Marion took on the book’s production. A number of other authors left their fingerprints on this edition, not it seems to the knowledge of the one whose name is on the cover. The result was one not very coherent book and one very irritated Marion Rombauer Becker. Becker made so many corrections for the 1963 reprint that the type had to be reset.
This is the most popular edition: if you want the authentic, good ol’ American classic, go find a nice 1975 Joy. It says something about the monumental quality of this edition (the one my mother owned when I was a lad) that it is the longest-lived of any Joy: it would not be revised for over twenty years. Marion saw her aims more fully realised in the 1975 than in the 1962 (or 1963). Raw and natural foods abounded, and there was a special section explaining the uses and qualities of common ingredients.
There are some quirks. Marion did not, for example, entirely trust microwaves. While menu ideas had been familiar since the 1936 edition, here there were some for those inevitable ‘backpacking’ dinners on the trails. This is also the Joy that tells you how to prepare beaver tail and skin a squirrel. Oh, the seventies.
Marion died and Ethan Becker took up the reins, releasing a substantially new edition of Joy in 1997. (The list of authors grows lengthy.) American cookery had changed quite a bit – thanks in part to women like Julia Child and Martha Stewart – and the new emphasis is on freshness, convenience and health. Ethan brought in more global tastes and expanded the descriptions of ingredients. Unfortunately, the decision was also made to nix the handy section called ‘Know Your Ingredients’ (which really could be a useful book in itself) and scatter that information throughout the other sections. And, roll in your grave Marion: no canning section.
Weighing in at 1152 pages is the 75th Anniversary edition, which I have on the desk in front of me. The editors (who include yet more family) restored the ‘Know Your Ingredients’ section and employed a number of contributing ‘experts’, including Irma’s biographer Anne Mendelsohn who has written a very good, short history of the book. It is no compliment to the 1990s that this edition is not based on the 1997 one – generally seen as a regrettable lapse of judgement – but rather on Marion’s masterpiece from 1975.
The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition, by Irma Rombauer, et al. (Scribner, 2006)
In addition to hundreds of brand-new recipes, this JOY is filled with many recipes from all previous editions, retested and reinvented for today’s tastes. This edition restores the personality of the book, reinstating popular elements such as the grab-bag Brunch, Lunch, and Supper chapter and chapters on frozen desserts, cocktails, beer and wine, canning, salting, smoking, jellies and preserves, pickles and relishes, and freezing foods.