Throwback Cookbook: Why the Joy of Cooking Still Rocks

Photos by Hannah Palmer Egan
Sweet Joy

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

By Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker, 915 pages, Bobbs-Merrill Company (1975 ed.) Newer editions by Ethan Becker, from Scribner.

You may have this book on your shelves, and we'd be willing to bet that it's the ONLY cookbook on some of your shelves, which is great, because if you're only going to have one, this is the one to have. And if you haven't consulted it recently, it's time you dust it off.

This cookbook classic has been in print since 1936, but before that, Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, stricken with grief after her husband's suicide, self-published the original tome in 1931 and sold copies out of her apartment, determined to reframe instructional cookery in a chatty, accessible way.

There was a new edition (this time from a real publisher!) in 1936, and another in 1943, then 1946 and so on. As American food culture amoebically expanded and developed, the Joy incorporated new ingredients and cultural references, and when Rombauer passed away, her daughter Marion took over. When Marion passed away, her son Ethan took over. The latest edition, published in 2007, reflects three generations of work within the Rombauer-Becker family and 75 years of American culinary history.

Joy (1975 edition) was my first and only cookbook until I was 23. Later, my mom gave me a newer (1997) edition, which is also excellent, and I use them in tandem (THANKS, MOM). The new one has things like this incredible white bean soup that's been served in the U.S. Senate cafeteria for decades, but the old one has this dense "quick banana bread," leavened with baking powder, that I'd make as a teenager. That bread was nixed in the later update, replaced with another recipe that's surely better, but if we can't be sentimental about food, why eat?

There are dozens of reasons why this book is great, but for the sake of brevity, let's boil it down to six.

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