Joy of Cooking is a book that I enjoy reading about as much as I do flipping through. Its authors, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Beck, are a mother/daughter duo that are as foundational to American culinary history as the great Julie Child herself. (They were actually contemporaries, which makes me geek out for some, unexplainable reason). Quick history: this book was first printed in 1931. Since then, there have been many many editions, the latest being printed in 2006. This is because the original publishing company still owns the rights to the book and can do whatever they want with it, not because Irma and Marion are immortal…or zombies (or immortal zombies?). Anyways, Irma died after the fourth edition and Marion, after the sixth. Anything that’s comes out lately (and I use that term loosely since the last edition to be printed was a decade ago) is a remix of old material with the addition of modern classics that wouldn’t have been popular back in the mid 20th century.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of discussion on the internet about which version is best. For the purpose of this discussion, I have the sixth edition, which was printed in 1975. This is the only one that I’ve ever owned, so I’m not going to try to argue for it’s supremacy (I’ve never seen the other books so how could I begin to compare them?).
But, what I am going to do, is give you 7 reasons why I think Joy of Cooking is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
1. Four words: stewed muskrat with bacon. Also, how to prep woodchuck, beaver, armadillo, raccoon, opossum, and porcupine. This book will also show you, using cute, folksy illustrations, how to skin a squirrel. Apparently it involves stepping on the squirrel’s tail while pulling on it’s back legs. Like seriously, they drew a boot, stepping on a squirrel’s tale! The squirrel was dead, but still. At least the dude wasn’t barefoot.
2. The cake section is fantastic to flip through when you are sick on the couch with nothing to do. There is soooo much flavor inspiration there. I’m all wanting to put chocolate and dates together, and to buy orange marmalade. It’s a good thing my husband doesn’t do sugar, or there would be flour everywhere.
3.Vintage recipes. You’ll see lots of dishes involving aspic, mayo, offal and pineapples cut into interesting shapes (though not all of these at the same time). This is amusing and makes you feel cultured.
4. Survival skills (see how to cook possum). This book will tell you how to make butter and cheese, how to can vegetables and fruits, how to cure and smoke meats, how to grow your own produce and how to use a dehydrator. Granted, you may not have a dehydrator if you are running for your life from zombies, but it’s still good to know.
5. European recipes. Irma S. Rombauer spent quite a bit of time in Germany and this is reflected in the recipes that she collected. You can find recipes for things like lebkuchen, sauerbraten, sauerkraut and etc. You can also find quite a few recipes from France and Spain in there (among other countries: Hungary, etc). This also makes you feel cultured (even if you know that the recipes were probably somewhat Americanized).
6. The sauce section is huge (this fascinates me) and builds off of itself (i.e. base recipes with multiple variations).
7. This book makes for fantastic reference material. It has thousands of recipes, with a highly intuitive layout and index. If you have potatoes that you want to get rid of, this book will put dozens of recipes at your fingertips. Yes, the internet can do the same thing, but there’s something about being able to grab a physical book off of your shelf. If you want muffins, it has muffins. If you have a question about something simple (ha!) like making mayo or poaching eggs, it has that too. Basically, it’s a vintage-y American encyclopedia of food.
And, the conversational style in which it is written is fantastic. So anyways, I now want to go off and buy more vintage cookbooks. (What a fun idea for a collection!).
What about you? Anyone else own one of these books? If so, which edition do you have?