A new edition of America’s favorite, classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking, rolled off the press on November 12. This edition was nine years in the making under the guide of John Becker and wife, Megan Scott. John Becker is the great grandson of Irma Rombauer, the original author of Joy of Cooking. I look forward to getting a copy of the new edition.
I was first introduced to Joy of Cooking in my junior food science class at the University of Nebraska where I was a consumer science (then home economics) major. My instructor called it the ‘kitchen bible’ telling us that anyone could learn to cook using Joy as their guide. It had all the recipes one would ever need in addition to being a culinary reference with its “About” sections. So in addition to purchasing our course textbook, we were required to also purchase a copy of Joy of Cooking. While I don’t remember, it was likely the 5th edition published in 1964 by Irma’s named successor and daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker. In the many years since, my paperback copy of that edition has been lost.
The cookbook began eighty-eight years ago when Irma Rombauer, a German immigrant and recent widow, needed a means to support her family during the Great Depression. To do so, she compiled her favorite recipes, wrote a cookbook, and self-published it in November 1931. She enlisted the help of a St Louis, MO company that printed labels for shoe companies and Listerine mouthwash to print her book, a first for the company. She paid $3000 to print 3000 copies of the Joy of Cooking: A compilation of Reliable Recipes for a Casual Culinary Chat. The book was illustrated by Rombauer’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker.
As the 3000 copies began to dwindle, a commercial printer was sought and with it came, a second edition in 1936. This edition expanded to 640 pages and set a new style for writing recipes—a conversational style, later known as the “action method.” Instead of listing ingredients and following with instructions, ingredients were interspersed with directions appearing as they were needed. This edition became popular quickly prompting six printings and selling 52, 151 copies by 1942.
A third edition was rolled out in 1943 and included a collection of recipes that could be prepared in less than 30 minutes using canned and frozen foods. This edition also included information intended to help readers deal with wartime rationing. Once again sales were phenomenal with nearly 620,000 copies sold by 1946. As the WWII came to an end, an update was made to the 1943 edition in 1946 with the elimination of the rationing information and the addition of more quick recipes.
The newly released edition is the 9th edition of the cookbook and marks the first update in 13 years. Joy has remained a family project passing from Irma to her daughter Marion, to Marion’s son, Ethan Becker, and now to Ethan’s son, John and his wife, Megan Scott. Through the various editions, Joy has remained a mainstay of American home cooking by adapting and evolving to the popular tastes and trends of Americans yet remaining basic. Marketing of the 2019 edition touts ingredients from the wider world and chapters on sous vide, fermentation, and cooking with both traditional and electric pressure cookers. John and Megan developed more than 600 new recipes for this edition with a focus on international, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes and tweaked many of the classics of former cookbooks. Lastly, this edition includes information about food history and science.
Indications are that this new book will be more than a collection of recipes; it should also be a fascinating read. For anyone who loves reading cookbooks as I do, I think this just might be the one for me to have and perhaps share as a holiday gift, too.