Joy to the World: A Look at the 9th Edition of “Joy of Cooking”

The arrival of a new generation of the Joy of  Cooking feels like seeing a new baby born into the family. Personal and very welcome.

First, though, a bit of perspective on the story of this famous and enduring cookbook. *

After her husband’s suicide in 1930 during the Great Depression, Irma S. Rombauer – the original author of Joy – invested half her life savings to self-publish a cookbook. Actually, she produced 3000 copies in 1931 and called the book The Joy of Cooking: A Collection of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat.

Since then eight more editions of Joy have appeared:

1936 – 2nd edition

1943/1946 – 3rd edition

1951 – 4th edition

1963 – 5th edition

1975 – 6th edition

1997 – 7th edition

2006 – 8th edition and 75th anniversary

2019- 9th edition

A family endeavor for the most part – aside from the 1997 edition edited by Maria Guarnaschelli with a team of ghostwriting chefs, all supervised by Rombauer’s grandson Ethan Becker – the popularity of the cookbook originally rested on the author’s warm conversational writing style. Unfortunately, that aspect of the book seems to be watered down the further from the original we go.

But nonetheless, as Irma’s great-grandson John Becker and his wife Megan Scott write in the 2019 version of Joy:

As its heft might betray, Joy is not just a cookbook to choose recipes from: Since the 1960s, we have endeavored to be an essential companion for cooks, many of whom are not only in need of trusted recipes, but also a wide-ranging, dependable source of culinary knowledge. (p. xiii, Joy, 2019)

My battered copy of Joy Cooking dates to 1964, from what I can gather. Several years later, my husband gave it to me as a wedding gift, inscribing it thus:

“O, Joy of the cooking

Joy of my life,

Some day soon,

You’ll be my wife.

And when you do,

You could do worse

Than to use this book,

And I’ll quit my verse!”

That book, which traveled with us to several continents and countries, surprisingly provided much-needed guidance when I had to adapt recipes to local ingredients, such as pies made with mangoes, not peaches, in Haiti and inventing a substitute for ricotta in Morocco.

And now, many, many years later, I’ve added the newest member of the Joy family to my kitchen:

I ordered the newest addition to the Joy family and the book arrived in record time. Right away I noticed that it’s wider than its predecessors, by about 2 inches in the case of the 1963 version and 1 1/2 inches for the 2006.

I’ve owned the 6th edition (1975) and the 7th edition (1997), but somehow I never developed an emotional attachment to those volumes. So I left them behind during one of our many, many moves. When the 8th, or 75th Anniversary edition, appeared in 2006, I bought it. And it still sits on a bookshelf in my office. If you turn to page 600, you’ll see the one stain, where I spilled some dissolved yeast one year while making “Buttermilk Potato Bread”.

But you’ll not find many stains in that anniversary edition. At least not like what you’ll see in my 5th edition copy:

I really love the Goethe quote from Faust at the very beginning of my 5th edition: “That which thy fathers have bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it.”

And of course there’s the squirrely stuff in my 1963 copy of Joy, specifically page 453, a very sanitized line drawing of how to skin a squirrel. Needless to say, by 2006 squirrel had been reduced a mere mention and the only illustration that of a more anatomically correct hare losing its skin.

The first sentence of the “Forward and Guide” in my early copy brought to mind Julia Child’s meme on the “servantless American cook”, via Saki: “The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go, she went.” Joy‘s audience from the very beginning: the servantless, or primarily middle class, American cook.

Over 20 million copies of Joy have ended up in kitchens around the world.

In 2010, John Becker and Megan Scott undertook the  humongous task of a complete, or nearly complete, revamping of Joy.

One of key new features of the 2019 Joy is the inclusion of recipes from around the world. Previous editions, especially the earlier ones, focus on American dishes, the sort of thing you might expect to find in immigrant communities with European roots. Not so the new Joy. Despite the glaring absence of recipes from West Africa – where’s the Chicken Yassa? – the lineup of international recipes is quite extensive. Turning to the index, I found the following – note that the numbers in red in parentheses indicate how many recipes appeared in the 5th edition from the same various countries and regions, at least according to the index, which – I admit – is not a great indicator of the actual content, but it provides an interesting comparison to the newer volume:

Belgian – 3 recipes (1)

Brazilian – 3 recipes

Canadian – 4 recipes

Caribbean – 3 recipes (with a See also to Cuban, Jamaican)

Chinese – 44 recipes (7)

Cuban – 7 recipes

French – 156 recipes (+ 10)

German – 35 recipes (4 – most indexed by name, not under “German”)

Greek – 14 recipes

Indian – 31 recipes (1)

Indonesian – 4 recipes

Irish – 2 recipes

Israeli – 3 recipes

Italian – 116 recipes (8)

Jamaican – 7 recipes

Japanese – 27 recipes

Korean – 7 recipes

Lebanese – 2 recipes

Mediterranean- 3 recipes

Mexican – 77 (2)

Middle Eastern – 26 recipes

Moroccan – 6 recipes

North African – 7 recipes

Persian – 4 recipes

Peruvian – 1 recipe

Provençal – 5 recipes

Puerto Rican – 4 recipes

Russian – 7 recipes (3)

Scandinavian – 13 recipes (2)

Scottish – 3 recipes (5)

South American – 19 recipes

Spanish – 21 recipes (5)

Swedish – 2 recipes (2)

Thai – 28 recipes

Vietnamese – 9 recipes

I decided to list my favorite recipes from the 5th edition and see whether or not they survived the ravages of the editors’ pens in the 2019 edition:

1) Cole Slaw, Sour Cream Dressing option, p. 80-81, 317

2) German Hot Potato Salad, p. 88

3) Chicken Curry or Senegalese Soup, p. 151

4) Senate Bean Soup, p. 152

5) Remoulade Sauce, p. 316

6) Baked Beans, p. 261

7) Pancakes, p. 211-212

8) Béchamel, p. 323

9) Raisin Sauce, p. 331

10) Potato Buttermilk Bread. p. 565

11) Quick Sour Cream Coffee Cake, p. 577, Streusel, p. 681

12) Popovers, p. 582

13) Apple Pie, p. 600-601

14) Seven-Minute White Icing, p. 676

15) Country Captain, p. 472

When I went to the 9th edition of 2019, I did not find some of the recipes:

Chicken Curry or Senegalese Soup

Sour Cream Dressing

Raisin Sauce

Quick Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Seven-Minute White Icing

Not bad, really.

The new Joy retains the wonderful reference tables and other information introduced by Marion Rombauer Becker, as well as the occasional literary quote, such as M. F. K. Fisher’s quip about eggs on page 149:

… one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.

I was happy to note up-to-date canning instructions and the cautionary explanation of egg safety guidelines. The chapter on “Streamlined Cooking” will encourage time-strapped cooks to get into the kitchen instead of dialing up for takeout. Becker and Scott outline the popular “cook for a day, eat for a week” strategy. But it’s the “Fermentation” chapter that sets this version of Joy apart from its previous editions, as well as numerous other culinary compendiums.

The cover of the newest Joy touts 600 new recipes and 4000 favorites revised and updated. Many popular international dishes surface on these pages. It is a book that will be useful to just about every cook you know, including vegans and vegetarians.

I really do believe that the young editors of this version of Joy have created “The Trusted Kitchen Classic for a New Generation of JOY“. It will stand the test of time quite well, for it captures the incredible culinary mix that defines American cooking today. Of course, there probably will be future editions of Joy, to keep pace with the culinary changes and innovations and sharing you would expect whenever people go into the kitchen.

Recipe from 1964 Edition of the Joy of Cooking

For more about Joy and its history, see the following:

Editions of Joy, as interpreted by Janet Jarvis, Bookseller

*Anne Mendelson’s history of JoyStand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking (2003)

Interview with Becker and Scott, from the Christian Science Monitor

Kim Severson,  “Does the World Need Another ‘Joy’? Do You?” New York Times, November 1, 2006.

Irma Rombauer (1877-1962), a biographical sketch by her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker.

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