The lasting legacy of Joy of Cooking

Joy of Cooking 

We have frequently posted about legacy items on the EYB blog: things like cherished hand-me-down cookbooks, recipes, and kitchen tools we have inherited from family and dear friends. In these posts, Joy of Cooking frequently comes up in conversation. It is difficult to overstate the lasting legacy of this work. Recently Charles Roberts, owner of the used bookstore WonderBook, put into words the feelings many of us have regarding Joy – what it means to us personally, and what we think when we see a tattered copy of the venerable cookbook on a used bookstore shelf. 

Roberts describes the melancholy that has swept over me at times when I have spied a dog-eared, grease-stained copy of Joy of Cooking crammed alongside trivial fad diet books and “back of the can” volumes. Roberts notes that he didn’t used to see many used copies of Joy arrive at his shop – people refused to part with the book. But over the last several years he has witnessed an uptick in the number of copies – usually showing a great deal of wear – coming into the store. 

This increase comes with a feeling of sadness, because it often means that the person whose cooking led to the stains and worn pages has come to the end of their culinary journey. When a well-worn copy of Joy  comes into the store, Roberts says he can “feel decades of family meals and births and first days of school and graduation and marriages and grandkids. Too sentimental? Next time you find one in a used bookstore-pick it up, close your eyes and think of what that book has seen.”

With the advent of recipe websites and YouTube channels dedicated to cooking, it is hard to imagine another cookbook providing the breadth and depth of Joy or replicating its widespread impact on generations of cooks. Once upon a time – not that very long ago – if you came across an unknown ingredient, you would turn to a very small number of reference books – chief among them Joy of Cooking – to learn what it was and how to use it. Now, if you have a question about an ingredient, you just type it in the search engine (hopefully using EYB!) and find dozens of recipes and explanations. Even though I don’t often crack open my own cherished copy, Joy of Cooking will be one of the last cookbooks I would part with if I am ever forced to downsize my collection. 

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  • Rinshin  on  November 21, 2017

    Lovely thoughts.

  • Jenny  on  November 21, 2017

    Lovely post. It was one of the first books that went when I did a purge. It was something I bought on my own and never opened. I'm not an overly sentimental person – I'd purge my husband if I could lift heavier things. ๐Ÿ™‚ That was a joke.

  • sir_ken_g  on  November 22, 2017

    One of 5 cookbooks for our kids first apartment.

  • darcie_b  on  November 22, 2017

    I am not sentimental about most things, but I make an exception for cats and cookbooks! JoC was the first real cookbook I had, and it was given to me as a graduation present from people I greatly admired. That's why I value it so much.

  • Jane  on  November 23, 2017

    Even though I never cook from it any more, I don't think I will ever part with my very tattered copy of JoC. It was the first cookbook I owned, given to me by my mother for my 13th birthday. Odd really since we lived in the UK but I learnt a lot about American food from cooking from it. I subscribed to Gourmet magazine from my early 20s. Not surprising then that I ended up in the USA!

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