Joy of Cooking’s enduring appeal

Ask almost anyone in the U.S. to name their favorite cookbooks and you will probably hear ‘Joy of Cooking‘ somewhere in the list. The book, which first debuted in the 1930s, has taught several generations not only how to cook, but also how to preserve food and much more. Abagail Weir explains why Joy has had such longlasting appeal.

Weir recounts that unlike other cookbooks that feel dated, hopelessly mired in the era in which they were published, Joy has escaped that fate. One reason for this was Irma S. Rombauer’s intimate writing style. “Irma pioneered a personal mode of recipe-writing, opening the door for people like Nigella Lawson and Deb Perelman,” says Weir. “She’s [a] friend who sits on a stool in your kitchen to gossip and tell you when it’s done.”

After Irma’s daughter Marion Rombauer Becker took over the main cookbook writing and editing duties following her mother’s death, the style and focus of the cookbook changed. Marion was an artist and many of the earlier editions employed her artwork in their pages. She turned the cookbook to more healthy cooking, applying nutritional advice that still resonates.

Neither Irma’s casual style nor Marion’s focus on nutrition ultimately defined Joy of Cooking. Instead, says Weir, “the infrastructure they both engineered helped it become what it is today: a reliable, updatable reference book.” The contributor’s list of Joy continues to grow, with new family members taking over duties as older members fade away. The heart of Joy of Cooking continues to beat, and long may it do so.

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