The Joy of Cooking: The Trusted Kitchen Classic for a New Generation of Joy
By Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker,
Ethan Becker, John Becker, and Megan Scott
(Simon & Schuster, 2019)
Review by Cheryl Angelina Koehler
For generations of home cooks, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker’s Joy of Cooking has been the all-important resource for reliable recipes and advice on baking, entertaining, or simply putting wholesome food on the table.
The book dates to 1931, the year Irma self-published her collection of recipes titled The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat. It was a way to heal through a dark time in her life, as well as an opportunity to collaborate with her daughter, Marion, whose small illustrations imbued the pages with a sense of the cook’s hands at work in the home kitchen. It was Marion Rombauer Becker’s personal energy, curiosity, expertise, and perseverance as recipe writer and editor that brought Joy to its mid-century prime with the 1963 edition, and the book’s vaunted reputation held strong through and beyond Marion’s last revision in 1975.
Many feel the 1997 revision was marred by publisher meddling as Marion’s son Ethan Becker struggled to keep the book true to his mother’s vision. And while the 2006 revision marked the book’s 75th anniversary with some fanfare, it was not until 2019’s new edition that the family has been able to celebrate Joy’s return to strong, engaged, and skillful family management. As Marion’s grandson John Becker stepped up with his wife Megan Scott to take on this major revision, the young couple looked to John’s grandmother’s 1963 edition as the touchstone or “north star” that guided them through an intensive period of testing, updating, and adding 600 new recipes, almost entirely on their own. The changes address current kitchen techniques, newly diverse dietary interests, and expanding global awareness. Few publishers would consider skipping the help of food stylists and expert photographers, but Joy 2019 is still hand illustrated, keeping its distinctive look while it travels a well-worn path through generations of home kitchens.
Although they were raised in the cyber age, Becker and Scott resisted the ease of crowd sourcing information online, choosing instead to spend copious hours in the kitchen and in direct consultation with primary sources including food producers and artisan experts. They have retained Irma and Marion’s conversational tone and “action style,” in which ingredients are presented before the paragraph where they are used. The format, as John and Megan point out, is less convenient for making shopping lists, but more true to the cooking process.
Edible East Bay enjoyed time with the duo last week, conversing and tasting a few of their favorite recipes from the new edition. We were subsequently delighted by Becker and Scott’s December 6 interview on KQED radio’s Forum program, and we urge interested readers who missed it to access and enjoy that archived interview.
Click here to purchase the book from Mrs. Dalloway’s, a local East Bay independent bookseller.