Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A brand-new bundle of Joy

Of Cooking, that is. Devotees of this tome will be thrilled to learn that the 75th anniversary edition will appear on Halloween--just in time for the Holidays.

Jennifer Steinhauer,
in today's unedited New York Times Sunday Magazine (did the copyeditors at the NYT forget their commas on the subway?), frames her relationship to Joy as one might a fickle lover who is attempting a new, adult fidelity, going to on say:

"The new edition -- a sort of greatest hits of home cooking -- raises the interesting question of whether a cookbook covering sushi to ham loaf is relevant at a time when the cookbook industry is so fragmented by microcuisines."

In repsonse, I bring you Laurie Colwin:

"Naturally, no one, no matter how experienced in the kitchen, can manage without the Joy of Cooking....Mrs. Rombauer is to food what Dr. Spock is to babies....the range of The Joy of Cooking is amazing....The Joy's followers are like vintage-wine drinkers and have their favorite years. (Colwin's was from 1942) The recipes are clear and will never fail you."

If Joy's readers are as vintage wine aficionados, I am an alcoholic. I have three Joys: the 1997, the 1975, and the 1964. The 1975 belonged to my mother, who gave it to me when I was learning to cook. I remember reading the recipes for game as a little girl--woodchuck in particular inspired great hilarity amongst me and my siblings. The book was a fixure in the homes of my childhood and is thus doubly treasured. The 1997, also a gift from my mother, inspired astonishment at this next quote from Steinhauer's article:

"Ethan Becker (Rombauer's grandson) , oversaw this newest offering. In 1997, the last time Joy of Cooking was revised, things seemed to have gone terribly wrong. Recipes from professional food writers replaced many of the books old standards, food processors whirred a bit too much and the voice of the cookbook became subsumed. In 97 we kind of lost our way, Becker concedes."

No, no, no! I cut my teeth on the 1997. Though all three books see heavy use in my home, it is the '97's invaluable "About" sections I turn to when something new appears in my farm box. It is the '97 that explained to me how to prepare celery root, deal with rutabagas, and the differences between mustard greens. The '97 has Mildred Kroll's Chocolate Shortbread, a recipe so easy even a bad baker (i.e., me) can make it. In fact, I just copied it out and gave it to a co-worker on Friday. The 97 is what I open on a Wednesday, brain-dead and needing to do something just a bit different with the chicken.

The 64 sees the least use of the three, falling, at this point, into the cookbooks I love for historical reasons. The 64 tells me how and what Americans were eating forty-odd years ago. It also contains the crucial recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds, a savory my husband adores. Prepared only once yearly, I never remember how long to bake or what temp. Joy straightens me out in no uncertain terms.

Joy of Cooking, in all its guises, is like ballet class. All dancers, no matter how extreme their technique, must break down now and again and take a class where you stand at the barre and turn out in the five ancient positions. As you listen to the plinking piano and consider your outdated arm, rounded just so over your head, your shoulders in epaulment, you suddenly realize your spine is straighter. Your neck is a graceful stalk upon which your head nods authoritatively. Your legs are newly lissome. Class ends, you bow to the ballet master in grand reverence, pack your dance bag, and go perform Mark Morris repertory with renewed strength.

So, too, Joy. Make Sloppy Joes (page 428, 1964 edition). It is classic, delicious. Then go back to your Wolfert and your Bayless, for they are also wonderful. Consider yourself fortunate to live in this present , where all these cookbooks co-exist, not as fragmented "micocuisines," but a cornucopia of ingredients, creating a feast.

Works Cited:

Laurie Colwin: More Home Cooking. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993. 127.

Rombauer, Irma, and Marion Rombauer Becker. The Joy of Cooking. New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1964.

Rombauer, Irma and Marion Rombauer Becker. The Joy of Cooking. New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1975.

Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 1997.

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