'Joy Of Cooking': 75 Years Young

"Joy of Cooking" was first put out in 1931 by a St. Louis widow who published it herself. Seventy-five years later, it's one of the biggest-selling books of all time — and has helped tens of millions of cooks.

Ethan Becker is a co-author of the latest edition, and the grandson of Irma Rombauer, the original creator. Beth Wareham is the book's editor. Both visited The Early Show Wednesday to discuss the book's history and impact, and give a glimpse at the edition that's hot off the presses.

In 1931, Irma Rombauer self-published the "Joy of Cooking," using insurance money she received after her husband's death. Working with her daughter, Marion, the women sold the book out of their apartment.

Today, it is a staple in kitchens across the country. Chefs from Julia Child to Tyler Florence call it the ultimate reference guide to food.

"As I moved about from place to place, I found myself encumbered with an ever-increasing supply of cookbooks," Rombauer wrote in 1931. "The result of this encumbrance was an anthology of favorite recipes ... that have been developed, altered and created outright, so that the collection as it now stands may make a claim for originality — enough, it is hoped, to justify its publication, and to hold the interest of those who encouraged me to put it into book form. ... I have attempted to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out of the commonplace. In spite of the fact that the book is compiled with one eye on the family purse and the other on the bathroom scale, there are, of course occasional lapses into indulgence."

The book has been revised in what amounts to 10-year intervals since.

The 1975 edition was the highest-selling to date, and the goal of the 2006 edition is to recapture the tone and recipes present in that version. According to both Becker and Wareham, the friendly "girlfriend to girlfriend" tone of previous editions was lost in 1997, along with the use of convenience foods and many simple recipes. Instead, the book turned to celebrity chefs, soliloquies on technique, and time-consuming recipes. Such a big effort was made to reclaim the voices of Rombauer and her daughter that Warehalm calls the book a "renovation, not a revision."

Not surprisingly, much thought went into choosing the recipes for the latest edition.

"Ethan said 'yes or no' to everything," Wareham explained to CBS News. "He was really the heart and soul of the book. He reminds me of his grandmother: no nonsense."

Wareham explained that the test kitchen tested recipes from 1975 and 1997 side-by-side, to decide which versions were best. Editors made a point of reintroducing recipes that had been left out of the last edition — for instance, chop suey, ice cream, and cocktails.

Wareham pointed out that the books had different strengths in different decades. Soups were creamy and elegant in the '40s, while the '50s saw delicious casseroles.

Finally, editors looked for gaps in the book. For example, there has never been a recipe for red velvet cake in "The Joy of Cooking."

Among the classic and returning dishes on The Early Show set Wednesday were:

  • Quick Tuna Casserole: All casseroles disappeared in the 1997 edition; these epitomize the easy-and-inexpensive mantra of "The Joy of Cooking."
  • Chop Suey: a classic from the '60s/'70s.
  • Almond Torte Cockaigne: Cockaigne was the name of the family home (Ethan's parents). Any time there's a recipe with this in the title, it means it's an old family favorite.
  • Fruit Punch for 50: another returning classic.

    New recipes on the set included:

  • Sushi: an example of how the cookbook strives to keep up with American's changing tastes.
  • Flavored Vodka: Same idea as the sushi. Becker developed these recipes himself.
  • Mediterranean Short Ribs with Olives: from the book's first slow-cooker section.
  • Red Velvet Cake: One of the "gaps" in the books' repertoire; in 75 years, there had never been a recipe for this American classic.

    Incidentally, "The Joy of Cooking" has been Becker's primary pursuit since 1968. He initially thought his older brother was going to take over the family business — but when that didn't happen, he stepped up to the plate.

    Although Becker attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, he says he really learned how to cook from his mom. He fondly recalls spending a lot of time with her in the kitchen.

    "It was really a family thing," he told CBS News. "My dad cooked, too. Not only did we eat together, we cooked together."

    Becker feels strongly that the book is now "back where it was in 1975." He says he's very proud of the newest edition. He's particularly excited about the new "hearth cooking" section (yes, that's right, cooking in your fireplace!) as well as the extensive "Know Your Ingredients" section.

    For more on "The Joy of Cooking," visit the book's Web site, by clicking here.


    NEW YORK, Nov. 1, 2006
    • Brian Dakss

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