Irma Rombauer: How an Anthology of Recipes Became a Treasured Heirloom

Author: Cipora Cohon

First published in 1932 by a grieving housewife, “The Joy Of Cooking” has been released in eight different editions over the course of the last 80 years. Irma Rombauer’s husband had recently committed suicide, and in order to help her through the grieving process, her daughter suggested she try writing out her home recipes. Rombauer did just that and then paid a local publishing company (though not a book publisher), Bobbs-Merrill to print 3,000 copies. Rombauer peddled these copies, was rejected by several publishers, although she never dropped Bobbs-Merrill, before being picked up by Scribner for the recent editions.

A collection of a lifetime of recipes collated with stories and anecdotes, “The Joy of Cooking” has found its home in many a family, taking center-stage in experienced kitchens and educating the general populous on food. At its prime, “The Joy of Cooking” changed the way Americans look at food and even taught Julia Child how to cook, Rombauer and Gourmet Magazine.

Although most people rightly see Julia Child as having revolutionized American cooking, Rombauer set the stage. Her anthological recipe-book served generations of home cooks and bakers, covering all types of foods, from aspic to pasta and everything in between.

My mom, an accomplished home cook in the “eh, throw it in” style, has her own worn paperback copy of “Joy,” and while she may not reference it often, it is well-loved. The cover has completely come off the spine, and a majority of the pages are dotted with ingredient remnants. So this last summer, I searched for my own copy. My friend commented that her parents, residents of a rural town in Northern California, had a copy of their own and always made their biscuits from it.

Little did I know the tradition I was easing myself into. A used hardcover sixth-edition copy found its way into my arms and then back across the country, where it has already been loved for its silky, simple and flavorful homemade spaghetti recipe.

“The Joy of Cooking” is just that, a joy and a guide to cooking. The book contains a key, a table of contents and an index, as well as general guides to specific realms of cooking (jams and preserves, for example). Having inspired many a home cook and many more professional chefs, “Joy” turns out good food and great education. It’s not surprising that Irma Rombauer’s book is still relevant 87 years later, and I don’t see it ever falling away.

#CiporaCohon #JoyofCooking #IrmaRombauer


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