I’m not going to beat around the bush here: The new Joy of Cooking is huge. When I first heard about it, I wondered, “Do we need a new Joy of Cooking?” First published in 1931, the book went through several revisions over the years, to become what has the most enduring of all American cookbooks. Yet I wondered if the book would (or could) still be relevant, in the age of the internet, and as several other books had come along through the year, that could also be considered “encyclopedias” of cooking. I had some doubts.
The latest Joy of Cooking is a formidable volume. With 4000 classic recipes, revised and retested, and 600 new ones added, the new edition clocks in at nearly 1200 pages. Some previous editions attempted to tinker with the formula, dispensing with recipes and information that the editors didn’t think relevant, such as the much-missed preserving chapter and information on cooking game.
The information on canning is back as is the chapter on cooking game; the famous, or infamous, squirrel recipe, and diagram have been replaced by rabbit recipes, including Lapin à la moutarde, as the authors felt they were more applicable to how people eat today. (Muskrat and bear recipes remain in there.) Other additions to the new book include ingredients that have become more available in supermarkets, like salsa, fresh lemongrass, and dried chiles, as well as an extensive inclusion of recipes culled from the diverse cultures that make up America (and the rest of the world) such as couscous, miso-glazed eggplant, pho, fritto misto, queso fundido, za’atar, and kimchi.
Coincidentally, I happened to be reading Stand Facing the Stove at the same time the new Joy of Cooking came out. That book is a meticulous history of what started as one woman’s passion, and a way to cope with the grief of losing her husband after he lost his battle with depression, and his suicide, to become one of the most important cooking references in the world. (In case you don’t believe me, I spotted a copy of an older edition in a French friend’s apartment recently.)
Remarkably well-researched, Stand Facing the Stove traces the Rombauer and Becker family lineage; the first 84 pages are very detailed on that subject, which I’ll admit was a lot of information to digest (although I’ll also admit to having the world’s shortest attention span…) and continues to how Irma Rombauer convinced a publisher to publish her book, which introduced the inclusion of the author’s voice in the text, something new in cookbooks, as well as a radically different way of writing recipes: placing the ingredients in the steps of the technique, rather than as a list at the beginning of the recipe.
Stand Facing the Stove also chronicles one of the great catastrophes in the history of publishing, which caused immense grief, anguish, and substantial financial loss to Mrs. Rombauer, who made the mistake of signing away the copyright of the Joy of Cooking to her publisher, Bobbs-Merrill. (You can read an excellent article by Stand Facing the Stove author Anne Mendelson here, about the challenges she faced researching and writing the book.) In subsequent years, the publisher did everything they could to thwart and vex Irma, and keep her royalty payments low. Her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who was quite different than her mother, eventually collaborated with Irma on the book, before taking over the reins completely when her mother passed away. She evolved the book to include tips on nutrition, gardening, and making environmentally conscious choices when shopping and cooking, which was another way that put Joy of Cooking ahead of its time, back then.
Of course, Irma could not have imagined that one day, the Joy of Cooking would be available on CD-Rom (which enabled me to bring the hefty book to Paris two decades ago), an app, an Instagram account, and more than 20 million copies in print. But her great-grandson John Becker and his wife Megan Scott spent nine years revising the book for how we cook today. Spending the last few months leafing through the book, absorbing all the information, I have to say, I love the new edition and it truly deserves a place on everyone’s cookbook shelf, including mine.
You’ll find all the family-friendly and classic recipes, from Banana Cream Pie and German Chocolate Cake to meatloaf and mashed potatoes in the book. There’s sensible information about avoiding food waste, a six-page chart on grain cooking, and an outstanding chapter called Know Your Ingredients that helpfully lists substitutions for almost all of the ingredients listed. There’s even an entry for “Emergency Water Purification,” which I hope I never need to use, but good to know I have that info should the occasion arise.
I was also glad to have this Tourtière, described as a “Canadian meat pie.” Its lineage is likely based on French pâté en croûte where a mixture of ground meat seasoned with a spice mixture similar to quatre-épices, that’s baked in a crust. The seasoning is used in larger quantities than it would be in France, which is likely a nod to North American tastes, where spices are more prominent.
As someone who writes recipes for a living, I was particularly delighted at how remarkably well-written the recipes were. Everything is explained just enough so you know what to do, and how long (and what temperature) to do it at, but with important keywords inserted here and there that tell you what to look out for, what you can (and can’t) do, as well as what the ingredients do, and how to serve the dish. Also, it’s obvious that they did revise and test the recipes since they described the process, which is a tip-off that the recipes were, indeed, actually tested.
This Tourtière may look complicated, but it’s actually quite easy to make. If you can make an apple pie, you can make this savory tourte. With its pleasing mix of spices, and just-right richness, it’s a great, warming meal on a cold winter night paired with some vegetables or a salad, and a glass of wine, to keep your spirits high. There are a few steps, but the ingredients are easy to find, and you can make the dough at your leisure, then assemble it when the mood – or hunger – strikes, enclosing the filling in the buttery layers of pastry, then, an hour later, present this beautiful tourtière to everyone for dinner.