The Fascinating History of Joy of Cooking

This post is a riff on "Joy of Cooking," that classic book on American cuisine mentioned in our post Elevate Your Home Cooking. Many cooks know it has been in print for a long time, first published in 1936. But few cooks know that Irma S. Rombauer was a prominent socialite and hostess in St. Louis, Missouri. After the 1929 stock market crash, her husband committed suicide, leaving her to raise small children with little financial support.

Irma S. Rombauer, author of Joy of Cooking, with 2 children

Friends encouraged her to collect her recipes and publish a book. "Joy of Cooking" was an instant success when it appeared in 1936 and is in the 9th edition today.

I have an old tattered copy of it that was a hand-me-down from Great Auntie Belle from my Dad's side. Auntie Belle and Grandma, at some point in their early lives, lived in St. Louis. As I flipped through my copy of Joy of Cooking I wondered if they knew, or knew of Irma, since they traveled in the same social circles. 

1943 edition of Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

On closer examination, I saw that my copy is the 1943 edition and the preface reads "When the the revision of this book was begun a year ago, we had no intimation that international obligations would lead our land of plenty to ration cards. It now goes to print with a number of emergency chapters added, written to meet the difficulties that beset the present-day cook."

Fascinating- I have a WWII edition!  This 3rd edition, the war version, has completely grabbed my attention. As a single parent and entrepreneur who would just as soon be in the garden or even better on the golf course, the idea of "emergency" chapters and the focus in this version on canned goods and frozen food really engaged me.

1943 Joy of Cooking Canale and Sandwich recipes

I had already dug into the chapter on canapes and tea sandwiches So many interesting and straightforward recipes- Rolled Asparagus Canapes, Tunafish, Salmon, or Crabmeat Sandwich filling for Finger Roll Sandwiches, Pecan Sandwiches, Hawaiian Club Sandwiches, Butter Spreads, Pineapple Sandwiches along with "Attractive Ways to Serve Canapes and Hors d'Oeuvres" Stunning, really.

1943 Joy of Cooking Hors d'oevre recipes

I am planning to experiment with some of sandwich and canape recipes using The Nicer Slicer. I want to dig into the effects of WWII on the book and recommendations that follow, chapters on "Meat Stretching, Meat Substitutes and Supplementary DIshes."

American households dealing with shortages and serious issues of those days had to make adjustments. How many of those great adaptations should be revisited today, I wondered? Some of it may readily apply in this Covid stricken world where even vaccinated, we may want to reduce our time in stores and restaurants while still maintaining a healthy and tasty menu plan. I am looking forward to finding out.

This article from Food and Wine compares cooking during the war to cooking during the pandemic and concludes that Joy of Cooking can get you through anything.

Is there a copy of Joy of Cooking in your kitchen? And what are your favorite recipes?

"As a child my family menu consisted of 2 choices: take it or leave it." Buddy Hacket

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