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all about joy

Christopher Kimball Reviews the Joy of Cooking

"Great cookbooks are not just collections of interesting recipes. They are, first and foremost, books that tell a story, the story of how people lived and cooked at a particular point in time. They reveal, to borrow an expression from James Beard, their delights and prejudices, their view of the social order, their appetite for serving others food that meets the expectations of their social class. Food can be anything and everything from fuel to an object of intellectual curiosity to full-bore hedonism that transports the mind and body far from the dinner table with just one overwhelming bite.

I started cooking out of an early edition of Joy when I was only 7 years old. I remember making a basic chocolate cake with 7-minute frosting. The cake turned out fine, but the frosting resembled gruel and was my introduction to the importance of following a recipe to the letter. Evidently my lack of patience and precision had led me astray. But after that first brush with culinary failure, Joy led me to many, many successes over the years; more to the point, I became enamored of Ms. Rombauer's voice, the matter-of-fact charm that led her to suggest "stand facing the stove" as a sensible first step in any recipe.

The amateur but highly evolved enthusiasm that Irma Rombauer brought to the world of home cooking was a breath of fresh air after the slightly earlier era of culinary dowagers Fannie Farmer, Mrs. Beaton, and Marion Harland. To those pillars of culinary wisdom, recipes were shorthand for cooks who had spent a lifetime in the kitchen. A pie pastry recipe might be written as "make a paste." But Ms. Rombauer was there to hold our hands, to put food in a social context and give it attitude, energy, and meaning in a world where food was leaping past the narrow formality of the Victorian age.

For all of our worldly knowledge about ingredients and culinary custom, few cookbook authors have managed to perfectly capture, without artifice or self-conscious chatter, the vernacular of an age. Irma Rombauer introduced us to a room in our home--the kitchen--that was to become a place of enjoyment, not just one of backbreaking labor. She represented the essence of the new American experience, which suggested that everything in life could be transformed into pleasure with nothing more than the proper attitude. And what better way to celebrate this new age than to have a smashing cocktail party with the perfect hors d’oeuvres?

The original Joy of Cooking was mind over matter, the perfect mix of attitude and function. Even as times have changed, the Joy stands out as a watershed volume, a book that speaks to the very heart of who we want to be in the kitchen: producers of our own story, directors of the good American life.

And, according to Ms. Rombauer, all we have to do is take that first easy step and "stand facing the stove." --Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook's Illustrated