[Sca-cooks] NY Times Article on new edition of The Joy of Cooking
Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius
adamantius.magister at verizon.net
Thu Nov 2 03:36:11 PST 2006
Sheesh, was it almost ten years ago when they went all nouvelle on us
and abandoned the canning section???
> November 1, 2006
> Does the World Need Another ‘Joy’? Do You?
> By KIM SEVERSON
> MY heart is breaking for the “Joy of Cooking.” And it’s not just
> because of the blender borscht recipe that forced me to open my
> first can of cream of chicken soup in years.
> The poor dear has endured so many family battles, bad reviews and
> makeovers that it has become something akin to a child star trying
> to survive warring parents.
> “Joy of Cooking” is the most popular cookbook in America. Some 18
> million copies have been printed, starting with the slim volume of
> recipes Irma Rombauer put together in 1930 as a way to cope with
> her husband’s suicide.
> Over the years, “Joy” grew to a stout 1,000 pages and became the
> one book you gave young cooks and newly married couples. Glance at
> your bookshelf: it’s probably there.
> Now Scribner, the publisher, wants you to add a new “Joy” to the
> shelf. Just in time for its 75th anniversary, “Joy of Cooking” has
> undergone radical surgery. Meet the Best Loved and Brand New “Joy
> of Cooking,” in bookstores for $30 this week.
> If this sounds a little familiar, that’s because “Joy of Cooking”
> underwent a similar transformation in 1997, when we were asked to
> forget our beloved dog-eared copies and buy the All New, All
> Purpose “Joy of Cooking,” priced at $35.
> That well-engineered but unloved revision turned out to be the New
> Coke of cookbooks.
> Caught between unhappy family heirs and tepid reviews, Scribner is
> now suggesting we just forget about all that nonsense 10 years ago.
> They didn’t really mean it when they scrubbed the homey Rombauer-
> Becker family wisdom and killed the canning section.
> The good news is that no amount of infighting or marketing spin can
> alter the essence of the book. Equipped with 4,500 recipes and help
> for every conceivable kitchen quandary, “Joy” is the Swiss Army
> knife of cookbooks.
> The bad news is that this new version forces a decision. Which
> “Joy” do we want? Do we keep our mother’s vintage copy from the
> ’60s? The reliable and popular version from 1975? The smart, chef-
> driven 1997 book? Or do we clean house, get with the times and buy
> the new book, which has much more reference material along with a
> cloying coat of nostalgia?
> It’s an awful lot to weigh for someone who just wants to bake some
> To make sense of all the “Joys,” I piled the new book alongside
> four of its older sisters on the dining room table and began to
> read and to cook.
> Over the years, Mrs. Rombauer and later her daughter, Marion
> Rombauer Becker, enlarged the book into a kitchen reference that
> can help you do everything from mix a gimlet to purify water, both
> of which are helpful in an emergency. It tells you the best
> temperature at which to judge whether a dish is too salty (just
> below 98 degrees) and offers guidelines on how to set a table when
> there’s a beverage spoon involved.
> But for most cooks, the “Joy of Cooking” is a simple reference
> book. You open it to figure out how to structure a soup, how long
> to boil an egg or how much condensed milk goes into a coconut
> macaroon. Need a short history of basil? It’s here, along with tips
> on working with a caterer and recipes for every holiday cookie
> you’ve ever tasted.
> “I turn to it for the things that don’t really turn up in today’s
> uppity cookbooks,” said Nach Waxman, the owner of Kitchen Arts &
> Letters, a cookbook store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “If
> it’s after Thanksgiving and I want to know how to make a turkey
> croquette I’m going to turn to ‘Joy.’ ”
> So if that’s what we really want, why do they keep changing it?
> The new old “Joy” is essentially a rewrite of the 1975 edition, the
> most popular one. It corrects, at least in the mind of Ethan
> Becker, Irma Rombauer’s grandson and the keeper of the family
> franchise, the big mistake that was the 1997 version.
> That book took on and largely succeeded at what was a daunting
> task: mastering the mountain of culinary changes that took place
> between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. It became a contemporary,
> efficient and thorough study on cooking with impeccably researched
> The editor, Maria Guarnaschelli, strived for a tone that was more
> instructional and less quaint. And she took the ax to many favorite
> sections, including studies on preserves and freezing.
> But the death of the homey first-person tone was the most
> controversial move.
> Ms. Guarnaschelli wisely got rid of family-centric passages like
> this one, which kicked off the strudel section: “When the last
> princesse slip was beribboned, our beloved Hungarian laundress
> sometimes found time to give us a treat.” Many of the weaker
> Rombauer-Becker family recipes were gone, too.
> A few appreciated the changes, but most critics said the book had
> lost its voice. Beth Wareham, the new editor, calls the 1997
> version a book of great recipes but not really what most people
> consider the real “Joy of Cooking.”
> “Irma was such a good writer,” she said. “At the end of the day
> what brings it back is that interesting literary quality.”
> Some of the literary value was supplied through charming headnotes
> by the Rombauer women, which Ms. Wareham restored. Other sections
> were rewritten by Mr. Becker’s wife, Susan, who says her background
> in advertising gave her the ability to mimic the voice of Irma
> While the new book rightly restores sections that fell to Ms.
> Guarnaschelli’s pen — the ice cream and pickling sections, for
> example — it goes too far in its effort to rebuild the family
> house. Some of the gee-shucks recipes are just not very good, and
> the Becker family homage woven throughout the chapters can seem
> creepily cultish.
> In particular, somebody needed to rethink the recipes attributed to
> Mr. Becker himself. There is the Becker burger, fried in olive oil
> and tarted up with port, soy sauce and hot pepper sauce; the Becker
> sour cream dip; and a Becker bloody bull shot.
> The marketing tactics, which include references to post-Sept. 11
> comfort cooking and a sanctioned line of Joy of Cooking
> kitchenware, is all about forced nostalgia. One of the big selling
> points is the return of recipes called “Joy Classics,” including 35
> from 1931 to 1975 that are set aside in a special part of the
> index. A young publicist gushed about making shrimp wiggle for her
> roommate. Awesome!
> One might understand why the dish, essentially creamed shrimp and
> peas on toast, was kept from both the 1975 and the 1997 editions.
> But here it is again. And its inclusion says a lot about the most
> annoying part of the new “Joy.” If the 1997 version was a little
> stiff and too professional, the new version suffers from presenting
> old “Joy” material as kitsch with a postmodern side of irony.
> (Mr. Becker is not thrilled with the way the book is being pitched:
> “I think there’s been a little too much emphasis on the Farmer
> Almanac-ness of it.”)
> In conversations and in promotional material, Ms. Wareham and the
> publicity team hold out the tuna casserole recipe as an example of
> the difference between the versions. The last “Joy” called for
> béchamel sauce. The new one brings back good old canned cream of
> mushroom soup.
> “Why burn your fuel over tuna noodle casserole?” Ms. Wareham said.
> “It’s not a fancy dress.”
> Good point, but “Joy” needs to give us more than just a casual-
> Friday approach to cooking. Must we still be held in sway to
> Campbell’s tasteless, cream-of-whatever salt bombs? And surely the
> Rombauers’ blender borscht takes things too far. The recipe? One
> can each of beets, cream of chicken soup and condensed consommé. A
> clove of raw garlic is optional.
> The thing looks like a raspberry smoothie and tastes like a
> chemistry student’s homework. And although the new book has an
> expanded nutrition section overseen by Dr. Walter Willett, a
> professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, it fails to note
> that the family borscht has 1,000 milligrams of sodium per cup — a
> little under half the recommended sodium for an entire day.
> It’s that odd mix of sophisticated culinary thoroughness laced with
> Victorian admonishments and Beckerisms — health tips and canned
> soup, pad Thai and shrimp wiggle — that make the new book a
> “Joy” would have been better served if its editors had walked the
> solid middle ground, giving us a practical, homey cookbook built
> with common sense and recipes that taste good. Consider the
> borscht. The 1997 book had two borscht options, a simple “New York
> deli borscht,” based on simmering carrots and fresh beets, and a 19-
> ingredient behemoth that involves a separate recipe for beef stock.
> (That recipe, slightly modified, survived the cut for the new book.)
> My favorite version, however, was in the 1975 book. Beets, carrots,
> onions and cabbage are simmered in beef stock with a shot of red-
> wine vinegar. It’s the kind of thing one could serve hot on a cold
> Tuesday night, fortified with some browned beef cubes and sour cream.
> The game sections offer another example of nostalgia run amok. The
> 1997 book removed references to porcupine, raccoon and squirrel,
> omissions that have been held up as proof that “Joy” had lost its
> soul. The new version includes no recipes for those creatures,
> although it does suggest they can be cooked like chicken. (To be
> fair, the rabbit-skinning diagram is back, and the venison section
> is much improved.)
> Ice creams and other frozen desserts fare much better in the new
> book, which is not saying much, since they were virtually
> eliminated in the 1997 version. And to its further credit, the new
> book has a much deeper section on grains, and devotes lots of space
> to cooking vegetables in a microwave, a method I am increasingly
> fond of. The very solid cocktail section has been restored and, in
> keeping with the sensibilities of the founding family, there is
> more material on how to grow food and forage.
> Other things in the new book’s favor include a pumped-up “Know Your
> Ingredients” section that manages to be sophisticated and complete
> without the esoteric air of the 1997 version and the dated feel of
> the 1975 one.
> Pickling and brunch are back, but at the cost of some excellent
> passages from food writers like Corby Kummer, who delved deep into
> coffee and tea in the 1997 version.
> Some of the new choices were very smart, though. The 1997 book
> devoted a section to small plates, a restaurant trend that’s
> already fraying at the edges. It’s gone from the new book, which
> acquiesces to current eating styles by devoting a section of the
> index to recipes in the book that can be made in 30 minutes and has
> a better organized approach to using leftovers.
> All that being said, the new version is the most complete and
> current “Joy” you can buy. If I didn’t have my trusty 1975 version,
> I would shell out $30. But for the number of times I actually dip
> into “Joy,” the ’75 will suffice. After all, a meringue is a
> meringue and cuts of beef don’t really change.
> Still, cooking is a highly personal thing, and the book that fits
> best depends on your demographic, your kitchen skill and your
> existing cookbook collection. Those who want a book that reminds
> them of their mothers and includes the pecan-laden angel slices
> they remember from childhood might prefer a vintage edition from
> the 1950s, or the 1963 revision.
> My brother, the best cook in the family and someone who prefers not
> to mix sentimentality with information, is the kind of cook who
> would appreciate the smarter tone, multicultural depth and thorough
> exploration of technique in the 1997 book.
> But for those who have yet to pick up a copy of “Joy,” it makes
> sense to get the new one. If you can look past the kitsch, the hand
> of Irma Rombauer and her daughter will be with you in the kitchen
> for a lifetime.
> Or at least until meddlers mess it up again.
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