One couple’s love of food and family sent them on a decade-long cooking spree. The heirs to a legendary cookbook fried, baked, and sautéed their way through thousands of recipes—and cooked up new ones along the way.
A HISTORIC FAMILY COOKBOOK
In 1931, Irma Rombauer published The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat. Rombauer wanted her book to be usable by the ordinary cook. She included over 500 self-selected recipes plus folksy comments. “The German recipe reads, ‘stir for one hour,’” observes Rombauer in one section, “but of course, no high-gear American has time for that.”
Today, Joy of Cooking is the world’s most popular American cookbook. Bon Appétit calls it “as important for a well-stocked cupboard as flour and sugar.”
Since the first edition, the Rombauer family has revised and tested the book: first Irma, then daughter, Marion, and on to Marion’s son, Ethan Becker. Now Ethan’s son, John, and his wife, Megan Scott, have taken the culinary reins.
For nine years, the couple proceeded line-by-line several times through the book, cooking everything in their home kitchen. “I think that now that we’ve survived this, we can probably survive anything,” Scott laughs.
MAKING NEW AND KEEPING OLD
They’ve also added 600 new recipes and updated many with the latest ingredients and methods. Alongside old favorites like banana bread, there are new recipes for things like kimchi-tofu stew and Thai-style wings. There are Instant Pot tips and more vegan recipes.
Even cakes and chocolate chip cookies got updated. Scott points out many older cake recipes separated egg yolks and whites. “It didn’t seem worth it,” he says.
And the cookies re-do? Becker and Scott decided they spread too flat, so they decreased the amount of sugar. They also added a baking sheet tip: Cheap dark pans from the grocery store work best.
“There are definitely Rombauer-Becker family recipes that have been in the book forever that we wanted to keep if they were still good,” says Scott. “But we also didn’t want to keep a recipe in just because it had been [there] for a long time.”
Perhaps the biggest change is an embrace of global food. Becker and Scott say they’re not authorities on ethnic cuisine—just “enthusiastic eaters” who’ve done their research. They tossed Guyanese (African) pepperpot, Middle Eastern lamb shawarma, and many others into the Joy mix.
Through the years, Joy has mirrored its time. The 1943 edition suggested plans for wartime rationing. The 1951 edition added a section on frozen foods. Becker calls this ninth edition “another good example of how we’ve tried to respect the past but also negotiate what that tradition means . . . now.”
Becker calls Joy of Cooking “a living book.” Hebrews 4:12 refers to the Bible as “living” too—but for a different reason. A cookbook might “live” because it adapts and changes. God’s word stays the same. Proof that it lives is in how it transforms hearts and minds.
The new Joy of Cooking hit the shelves in November. Becker and Scott’s cooking is finished for now. “It’s such a gift,” Scott says of the book and the work. “We really wanted to earn it, not just inherit something and add a few bells and whistles.” Perhaps that will motivate them to start on the tenth edition.