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PHIL PONCE: It’s a whole new Joy. After 66 years and previous updates, America’s classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking. Joy of Cooking was self-published in 1931 by Irma Rombauer. Widowed during the Depression, Rombauer hoped sales of the book would help her make ends meet.
With her daughter, Marion, as the illustrator, Irma gathered recipes from friends and neighbors, added a dash of personality, mixed with helpful hints such as: “It is advisable to keep a can of tomato and a can of asparagus soup on the emergency shelf.
These soups are delicious diluted with equal parts of milk.” The result was the creation of an American classic that went on to become the country’s most reliable resource of basic culinary information. Rombauer found a commercial publisher for the next edition in 1936, and the mother-daughter team revised the book every decade, guiding the home cook through the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war boom years.
When Irma died in 1962, Marion continued to revise Joy until her death in 1976. Now, more than 40 years later, Ethan Becker takes his place alongside his grandmother and mother as co-author of the reinvented Joy. Becker is no stranger to cooking. After an extensive apprenticeship at home, he studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Since the last revision in 1975, there have been major changes in the way Americans view food. Nutrition experts now stress a diet rich in vegetables, grains, and fruit. Supermarkets regularly stock specialty produce like Portobello mushrooms, new grains and beans, and ethnic cooking ingredients. And cuts of leaner meats call for different cooking techniques.
The new Joy is the result of more than three years of cooking collaboration. Senior Editor Maria Guarnaschelli ignored the warning about too many cooks. Under her panel approach to produce a new version over 100 chefs and food authorities contributed to the final product.
The cookbook has come a long way since Irma first published 395 pages in 1931. The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking contains close to 1200 pages and several new chapters, including, “Little Dishes:” appetizer-sized dishes from around the world including Dim Sum and Tapas; “Pastas, Dumplings & Noodles,” which includes a full Asian section, as well as Italian fare; and “Sandwiches, Burritos, and Pizzas,” containing everything from the classic peanut butter and jelly to rice paper roll-ups.
For vegetarians: “Grains,” and “Beans and Tofu.” Unlike the old Joy’s game chapter, which featured wild game recipes, such assquirrel, porcupine, and raccoon, the new Joy features only farm-raised game, such as venison, rabbit, and buffalo. And gone is Irma’s famous turtle soup recipe.
Today turtles are endangered, and animals rights activists protested; the recipe was omitted. Only 50 of the 2600 recipes that appeared in the last revision of Joy remain unchanged, but creators of the new Joy promise readers the cookbook is still the one to turn to for perfect Beef Wellington and old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.
Perhaps the most noted new recipe in the new Joy is “Wedding Cake,” with instructions on stacking the tiers to frosting with the addition of butter cream roses. Keeping in step with modernizing Joy, the cookbook now has its own Web site, full of Joy history, recipes, and a cooking quiz even an expert chef might find challenging. Pfeffernusse is not a rabbit stew at all, but a German cookie spied with black pepper; a mandolin, not for music, but to cut vegetables. Low scorers are assured that “soft boiled eggs are your forte.”
So far, 850,000 copies of The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking are in print, but whether the cookbook will sell, the proof is in the pudding.
PHIL PONCE: For more now we’re joined by Maria Guarnaschelli , editor of the new revised edition of Joy of Cooking; Barbara Haber is a culinary historian and curator of books at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College; George Tillman, Jr. is writer and director of the film Soul Food, which was released in September; and Jerald Chesser is dean of the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nichols State University. And welcome all.
Maria Guarnaschelli, in a word, why was the update needed? What was wrong with the old Joy of Cooking?
MARIA GUARNASCHELLI , Editor, Joy of Cooking: Well, Erma and Marion updated the book every 10 years. They worked religiously to maintain what they knew was a valuable product, to use that word. And it’s–it’s really not good for something as valuable to American culture and American life to go out of date. I think what’s happened is that this book is becoming somewhat quaint in people’s imagination, but Erma and Marion were always at the forefront of change. So we’re really out of date. Also in the past 20 years–since the last revision–more has happened in food than has ever happened–
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Guarnaschelli –
MARIA GUARNASCHELLI : –since we started cooking.
PHIL PONCE: Were you concerned that some people might think you were tampering with an American standard, an American classic?
MARIA GUARNASCHELLI : Oh, I knew that would happen. It always is that way. Nobody likes change, especially because Joy is connected to I think happy times in people’s lives, or important times, crucial times, when people get married, when they get their own apartment, even when they get a divorce. This is like a friend, a sign of stability.
And Ethan always told me that his mother, you know, had got such horrible criticisms for taking recipes out, for making changes, and there were people in New York when we did all the press on this book who still remembered recipes from two editions ago that had been taken out, and they were still furious at Marion for doing that. It’s a good sign. It means it’s–it’s a book; and it’s a resource; and it’s a kind of connection to our culture that few–that anything has really of such lasting value, so I had to change it so it could go into the next century.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Haber, when people express their concern about a change in a book like this, what are they tapping into?
BARBARA HABER, Radcliffe College: I think food evokes nostalgia in people. It’s like the letter home, that people can all remember stories of having editions from the Joy of Cooking prepared by grandma or mother. And so evokes home and hearth, and sentiment, even the mentality, I think.
PHIL PONCE: You have collected more than 12,000 cookbooks. When was the first American cookbook in use?
BARBARA HABER: Well, the first American cookbook was about 200 years ago. Amelia Simmons was the writer of the cookbook, and then another landmark book was Fannie Farmer, which came out a hundred years after that, in 1896.
And I think in that march of major books that have made an impact on American cuisine the Joy of Cooking has been right up there. And do I have a comment to make about the choices that I think the editor was faced with in sort of giving into this sort of sentimental holdover from the middle of the century to looking ahead and because it seems to me that in addition to being an occasion for nostalgia, the Joy of Cooking has represented a kind of bible of American cuisine.
I can remember a time when there was a friend of Julia Childs, as a matter of fact, who called me in desperation. She needed a recipe that was Barleduque. It was a French preserve. And I said no problem, I’ll, you know, I’ll check out all the French cookbooks, and I’ll send it over. And I looked in all of the French cookbooks, and considerable stacks, and could not find that recipe. It’s probably something that the French could go to the store and buy, but guess what, I found it in the Joy of Cooking.
So it represents a compendium of information, and so that the choice to create a new bible of food appropriate for this time and place is what we have, and that makes sense.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Chesser, you obviously keep abreast of changes in the world of food. What have been the major changes that you’ve noted in the past couple of decades?
JERALD CHESSER, Chef John Folse Culinary Institute: Well, I think you’ve seen a change to a society that’s more willing to try new things. They are more interested in experimentation, a little more adventuresome nature with regards to the food that they eat. They also are still reaching back, though, for that comfort food.
They’re reaching back for what has kept a book like Joy of Cooking on the top shelf and has kept it in the hands of the people so long, because the food that they consume still holds with that nostalgia that was mentioned by Ms. Haber. It holds as a piece of their memory, a piece of their experiences, but the changes that you’re seeing is simply that they’re broadening their perspective and their willingness to try foods.
They’re also looking for it in a little more convenient form, when it comes to the food service side. And they’re looking for it in a form that they can take and claim a little more as their own.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Chesser, why do you think it is that Americans are becoming a little more adventurous?
JERALD CHESSER: Well, I think it’s because of exposure. In the 50′s and 60′s the foods that were served in the restaurant operations or in the cafes was the food that was absolutely of that local region because that’s what those individuals–unless they were in a particular part of society–were exposed to–but now through the means of TV, through publications, through the convenience foods that are available in the stores, through the development of the chain restaurants that bring a wide variety of foods and make them available to the individual at their local level, whether it be a blackened chicken, whether it may be an oriental dish, a Thai dish, whatever it may happen to be, all of a sudden that’s in their own backyard, and so they are a little more sophisticated in their taste. They’re not shy about trying it, as they were at one time.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Tillman, how did you use food in your movie?
GEORGE TILLMAN, Jr., Writer/Director, Soul Food: Pretty much in Soul Food I used food as pretty much a character. It was interesting how Mr. Chesser said comfort food. That’s what my grandmother called “soul food” in bringing families back together. And I wanted to make a film about how families come together around the dinner table. Pretty much that’s a character. It involves families getting together and communicating.
That’s the way of bringing families together. And that’s what I remembered when I was growing up in the late 70′s, early 80′s, food–dinners, Thanksgiving dinners were a way to have families get together and communicate. It kind of kept the family as the nucleus. That’s what we wanted to do in Soul Food. And that’s pretty much what I want to represent in the film.
PHIL PONCE: In a way, though, your use of food goes beyond its use as a character. I mean, in the movie, as I understand it, food almost becomes a symbol of love.
GEORGE TILLMAN: Yes, it’s definitely a symbol of love. It’s the way everybody has positions in the film, just like in my family. My grandmother had the fried chicken; my mom had the potato salad. I mean, what it does, it allows us to grow as a family. It allowed us to sit down in pretty much established relationships. And once you break those bonds, I realized that my family, once we started having these dinners and stuff, and we stopped cooking together, we began to fall apart; we began to lose that–and that’s what I wanted to say. That’s why I wanted to use food pretty much as a catalyst of bringing the family together and keeping the families together.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Guarnaschelli, as somebody who also looks at these things, how do you respond to the concern that people raised about the decline of the family meal and the impact that it could have on family cooking?
MARIA GUARNASCHELLI : Well, I don’t think the family is as we knew it. It’s just gone, and nobody has Sunday dinner anymore. When Marion wrote the Joy of Cooking in 1975, the last revision, Marion Becker, people were still having family dinner. People don’t have, I mean, Sunday dinner, and even holidays you could count on turkey at Thanksgiving and say a ham or a rib roast or even a turkey again at Christmas. This has all changed.
People have Chinese food on Thanksgiving. People go out to restaurants. But I think that’s why comfort food is so important; the concept of comfort. I also think that mothers, our mothers did not cook. I mean, since this last revision it actually–a lot of women were really quite serious about getting out there into the marketplace and establishing careers, and I think cooking was not part of that role that–that new role that she envisioned.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Haber, how about this? Has there been a real change in the attitude regarding who does what, as Ms. Guarnaschelli was talking about?
BARBARA HABER: I think if you–one of my hobbies is to look at cookbooks that were written by men, starting in the 1930′s and 40′s and 50′s, and there was such a great amount of self-confidence about men cooking in those days.
In order to make it okay, they had to develop a persona that makes fun of women of being too precise, and they are much more adventurous and daring and one of the fellows who writes on this subject talks about putting–he’s such an intuitive cook he could put himself in the place of a–time to turn over–you know–but all of it was postured at this point, and today whoever has the time and the inclination does the cooking, and there are no aversions on people’s gender for doing it.
But I’d like to raise another point about cookbooks, and that is that they are cultural artifacts; that sometimes people read cookbooks without ever going into a kitchen with a book; that it’s almost become a genre. In other words, people can study a book.
I think people can look at, for instance, all of the editions of Fannie Farmer, all of the editions of the Joy of Cooking, and be able to say something about the people for whom that book was–at that particular time in terms of what foods were available, what foods were popular, and what kinds of parties, what kinds of social occasions went on around food.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Chesser, what changes have you seen in how Thanksgiving is observed? For example, can you give us a little bit of information about frying turkeys?
JERALD CHESSER: Well, the fried turkeys, of course, is a regional specialty of South Louisiana, and one that provides a turkey that’s both moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. But I think that Thanksgiving, itself, I think bespeaks to this whole–to the whole idea of the family no longer dining together, of the cooking being minimized in the home.
I think that the food itself, the cooking itself has become much more of a special activity. It’s become something that is very, very important to the gathering, as Mr. Tillman was talking about. It’s a time when they come together, when they bond, when they remember things. So Thanksgiving itself, if it has changed from the standpoint of what is served at the table, there again that would go back to this idea that they have a broader vista. They have been exposed to things. They have seen more things.
They had more foods readily available to them to try. But I guarantee that what you will find on almost every Thanksgiving table in the coming week is food that are familiar to them, things that are associated with that Thanksgiving of the past. I think–for them–whether it be grandmother’s raw apple cake, or maybe a dressing that was made by grandmother, mom, or dad, or whoever it may happen to be, but it may be that there’s another item on the table that’s different that would not have been there when they had that dinner originally.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Tillman, do you think that in light of the fact that for many families they don’t necessarily eat dinner together everyday, they don’t necessarily have Sunday dinner, does that make events like Thanksgiving, do you think, even more important to them, because they are more and more a rare occasion, so to speak?
GEORGE TILLMAN, JR.: Yes. I think it makes it very important. I mean, I’m hoping–my reason for making Soul Food was to make it–to bring back what we remembered the most.
You know, remember those dinners, remember–I think it was very important to keep families together. I think over the past 10 years–I think the younger generation is not experiencing what we have experienced, growing up, sitting around a dinner table. And I thinks it’s very important for us to get back to that, get back to cooking, so Thanksgiving is not something special. And I think Mr. Chesser is right. You do get in specific dishes.
Like, in my family, you know, specific dishes only are set aside for Christmas dinners or Thanksgiving dinners, and those times are very special. But I think we need to give back to, you know, sitting around a dinner table and talking to each other. I don’t think we should hold Thanksgiving as a day where it’s something special because we don’t have dinners together anymore, and I think it was time for us to get back to that.
PHIL PONCE: Well, thank you all for sitting and talking to me. And Happy Thanksgiving to all.