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75 Years of Culinary Joy: Art's in the Eye of the Beholder

The Kansas farm country is dotted with churches. Square, single-story red brick buildings with wide front steps, heavy wooden doors, and glorious stained glass windows. The farm families who gather for Sunday services there go home to Sunday dinners of chicken and mashed potatoes and country gravy--home cooking by women who don't have culinary degrees. Yearly, these same women contribute their recipes for meatballs, tuna casseroles and tamale pies to community cookbooks. Sales benefit their churches, paying for Sunday schools and Wednesday night gatherings. The spirit of these farm community cookbooks informs The Joy of Cooking, a reborn classic that isn't too proud to provide a recipe for tamale pie.

Culinary Arts a la Irma Rombauer

The Joy of Cooking, first penned by St. Louis widow Irma S. Rombauer to support her family, has gone through many reprintings and spawned spin-offs as well. Though the cookbook was an enormously popular guide to cooking, it's hardly textbook fare for cooking schools in the age of the boutique bistro and the celebrity chef. (The canned beans and frozen corn so necessary to classic tamale pie would send most of today's culinary degree seekers running from the kitchen). Still, The Joy of Cooking remains an homage to the foods on which blue-collar Midwesterners (like the author) were raised.

Cooking for Comfort: Schools Check Your Clientele

Food writer Jennifer Steinhaur captures the comfort and nostalgia of Joy in her recently published review (more a tribute, really) to the much-loved volume. And student chefs who hope to parlay their degrees into successful cooking careers might well think about the comfort Rombauer's homey, everyday foods provide. In fact, Rombauer's son, Ethan Becker, who returns to her legacy in this latest, de-modernized version of Joy, sees one of the cookbook's readers as, "a professional chef who is looking for ideas for specials."

After all, what could be more special than Joy?

Sources:

  • The Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker.
  • The Midland Community Church Cookbook. My bookshelf.
    "The Way We Eat: Ode to Joy," by Jennifer Steinhauer. The New York Times (Oct 15, 2006).