The quintessential American cookbook, first published in 1931 by Irma Rombauer. If you want to know how to cook any "traditional American" item, this is where you should look. The baking sections are absolutely invaluable -- you will not find a better waffle recipe. Also has great sections on any kind of wild game you can think of: venison, rabbit, turtle, pigeon (i.e. squab), raccoon. It includes somewhat alarming diagrams demonstrating how to skin, draw and cut up different animals (to skin a squirrel, hold it down with your foot as you peel the skin off), for example, along with more than one Brunswick stew variation.

The Joy of Cooking was later expanded and revised by Irma's daughter Marion Rombauer and Marion's husband John Becker. It was changed in 1975 to address two-income households, and its most recent revision, in 1997, reorganized the content and added more ethnic recipes and a lot of information on nutrition. The 1997 edition was done by the well-known cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, with the help of a committee and a focus group, and it shows.

I have a paperback edition from the early sixties which comes in two volumes: 1: Main Course Dishes, and 2: Appetizers, Desserts and Baked Goods. Both volumes are tattered and yellow; Volume 2's spine has been repaired with duct tape. We use them constantly.

If you don't have a copy of Joy and you want one, I recommend going out of your way to find a version printed before the 1997 revision, or, even better, before the 1975 revision. In the original Joy, Irma Rombauer used the term "Cockaigne" as an honorific for her favorite recipes (the word Cockaigne is defined in the 1997 edition as the pet name of the author's family home), but it's no longer used in the new edition. A major editorial omission, in my view. The newer edition eliminates a lot of the folksy commentary written by Irma and also leaves out what I consider some fascinating cultural artifacts in the form of recipes, like "jelly sauce" made of melted currant jelly spiked with butter, cinnamon and lemon peel, or "Mushrooms a la Shoener," which they describe as "a Viennese specialty," but is simply batter-fried mushrooms served with parsley and tartar sauce. Sure, we probably don't want or need to make these goofy recipes now in the 21st century, but I think, to remain aware of our cultural roots, it's important for us to know about them.

While mneek is absolutely correct about the value of the original Joy of Cooking as a unique and valuable cultural artifact, for the modern cook who's interested in everyday cooking, the 1997 revised edition is, in my view, the more useful. Let these few simple examples suffice to illustrate my point: While the original edition tells you how to cook whale and make pickled pork, the newest edition describes how to use Thai curry paste and prepare Jamaican jerk marinade. Now which do you think would be more helpful to you?

If I have any questions about basic cooking techniques or about how to handle unusual ingredients like cactus paddles or jicama, I pull out my new Joy. It almost always tells me what I need to know.

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