Many editions of joy

 Joy of Cooking

Of the tens of thousands of cookbooks published in the US in the last century, only a handful have attained icon status. Foremost among these is Joy of Cooking. The book, in its various forms, has taught generations of cooks everything from how to make souffles to how to skin a squirrel. Older versions, including the rare 1931 self-published edition, are sought after by collectors and can fetch huge prices, says Bon Appétit magazine

Not everyone knows that Joy was born out of sorrow. Following her husband's suicide in the Great Depression, Irma Rombauer decided that to overcome her grief, and as a way to make a living for herself and her children, she would throw herself into writing a cookbook. Rombauer was an unlikely cookbook author and her family was puzzled by the project. Her relatives concurred that she was a terrible cook, but she was a good hostess and her writing style perfectly suited the genre. Joy was a surprising success, filling a niche that few publishers had previously explored. 

Over the past 85 years, Joy of Cooking has been revised several times. Each edition has its own feel, and not everyone agrees on which edition is the best. Some people prefer the earlier versions because they found Irma Rombauer's writing style superior to that of her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who took over writing and publishing duties after her mother's death in 1962.

The most popular edition in the EYB Library is the 1975 edition, which many feel to be the best of the lot - updated enough to be usable today while retaining the charm of the earlier works. It's also the bestselling edition of Joy, teaching an entire generation to cook when there were precious few all-purpose cookbooks to rely on, so nostalgia may play a role in the high marks that this book receives. The 1997 version provided the first major overhaul of the book in decades. Edited by Maria Guarnaschelli, this edition remains popular, although the attempt to appeal to modern tastes "came at the cost of the personality set down by Irma Rombauer and her family."

Collectors now search high and low to find first editions, whether the 1931 self-published book (of which only 3,000 were printed) or the 1936 trade edition. Bonnie Slotnick's copy of the 1931 edition is priced at $4,000 USD. Rabelais Books has a 1931 edition, with dust jacket featuring St. Martha of Bethany (the patron saint of cooks), listed at a cool $15,000 USD.

Which version of Joy is your favorite? 

4 Comments

  • FrenchCreekBaker  on  5/16/2017 at 8:30 AM

    Got to go with the 1975 edition. My mother took me to a bookstore to buy a cookbook my sister had requested for her wedding gift. I was much younger by a decade than my sister but loved dabbling in the kitchen from an early age. And so I whined. I asked why I could not also have a cookbook? My mother graciously agreed I could pick one. Who says whining doesn't pay? I recall studiously checking out the tomes. Don't recall any glitzy glossy photos back then. My pick was the 1975 edition of "The Joy of Cooking". I loved the witty writing and was convinced I had selected a much better title than my big sister. I still own my first cookbook and still love it, even if it mainly rests in a place of honor in my massive cookbook collection!

  • JGB  on  5/16/2017 at 3:23 PM

    I remember my mom used to take The Joy of Cooking out of the library, so I finally got it for her for Christmas when I was in High School in the late 60's.

  • lgroom  on  5/17/2017 at 9:23 PM

    I got a 1975 edition as a wedding gift. Treasure it to death.

  • lsgourmet  on  7/6/2017 at 1:28 AM

    Back in 1966, as a new bride and a really novice cook, I joined The Book of the Month Club. They gave you four books for $1.00 for joining. I ordered The Joy of Cooking, The Settlement Cookbook, The Spice Cookbook and The James Beard Cookbook. I have 1,000 + cookbooks in my collection now, but those four are always on the kitchen shelf and still get used on a regular basis. So much knowledge tucked into four volumes. Never spent another dollar so well!

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