Book Review: The Joy of Cooking

Here at Urban Clever, we think cookbooks are great. And I am going to tell you about some of my faves over the course of the next few weeks/months. And they’d all make great presents.

Hang on, you say. If you need a recipe, you can get it on the interweb a million times over. And also you can get videos walking you showing you different procedures, and so forth.

That’s true, but computers and hot, steamy kitchens don’t mix. Until they do, I figure cookbooks are going to be around for a while.

So. Cookbooks. See, It’s very easy for me to pick which ones to tell you about: they all survived the big clearout. I think the collection I have now is about a quarter of what I started out with.

So here’s my very top one, the one I would choose to save if my house were burning down and for some inexplicable reason I couldn’t buy another copy: The Joy of Cooking.

Reason: if you’re ever stuck on how to deal with an unfamiliar ingredient, not quite sure how to look after your cast iron pans, flummoxed on how to squeeze a dinner out of a packet of cornmeal and an onion, Joy will help. When you’re in the midst of stir-frying onions, watching the red peppers roasting in the oven, and need a reminder on how to prepare a bain marie, Joy has the answer.

I honestly don’t understand how a household can function without this book.

But also-and here is a reason why cookbooks that have been around for a while are better than magazines and the Internet-the recipes are all tested. Lots. And some of the recipes in Joy have been around since it was first published in 1931. Dream Bars, I’m looking at you. So in other words, it’s really hard to screw up. Also, the writing style is super friendly and chatty, and it gives you menu ideas.

I bet you know this book already. Its author, Irma Rombauer, was a character in the film Julie & Julia, which you may recall was inspired by a blog written by a woman who had as her goal making every single recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in the space of a year. In the film, Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) is in Paris and she and her co-authors of French Cooking meet Rombauer, who shares her experiences about producing a cookbook. When I saw this scene for the first time (this is one of those movies I’ve seen several times, because it is food porn), during a flight to New York, I said out loud “Oh my God! No way!” which was disturbing to everyone sitting near me on the plane. And it made my stupid airplane meal doubly depressing.

I have the 1997 edition of Joy, which substiantially updated the previous edition (1975) and generally reflected the huge shifts in the way we eat (less cream, more fresh veg and ingredients/recipies from all over the world). But I see there is a 75th anniversary edition that updates things still futher. I don’t really know anything about it, but evidently, it reinstates the cocktail section. So I’m sure it’s fabulous.

One thing, if you’re in Britain, you’ll have to get U.S. measuring cups and spoons in order to use the recipes, because Americans tend to cook by volume, not by weight. But you can get these on Amazon or I suppose in John Lewis or if you ask nicely I bet a friend who’s travelling to the states will bring you back some.

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