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Joy of Cooking
There are many cookbooks out there. Today, bookstore shelves are filled with new editions. For healthy menus, for brunch, cake, soups and juices, if you want to detox, often without gluten, without lactose, without flour or fat, according to vegan ideals or paleolithic nostalgia, ideal for those who have and don’t have time to cook, to be made by hand or by Bimby, all this in less than 15 minutes and to accomplish some 30 day goal.
In spite of this tangle, those with a love and genuine curiosity towards cooking have at their disposal an array of books that teach the fundamental basis (and more) that any amateur or professional cook should know. One of these books is the octogenarian “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer.
In 1930, while the United States were struggling with the Great Depression, Irma Rombauer faces the tragic suicide of her husband and a precarious financial situation. At the age of 52, she has no job and is looking for a way out. Her answer was irreverent: she would write a cookbook. Little did she imagine that she would end up writing one of the most important cookbooks of American history, with over 18 million copies sold worldwide. Many people learned to cook with this book: one of the most notorious was the unmistakable Julia Child.
The first edition came out in 1931, with re-editions (sometimes consensual, sometimes not) in 1936, 1943/1946, 1951, 1964, 1975, 1997 and 2006. The legacy was preserved by her family, namely her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker and grandchild Ethan Becker. The editions of Joy of Cooking always took in mind the contemporary concerns of the time in which they were printed, for instance, the edition that debuted during World War II talked of food rationing and shortage, and newer editions have adapted to the multicultural influences of today. The commemorative edition of the 75th anniversary which was published in 2006 includes a chapter on nutrition, a crucial matter of our day and age.
Joy of Cooking is an extraordinary book, which compiles much more than its 4.500 recipes. It is a book for all kinds of people, from all ages and culinary skills, as it will easily teach the amateur and inform the professional. The book is narrated by a voice that explains simply but expertly everything we didn’t know (or thought we knew) about cooking. Irma tells us how to set a table, seat guests and choose crockery, in order to leave our guests happy, comfortable and in awe of a great supper. She explains how to organize a buffet, a dinner, an anniversary party, a cocktail party, or even a brunch. Afterwards, she suggests the best menus for those occasions. Nothing is left to chance.
The chapters are divided into themes, such as drinks, soups, meats, salads, cakes, sauces, bread, pies, shellfish, etc., and we are presented with practical and substantial explanations about the crucial points that involve ingredients, utensils, and cooking methods. Moreover, there are also chapters that concern matters such as freezing, preserving and stocking, and how to can, brine, smoke and dry food. The final chapter tells us we should “Know our ingredients”, and thus makes a summary of the most common ingredients and their main characteristics.
For instance, in the chapter about fish, the book explains how to buy good fish, which is something that intrigues many of us. There is advice that tells us, as we will shortly paraphrase, that the surface of the fish should be shiny, clean and almost translucid. It explains to detail how to preserve fish, how to scale it, gut it and fillet like a professional. Only then should we think about cooking it, but before we come upon a short lesson on the best cooking methods, according to the type of fish and the intended results. And now we’re that ready to cook, we may look at the recipes. Whether we want the fish grilled, roasted, sauteed, fried, breaded, cured or smoked is up to us. The recipes go from the most basic roast fish all the way to the American staples, as well as dishes with Asian, Mexican and European influences. There is even a recipe that sort of speaks to the Portuguese bolinho de bacalhau. In the final chapter, there is a compilation of the most common fish, explaining their flavour and what they are good for. Oh, and one piece of advice, quoting the philosopher Lao-tzu:
Running a large empire is like cooking a small fish.
The recipes are also written in a peculiar fashion (unlike what we suggest in How to write a recipe) since all ingredients are presented as they appear during the recipe’s progress. The recipes themselves are direct and easy to understand, addressed to us with a familiar tone as if explaining to a friend. Every once in a while, there are small quotes or recipes that could only have come from someone as good spirited as Irma Rombauer, as is the example of the recipe of lemonade for 100 people, or the reference:
Pigs are like Saints, they’re most honored in death.
As we browse and become attached to the book, there is an increasing desire to read more, learn more, and try everything. This is a book that conveys confidence in our culinary crusades, as it is the first and also the last resource if any doubt arises. And more than a book, it becomes a companion which has to withstand some flour and splashes, as we want it close at all times.
Alas, you can say that Joy of Cooking is much more than a recipe book, it is a repository for an unmeasurable culinary knowledge, which is delicately and patiently passed on to those who wish to learn.
ENGLISH TOFFEE Combine in a large heavy saucepan and stir over high heat until the sugar is dissolved: 1 3/4 cups sugar 1/8 teaspoons of cream tartar 1 cup cream Stir and boil these ingredients for about 3 minutes. Add: 1/2 cup butter Cook and stir the syrup to the soft-crack stage, about 270º F (132ºC) . It will be light-colored thick. Remove from heat. Add: 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 tablespoon rum Pour candy into buttered pan. When cool, cut into squares.