America’s Favorite Cookbook Revised – Joy of Cooking

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I was a happy user of the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking. In my restaurant, it was a handy reference for questions about food chemistry and a source of ideas for standard “American” preparations. For a home-oriented cookbook, it had a lot of professional utility.

But no good thing goes unimproved.

The ’75 edition was out of touch with the changes in our cooking habits and even more removed from our eating habits. Joy was out of touch with the internationalization of American food and with the various upscale influences that moved food and eating from being mere necessities to matters of delight.

Unfortunately, the 1997 edition seemed to have kept up with the silliest trends in modern cooking but ignored all the truly tasty developments. The instructions were still crystal-clear. (It seemed as if each recipe had been reviewed by cooks at all skill levels) but there was less reason to follow them. There were weird recipes that called for combinations of packaged foods and even weirder ones that demanded a day’s worth of shopping. It also lost all the great ice cream recipes-a pity since frozen deserts depend on a precise chemistry and it’s very hard to ad-lib a perfect ice.

The new edition restores the practical common sense of its predecessors. It traffics in good food that’s within reach of the typical home cook. It has also returned to the enjoyable, accessible writing style of the 1975 book. The clear instructions that characterize all the versions of ‘Joy’ are still there. (This clarity, by the way, is remarkably rare. Most of us read Our cookbooks for inspiration, but if you were to try to use them for literal renderings of the recipes, you’ll find many of them are flawed. Joy is perfect. I’ve never found a vague or impossible recipe in any edition.)

This edition also reworked the useful ‘About. . . . ‘ sections with contributions from outside food writers. Since there are more ingredients in American cooking than ever before and many of these just came on the scene in the last few years, introductions are in order. I think of this edition as the ‘restored’ version, a modernized toolbox of unfussy instructions for a wide range of cooked food.

It also remains a handy reference for matters of nutrition and basic cooking procedures. For many years, a copy of The Joy of Cooking was considered a perfect present for people about to set up their first households. The new edition fills that role beautifully, and is also the perfect book for people who are re-establishing a household in a different form.

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