In a December 1962 article from the Post, New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne reviewed a selection of classic and new cookbooks. He led with the mainstay of every cook’s kitchen, Joy of Cooking. This year is the 85th anniversary of Joy’s continuous publication. Claiborne called this classic by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker “a masterpiece of clarity and also a book with a sentimental history.”
Claiborne reviewed Joy at a time when Americans’ perspectives on home cooking were slowly evolving. Long before the precious recipes of the 1980s-era Silver Palate or the modernist cuisine of Grant Achatz, Claiborne was one of the first editors to introduce new foods and techniques to Americans, who were just learning that the French hadn’t cornered the market on cuisine and that cooking could be elevated from kitchen drudgery to practiced craft.
Most of the books on Claiborne’s 1962 list have stood the test of time, including The James Beard Cookbook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al., which had just been published. (Claiborne judged it “brilliant.”) But Claiborne had a soft spot for Joy. He recommended the book “for anyone with a limited knowledge of pots and pans but with an earnest desire to cook for pleasure.”
He noted that earlier editions of Joy were filled with humorous anecdotes, such as this one:
Madame Schumann-Heink, the great opera singer, was sitting in front of an enormous steak. Caruso passed her table and, seeing the huge portion of meat before the singer, he said: “Stina, you are not going to eat that alone!” “No,” Schumann-Heink said, shaking her fine old head. “No, not alone. With potatoes.”
In 1962, Joy had sold 6 million copies; today that number stands at more than 18 million.
I have a copy of Joy of Cooking on my kitchen shelf, and go to it regularly for can’t-miss basics like pancakes and banana bread. If you don’t have a copy of this classic, you should.
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