Time Travel Kitchen

Irma Rombauer and The Joy of Cooking, Part Two

Begone, Kitchen Drudgery!

Here they are, side by side. The 1931 First Edition Facsimile of The Joy of Cooking and the latest, outstanding 2019 Edition written by John Becker, (Irma Rombauer’s great-grandson) and his wife, Megan Scott.

The 1931 cover art is by Irma’s daughter and partner in all things Joy, Marion Rombauer Becker. Done with cutouts, it depicts St. Martha of Bethany, Patron Saint of Cooks, slaying the monster — in this case, the stand-in for fear and loathing in the kitchen. Who knew?

When I posted the above photo on Instagram, the lovely people at Joy responded:

“….that unmistakable 1931 cover. (how many of your cookbooks have an amphibious medieval reptile on the cover?)”

It’s this sense of humor that’s first found in the pages of Irma’s writing in Joy that’s been a through-line in all subsequent editions. This is a 90-year history of a family who kept the flame and passed the torch of a book that taught generations to cook.

There’s a terrific biography, Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking by Anne Mendelson if you’d like to really get to know Irma and Marion — and I recommend that you do.

The first edition of The Joy of Cooking was born of tragedy and necessity and the sheer gumption of Irma Rombauer.

In 1930, she found herself a widow at age 54. Her husband, who had cancer, ended his own life. Although she had some stocks, their value was mostly lost in the 1929 Great Crash. Irma had never worked outside the home. Her two children were grown, but she needed to earn money. She’d been a great hostess in St. Louis, but by all accounts, wasn’t the greatest cook. Undaunted, she assembled her recipes, and with $3000 dollars, a large portion of all the money she had left, self-published the 1931 edition. By 1936, she had a publisher and the book was on its way to becoming a bestseller.

The Joy of Cooking is one of the most popular and beloved cookbooks of all time. There’s so much there I need a ‘Part Three’ in this series of newsletters to talk more about the impact of it. I’ll see you again tomorrow with additional history, but also with the cocktail recipe on page one that cheekily opens the book, Irma’s wit on full display —it was during Prohibition, after all.

But for now, some baking.

I made the 1931 recipe for Kuchen again (archived in last week’s newsletter) this time with plums and in a square 8”x 8” glass pan. It was delicious. I dusted with a little bit of confectioners sugar (seen in photo at top) to finish.

Once again thanks for permission to reprint cover art and recipes go to Simon & Schuster and Scribner Books and the authors of The Joy of Cooking.

Have a great Saturday—see you soon for more Joy ;)



The Joy of Cooking, 1931 facsimile edition, copyright 1998 by Edgar R. Rombauer, published by Simon & Schuster (imprint Scribner)

Stand Facing The Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking, copyright 1996, 2003 by Anne Mendelson, published by Simon & Schuster (imprint Scribner)