The Joy of Cooking

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The Joy of Cooking
Cover of 1975 edition
Author Irma S. Rombauer
Genre Cookbook
Publisher Bobbs-Merrill, Scribner
Publication date
ISBN 0-02-604570-2
OCLC 1444322

Joy of Cooking, often known as "The Joy of Cooking", is one of the United States' most-published cookbooks. It has been in print continuously since 1936 and has sold more than 18 million copies. It was privately published in 1931 by Irma S. Rombauer, a homemaker in St. Louis, Missouri who was struggling emotionally and financially after her husband's suicide the previous year. Rombauer had 3,000 copies printed by A.C. Clayton, a company which had printed labels for fancy St. Louis shoe companies and for Listerine, but never a book. In 1936, the book was picked up by a commercial printing house, the Bobbs-Merrill Company. With 7 editions, Joy is the backbone of many home cooks' libraries and is commonly found in commercial kitchens as well.


Born to German immigrants in 1877, Irma Starkloff grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. She married Edgar Rombauer, a lawyer, in 1899. Edgar committed suicide after a severe bout of depression, in 1930, widowing Irma at age 52, and leaving her with $6,000 in life savings.

Rombauer's children, Marion Rombauer Becker and Edgar Roderick ("Put") Rombauer, Jr.,[1] encouraged her to compile her recipes and thoughts on cooking to help her cope with her loss. In the summer of 1930, Rombauer spent a summer in Michigan, creating the very first drafts that would later become Joy. With the help of her late husband's secretary, Mazie Whyte, Rombauer began writing and editing recipes and commentaries while searching for more recipes through her neighborhoods and communities in St. Louis. In the fall of 1930, Rombauer went to the A.C. Clayton Printing Company, a printer for the St. Louis shoe manufacturers. She paid them $3,000 to print 3,000 copies of The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat in November 1931.[2]


First edition (1931)[edit]

In 1931, Rombauer, a recent widow needing a way to occupy her time, self-published The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat with over 500 tested recipes and related commentaries.

The book was illustrated by Rombauer's daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who directed the art department at John Burroughs School. Working on weekends during the winter of 1930-31, Marion designed the cover,[3] which depicted St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooking, slaying a dragon. She also produced silhouette cutouts to illustrate chapter headings.[4] By 1932, a majority of the 3,000 copies printed by A.C. Clayton were sold. The St. Louis community were favorable to her work, and she quickly garnered support and interest from the greater Midwest, including Indiana and Illinois.[5] Rombauer began to look for a new publisher in 1932.

Second edition (1936)[edit]

After searching for a publisher and being rejected many times over, the Bobbs-Merrill Company published an expanded (640 page) second edition on May 1, 1936.[6] The company had limited experience in publishing cookbooks, and Irma Rombauer, similarly inexperienced in dealing with publishers, conducted the negotiations herself, with no agent or lawyer involved. The resulting contract, in which Bobbs-Merrill was granted the copyright not only for the 1936 edition but for the original 1931 version as well, set the stage for many years of bitter conflict between the author and the publisher.[7]:151–153

The 1936 edition differed from other commercial cookbooks of the era in its retention of the author's folksy comments and anecdotes, and its new layout for the recipes.[7]:153–154 Instead of listing the ingredients for a dish at the top with preparation directions following, the recipes in Joy (1936) unfolded as narratives, with the ingredients indicated as the need for them arose, with each placed in boldface on a new indented line — thus preserving a conversational tone throughout the recipe. This method came to be known as the "action method".[8] These innovations, along with an aggressive marketing effort by Bobbs-Merrill, led to brisk sales.[7]:159–161 Joy reached the best-seller list in St. Louis and promoted as "the famous private cookbook" in the New York Times.[9][10] By the end of 1942, the second edition had gone through six printings, and 52,151 copies had been sold.[6]

Third edition (1943/1946)[edit]

In 1939, Rombauer published Streamlined Cooking, a collection of recipes that could be prepared in under 30 minutes, with an emphasis on use of canned and frozen foods. This book was not a commercial success,[7]:166–169 but many of the recipes it contained became part of a new edition of Joy published in 1943. This edition also included material aimed at helping readers deal with wartime rationing restrictions, including alternatives to butter in some recipes.[11] Sales of this edition were phenomenal: from 1943 through 1946 a total of 617,782 copies were sold, surpassing sales of Joy's principal competitor, Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.[7]:172

In 1946, a minor revision of the 1943 edition was published. While substantially the same as its predecessor, the 1946 revision omitted the material related to wartime rationing and incorporated additional recipes from Streamlined Cooking.[6]

Fourth edition (1951)[edit]

Irma Rombauer was 69 when the 1946 edition of Joy was published, and her health was beginning to decline.[7]:194–195 She was concerned about the future of her book, since Bobbs-Merrill (which owned the copyright on the original publication) might have picked an author of their own choosing for future editions once Rombauer was unable to continue. To ensure that the book remained a family project, Rombauer negotiated with the publisher a clause in her contract naming her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, as her sole successor in any future revision.[7]:201

Relations between Rombauer and Bobbs-Merrill, never cordial, reached a point of open warfare in the late 1940s, and in the fracas Marion Becker gradually assumed increasing levels of responsibility, at first regarding the book's design, and eventually its content. Partly for legal reasons, the 1951 edition was published with Marion Rombauer Becker listed as co-author, and she received 40% of the royalties.[7]:chap 8The authors strongly resisted the publisher's wish to illustrate the book with photographs and instead embellished the book with simple, functional line drawings by Ginnie Hoffman, a friend of Becker's.[7]:262–270

Becker was a passionate advocate of healthy eating, and the 1951 edition was marked by increased emphasis on such topics as whole grains and fresh produce. Many of the old "can-opener" recipes from Streamlined Cooking were dropped. This edition also was the first to introduce the use of the blender and other modern household items into its recipes. The number of recipes had increased to over 4,000.

Because of the time taken by the protracted legal battles, final editing of the 1951 edition was hastily done. The same edition was reprinted in 1952 with some errors corrected, and again in 1953 with a revised index.[6]

Fifth edition (1964)[edit]

Well-worn copies of the book from the library of Julia Child on display at the National Museum of American History

In 1962, the year of Irma Rombauer's death, a revised edition of Joy was published. This edition was released without Marion Becker's consent. Subsequent releases of the book in 1963 and 1964 were essentially massive corrections, and Becker arranged for the publisher to exchange copies of the 1962 edition for later corrected versions upon request.[7]:342

The foreword to the 1962 edition explains that Becker's favorite recipes include "Cockaigne" in the name, (e.g., "Fruit Cake Cockaigne"), after the name of her country home in Anderson Township, near Cincinnati, Ohio.[12][13]

This edition was also published in paperback format (most notably, a two-volume mass market paperback edition); it is still widely available in used bookstores. The 1964 edition was also released as a single-volume comb-ring bound paperback mass-market edition starting in November 1973 and continuing into the early 1990s.[14]

Sixth edition (1975)[edit]

The 1975 edition was the last to be edited by Becker and remains the most popular, with more than 6 million copies sold.[15] More than 1,000 pages long, and with over 4,300 recipes, it became a staple in kitchens throughout the country. The book included sections on backpacking, hiking, and substitutions, and though many sections may feel dated to the contemporary palate, home chefs still find it "indispensable" because "it covers the fundamentals of cooking".[15]

Seventh edition (1997)[edit]

After the 1975 edition, the project lay unchanged for about 20 years. In the mid-1990s, publisher Simon & Schuster, which owns the Joy copyrights, hired influential cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, formerly of William Morrow, and editor of works by Jeff Smith and others. Guarnaschelli, under the supervision of Rombauer's grandson Ethan Becker, oversaw the creation of the 1997 edition, published by Simon & Schuster's Scribner imprint. The new edition kept the concise style of its predecessors, but it dropped the conversational first-person narration. Much of the edition was ghostwritten by teams of expert chefs instead of the single dedicated amateur Irma Rombauer had been when she created the book. The 1997 version is fairly comprehensive; however, it no longer contains much information about ingredients or frozen desserts.

Upon its publication in January 1997, the edition was titled The All-New, All-Purpose Joy of Cooking; in November of that same year, it was reissued with the title The 1997 Joy of Cooking.[16][17]

Other special editions and printings[edit]

In 1995, a hardbound edition illustrated by Ginnie Hofmann and Ikki Matsumoto was released.[citation needed]

In 1998, a reproduction, described as "a perfect facsimile of that original 1931 edition", was released.[5]

Eighth edition (2006) 75th Anniversary Edition[edit]

In 2006, Scribner published a 75th anniversary edition, containing 4,500 recipes, that returned Rombauer's original voice to the book. The new version removes some of the professionalism of the 1997 edition and returns many simpler recipes and recipes assisted by ready-made products such as cream of mushroom soup and store-bought wontons. The 2006 edition also reinstates the cocktail section and the frozen desserts section, and restores much of the information that was deleted in the 1997 edition.

The new version includes a new index section called "Joy Classics" that contains 35 recipes from 1931–1975 and a new nutrition section.[18] It is still edited and written by the Rombauer-Becker family.


The Joy of Cooking fast became a bestseller due to its accessibility to the middle classes and Rombauer's unique voice. Her recipes were designed specifically for the middle class, for people doing most of their own cooking for their family. She specifically tested and practiced the recipes to ensure they could be easily produced in a relatively short period of time without much complication. Once she combined her witty comments on the cooking and serving with the action method, her cookbook became readily follow-able by the average cook in America. Moreover, Rombauer paired the conversational tone of the recipes with casual discussions of etiquette and hosting. Her methods stood out against the other cookbooks of the time, which were mostly for complex and intricate dishes, while she was conversational and down-to-earth. By providing an interesting and easy to follow cookbook for the rising middle class, The Joy of Cooking became the go-to reference book for mid-century American cooks. .[5][8][13][19][20]


The Joy of Cooking is seen as the quintessential American cookbook.[citation needed]

Julia Child[edit]

Julia Child learned to cook from The Joy of Cooking and Gourmet magazine, and stated: “I would approach the stove with lofty intention, The Joy of Cooking or Gourmet magazine tucked under my arm, and little kitchen sense.” She enjoyed “’Mrs. Joy’s’ Book” and believed it taught her the basic principles of cooking.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

Given the ubiquity of The Joy of Cooking, multiple homages and allusions have been made to it. Examples include: Alex Comfort's book The Joy of Sex (1972) and Bob Ross’s television series The Joy of Painting.


  1. ^ Cuoco, Lorin & Gass, William H. (2000). "Irma Rombauer (October 30, 1877-October 14, 1962". Literary Saint Louis: A Guide. p. 112. ISBN 1883982359. 
  2. ^ Mendelson, Anne (1996). Stand Facing the Stove. New York: Henry Holt and Compary. pp. 85–87. ISBN 0805029044. 
  3. ^ Rombauer, Irma & Rombauer, Marion (1931). The Joy of Cooking (First ed.).  The cover.
  4. ^ "IRMA ROMBAUER: THE JOY OF COOKING, 1877-1962". Retrieved 2014-06-04. 
  5. ^ a b c "1931 Edition". The Joy of Cooking. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  6. ^ a b c d Jarvits, Janis. "Joy of Cooking: a listing of the American editions". Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mendelson, Anne (1996). Stand Facing the Stove. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-2904-4. 
  8. ^ a b "1936 Edition". The Joy of Cooking. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  9. ^ "Display ad 85 -- no title.". New York Times (1923-Current File). 1936-05-03. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  10. ^ "Best sellers of the week, here and elsewhere.". New York Times (1923-Current File). 2016-06-14. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  11. ^ Becker, Marion Rombauer (1966). Little Acorn. Bobbs-Merrill. ASIN B0018O4N82. 
  12. ^ Rombauer, Irma S.; Marion Rombauer Becker (1967 printing). Joy of Cooking (hardbound) (1964 ed.). Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited Edition). p. 2 of Foreword (not numbered). Finally, in response to many requests from users of "The Joy" who ask "What are your favorites?", we have added to some of our recipes the word "Cockaigne", which signified in medieval times "a mythical land of peace and plenty," and also happens to be the name of our country home.  Check date values in: |date= (help);
  13. ^ a b Mendelson, Anne. "The History of the Joy of Cooking [on the Joy of Cooking official website]". Retrieved 7 December 2013. In this edition, Marion, who loved the sense of sharing pleasures with reader-friends as much as Irma, pointed to her family’s special favorites with the designation “Cockaigne”—the name of the Beckers’ beloved Cincinnati home, where she had created an eight-acre “wild garden” and model of ecological restoration.…Because of serious author-publisher disagreements, though, the new edition was not published in a form acceptable to Marion until 1963 (a garbled version had appeared in 1962, the year of Irma’s death). 
  14. ^ Rombauer, Irma & Rombauer Becker, Marion (1973). The Joy of Cooking. ISBN 0-452-25665-8. 
  15. ^ a b "1975 Edition". The Joy of Cooking. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  16. ^ "1997 Edition | The Joy of Cooking". Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  17. ^ Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer; Becker, Ethan (1997-11-05). The All New All Purpose: Joy of Cooking (Revised ed.). New York: Scribner. ISBN 9780684818702. 
  18. ^ ""75th Anniversary Edition (2006)". The Joy of Cooking. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  19. ^ "The Genius of the Joy of Cooking". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  20. ^ "Irma Rombauer: The Joy of Cooking, 1877-1962". Harvard Square Library. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  21. ^ Child, Julia (2006). My Life in France. New York: Knopf. p. 126. ISBN 1400043468. 

External links[edit]