Cooking the Classics for Cookbook Month

Every October we get the chance to examine the importance of cookbooks in our lives because it’s National Cookbook Month.  The staff has been talking about cookbooks and sharing our favorites. This time we are looking at three of the American classics.

My favorite cookbook? For me it is the Joy of Cooking. It’s old, well stained and holds a sentimental value, as it was a gift. It covered everything, appetizers, soups, different cuts, roasting/cooking times, how to set the table, dessert. Perfect bible for the home chef!

– Dianna, Customer Service Manager

First edition, 1931 on left; more familiar design of later editions on right, 75th anniversary, 2006.

Does it get any more classic than this? Joy of Cooking was called by Julia Child “a fundamental resource for any American cook,” and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important and influential books of the 20th century.  Not cookbooks – but books. It has sold more than 18 million copies, remaining continuously in print since Irma Rombauer first self-published it in 1931. Her book has been a staple in kitchens over several generations, thanks to the nine editions that Bobbs-Merrill subsequently published, beginning in 1936. Joy of Cooking covers pretty much everything, and is a great instructional book for the new cook.

Collectors will tell you that the different editions reflect the eating habits and trends throughout the 20th century. Many of them seek out the 1930s editions for the illustrations on skinning a squirrel, the game recipes, and instructions for canning and preserving. Whichever edition you have, this resource will guide you through many a cooking adventure.

In case you care to skin a squirrel.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

“Mastering the Art of French Cooking… doesn’t mean it has to be fancy cooking, although it can be as elaborate as you wish.”— Julia Child

The masterpiece that started it all. Julia Child brought French cooking to the United States – after the herculean task of testing and perfecting 524 recipes over many years. Her TV show, The French Chef,  debuted on PBS in 1963 and brought her lilting, soaring voice and outsize personality into the living rooms of American housewives. And with that, the nation’s discovery of French cuisine.  There were so many recipes to share, she went to a second volume.

Bauman Rare Books offered a 2-volume set of first edition books, autographed.

Judith Jones, her editor, tells the story of how the manuscript came to her in 1961, and how she was uniquely positioned to appreciate what she had in her hands. Jones played an important role in the saga  of this literary masterpiece.

Julia Child and Ariane as a musketeer
Julia Child and Ariane dressed as a musketeer

You may have enjoyed the 2009 film Julie and Julia, based on the blog of a Julie Powell, a secretary in New York with novice cooking skills, who embarked on an odyssey to cook every recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That blog became a book, and then a movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. It’s a testament to the enduring power of this cookbook, and proof of how inspiring it can be. We think Julia would have appreciated this unlikely story, as she herself famously stumbled into cooking at age 32, with no experience.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Fannie Farmer, “the mother of level measurements,” wrote The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1896, and introduced the concept of using standard measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement.  The book was so popular that it remains in print over 100 years later. Clearly, the recipes have been updated numerous times, as tastes and styles have changed. But the first edition is still available for those intrigued by historical cooking.

One such cook is Christopher Kimball, known for his years at America’s Test Kitchen. He wrote a book, Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook, which was also made into a PBS documentary. Twelve courses cooked in a Victorian kitchen is a serious challenge for a modern chef, and worth watching. Below is a short preview of the documentary.

What is your favorite classic cookbook? We know there are plenty more that could be on the list.

Photo at top: Global Foodie

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