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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Joy of Cooking' Gets Fresh Twist

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- Since 1931, when Irma Rombauer put together her first compilation of "reliable recipes with a casual culinary chat," "The Joy of Cooking" has taught generations how to stew and simmer, boil and braise.


Sixty-six years later, the bible of cookbooks is still cooking. On Nov. 5, the sixth edition of The Joy, as it is lovingly called, will hit bookstore shelves.


The first revision in more than 20 years isn't exactly The Joy your grandmother would remember.


There are no canned tomato soup recipes, no frozen veggies and far, far less about gelatin. Instead, there's Ethiopian chicken, Thai beef salad, Szechuan spiced tofu, low-fat cheesecake and lots about garlic.


And there is a chapter devoted entirely to pasta. Sixty years ago, when Rombauer was cooking in her mostly German community in St. Louis, noodles were something to serve in a casserole or buttered, with pot roast.


"If 20 years ago somebody had told you that pasta would be the most cooked meal in America, would you have believed it?" said Ethan Becker, Rombauer's grandson.


Don't worry. This is still the book for hearty basics, like brownies, pancakes, tuna casserole and macaroni and cheese.


The new version, which will retail at $30, boasts 4,500 recipes, many of them new and most tweaked if not completely revised. The first printing run is 500,000 copies, a surprising number for a cookbook.


Why not? The Joy has sold more than 14 million copies, and even the outdated 1975 hardback edition sells 100,000 copies a year without promotion.


Rombauer was getting over the suicide of her husband in 1930 when she began her first cookbook project. She wasn't professionally trained, but she was a fine cook and fast, known for whipping up supper for unexpected guests.


Her first self-published volume, which was professionally printed and revised in 1936, was filled with the kind of meals she liked to eat. Her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, joined her mother with the 1951 edition.


"What Irma did was say 'Oh phooey on the old fogies.' Anyone can cook," said Anne Mendelson, a New Jersey food writer and author of "Stand Facing the Stove," a biography of Rombauer and Marion Becker. "They were more accessible and more relaxed in their whole approach."


Rombauer brought humor into the kitchen, telling readers -- and most of her early readers were women -- that cooking needn't be taken so seriously.


After Marion Becker's death in 1976, The Joy tradition passed to her son, Ethan, now 52, who has spent the last 20 years retesting recipes and writing new ones in his boyhood home of Newton, Ohio. His name joins those of his mother and grandmother on the jacket cover of the new book.