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New ‘Joy of Cooking’ is a masterwork that erases doubts

If you grew up consulting the “Joy of Cooking,” revisions over the past many years may have left you with mixed feelings. But the newest edition, due Tuesday from Scribner, will delight you. And if you’re not familiar with the “Joy of Cooking,” the new edition will become your go-to resource.

First, it’s a whopper of a book, with more than 1,000 pages. It features more than 600 new recipes, as well as more than 4,000 favorites that have been revised and updated. At the list price of $40, it may be an investment — but it’s one you’ll be willing to make. I know I will.

Second, the newest edition accurately reflects the way we eat today. While Irma Rombauer’s original book featured mostly American favorites, the new edition includes a wealth of international recipes — reflecting our more culturally influenced palates.

In this way, I think the newest revision would delight Mrs. Rombauer, as my mother used to call her. (Any cooking question? “Let’s see what Mrs. Rombauer has to say,” Mom would mutter, picking up her well-thumbed 1943 edition.)

Rombauer’s goal, as far back as the original 1931 edition, was to fortify cooks with confidence and knowledge. This new edition stays true to that mission in the most delightful ways.

With tons of new information — there’s a chapter on fermentation, much-expanded food safety knowledge, tips on how to streamline cooking and economize, instructions on making stock and other dishes in the Instant Pot, and much more — the newest edition will give both beginning and experienced cooks a great deal to work with.

I caught up with John Becker, Rombauer’s great-grandson, by phone at his Portland, Ore., home. He was “portioning out chicken stock for the freezer,” he said, but paused for a chat.

“I was eating Thai food before I was 15. We’ve become accustomed to some of these unique flavors,” says Becker of Joy’s newest international recipes. Becker doesn’t pretend that these international recipes constitute a compendium, “because we couldn’t fully do any of those cuisines justice in the space we had,” but acknowledges that such recipes are as fully American as those for chicken potpie and beef stew.

Becker and Megan Scott, his wife, spent more than nine years on the revision, he says. “We started testing from the 2006 edition,” he says. “We first wanted to trace each recipe back to which edition it first appeared in.”

Although Becker is an only child, his father, Ethan, was careful to let him know that he wasn’t bound by family law to revise “The Joy of Cooking.” (Marion Rombauer Becker was Ethan’s mother, and daughter of Irma; all of them worked on editions.) “My father was clear that if I chose not to be a part of the book, I didn’t have to,” Becker says. “But at a certain point, I decided I had to.”

All in all, this new edition of the “Joy of Cooking” is a masterwork. It’s also an affectionate nod to the spirit of “Joy’s” mother, Irma Rombauer. Her legacy of encouraging and empowering cooks lives on in Becker and Scott’s respectful and exciting new edition.

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