Finding new joy in good ol’ ‘Joy of Cooking’

The ninth edition honors the classics and offers some modern updates

John Becker and Megan Scott
John Becker and Megan Scott

Something of Irma Rombauer, the author of the original “Joy of Cooking,” resonated with New Englanders like my mother. Her reliance was not only on the book’s recipes, but on instructions that made other recipes better. Even with its broad range of regional and international recipes, “Joy of Cooking” has New England character. I remember years ago being surprised to find out that Rombauer was not from New England.

“Joy” offered the practicality of getting satisfying, well-prepared dishes on the table. You could be late learning to cook and still get good at it. You could trust that ingredients purchased with hard-earned dollars would be put to good use. With all the flimsy, here-today-gone-tomorrow recipes my mother clipped and downloaded, “Joy of Cooking” was dependable — so New England.


“It’s interesting to think of someone coming with fresh eyes to a recipe and saying, ‘This could be written better,’ and rewriting the recipe format,” says Megan Scott, a coauthor of the new ninth edition. “ ’Joy’ is a book you can teach yourself to cook from, but it is also a book that expands as you grow in your cooking practice.”

The husband-and-wife team of Scott and John Becker (Irma Rombauer’s great-grandson) are paying attention to New England cooking. Succotash, brown bread, “stuffies” (quahogs with breadcrumbs), pickled beets with horseradish, and mini pecan pies are all there. Instructions for tapping maple trees and for making syrup have carried over from previous editions. The book addresses two dozen varieties of mushrooms. Recipes sometimes straddle regions: The baked beans are “as traditional in Sweden as they are in Boston,” note the authors.

Other recipes have been reworked. A savory nut loaf recipe has been “repurposed” says Becker, into a vegetarian “sausage” patty made with pecans, cheddar, and sage. Often a traditional recipe will sway a bit: There is a recipe for switchel that Scott describes as “a type of homemade Gatorade.” Their version of the Colonial-era drink includes honey or maple syrup instead of molasses, along with fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar, and salt.


There is a new section on fermenting, and one on cheese-making has been expanded. Scott, who once worked on a goat farm, likes to get into the details of what makes cheeses unique. It’s also a passion that once intersected with a fascination with turkeys. “I lived in a sketchy single-wide trailer on a farm on the top of a hill. One morning there were loud thumps on the roof. I looked out the window to see a flock of wild turkeys that had flown down from the top of the hill and landed on the roof of the trailer. They were using it as a jumping off point for the rest of the way down the hill. I have a great appreciation for the turkey as a bird, not just something to eat!”

Nevertheless the section on roasting poultry has been expanded, in particular providing "new strategies" for dealing with the "anxiety around turkey," says Becker. There’s a note in the book to “ambitious turkey tinkerers.” Some of the best results are achieved with the simplest techniques.

Scott and Becker offer a wide range of techniques including dry brining, cider brining, removing the backbone, removing the legs at the hip joint to cook separately once the breast is cooked. They lean to dry brining, “which is relatively simple,” says Becker, “compared to stuffing things under the skin or immersing a turkey in a cider brine. There are plenty of ‘hacks’ out there about how to cook a turkey evenly, so that the breast doesn’t dry out by the time the thighs are done.


“We roasted a lot of turkeys,” says Scott. “Some of the best turkeys we’ve eaten are the ones that are cooked really simply by salting ahead of time and roasting them at 425 degrees. Don’t worry about stuffing them.” Yet the new edition does include instructions for stuffing them.

This new “Joy” defines our New England character as practical and dependable. It follows the trend toward explaining cooking technique. “Joy of Cooking” always indicated why the recipe says to do something. Even the “About Lobsters” section instructs the home cook on how to “sedate” lobsters before killing them.

Among the book’s 2,700 recipes (4,000 if you include all the variations), of which more than 600 are new, there are dishes from many regions. The new additions remind us of where American cuisine has been — pot pies, eggnog, cheese balls, black-eyed peas, Cajun dirty rice — and where we’re going — kale ginger lemonade, Vietnamese avocado shake, breakfast chilaquiles, sweet potato waffles, caramelized tempeh, and dosas.

It may be that roasted turkey and vegan turkey end up uniting us, and they’re both in the book.

“We’ve tried to honor the legacy of what we’ve been so lucky to continue,” says Becker.


Rachel Ellner can be reached at rellner@gmail.com.