Kitchen Library: The Joy of Cooking

The Joy of Cooking

After my husband and pets, my battered 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking is the next thing I would save in a fire. It is, in my opinion, the greatest American cookbook ever created.

Like many classic cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking has recipes for every type of food you could imagine and a dozen more beside. There are literally hundreds of comfort dishes in these pages that can be prepared with ingredients found at any supermarket. Honed over literally generations of editions dating all the way back to 1931, the format of the recipes is easy to follow for cooks of all skill levels.

The Joy’s pages describe the literal melting pot that is America. Classic regional cooking of the U.S. is treated with the same reverence as Escoffier’s mother sauces. Eastern European, Middle Eastern, South American, and Asian recipes are all well represented with both authentic flavors and techniques. The choices say as much about who we are as a country of immigrants as it does anything else, and I find that rather beautiful. And to keep the love-in going, there are also more than a few recipes for vegans, vegetarians, and those who go gluten-free. If only our national politics were so harmoniously integrated.

It’s easy to miss the bakery for the croissants here, though, and one most notice The Joy is more than recipes. The beginning each chapter explains, in detail, the ingredients and techniques that you will find within. Reading the introductions to the meat, vegetable, and grain chapters may very well change your life. The book opens with chapters on nutrition and menu planning that would keep anyone healthy for a lifetime and ends with detailed diagrams of how to set a formal table. I believe the word encyclopedic is appropriate the volume of knowledge packed into this one book.

If you haven’t your own copy of The Joy of Cooking, now would be the time to procure it. (There’s a used book shop near you with a $5 copy, I promise.) And if you do own a copy but have never really plumbed its depths, now is the moment.

Next week, Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

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