If my house ever burns down--and I pray that it never does, truly I do--I'm going back in for my 1943 copy of The Joy of Cooking.
Much has been made of this cookbook and all of its various editions. The 1943 version contains wartime rationing tips. The 1975 version was hugely popular. The 1997 version was disliked because it abandoned Irma Rombauer's wry voice, and the recent 75th anniversary edition has been critiqued for its forced nostalgia (discussed here and here).
I have not read either of those later versions. Why would I? I have one of Irma's early versions.
Joy of Cooking enthusiasts love Irma as much as they--we--love her recipes. Who wouldn't? In 1931, during the worst of the Depression years, Irma Rombauer took $3,000 left to her by her late husband and self-published The Joy of Cooking. Billed as "a compilation of reliable recipes with an occasional culinary chat," Joy is comfy and informative--not unlike food blogging.
Sure, the stories may be dated. But not completely.
Irma's preface to the 1943 edition gives some insight into the life of an ordinary woman who created a new world for herself. She writes:
My daughter says that when my book is praised I purr like a cat. Perhaps I do. I can't help it for I am a fortunate woman.And who wouldn't love a woman who took this kind of initiative and this kind of financial risk for something she loved? She was 54 years old when she self-published the first Joy. She was not ready to retire; she was ready for new experiences.
After middle age, my family duties ended, my brood scattered, my civic and social interests (properly) in younger hands, many familiar doors seemed closed to me. Suddenly a new one flew open. It has led to a multitude of human contacts, experiences and gratifications. I felt useful once more, far more useful than I ever expected to be. Who wouldn't purr?
Here's to you, Irma. Thank you for sharing your recipes with the generations that followed you. (And thank you, Mom, for giving me this cookbook!)
Sour Milk Cornbread
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
This cornbread is pleasantly tangy from the buttermilk. It would not be at all wrong to smear some blackberry jam on it and call it a snack.
1 cup of corn meal
1 cup of bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups sour milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk)
2 tablespoons melted butter or bacon fat (I used butter)
2 well-beaten eggs
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread an 8 x 10 pan or a muffin tin (or a 12-inch iron skillet, as I did) with butter, oil, or bacon fat. Place it in the oven until sizzling hot.
Sift the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat the buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat them just until they are blended. Pour the mixture into the hot pan or muffin tins and bake for about 25 minutes.