Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The new new Joy of Cooking

In 1930, a newly widowed Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, realized she had to make her own living and decided to convert her considerable cooking talents and sizable personal recipe collection into a self-published book, called Joy of Cooking.

The rest, as they say, is history. And the history of Joy has just completed another of its chapters with the October 2006 publication of the cookbook's 75th anniversary edition.

Some of the attention that this new edition is getting comes from a very public feud between Irma Rombauer's grandson, Ethan Becker, and the editors of a 1997 edition of the book. That much heralded revamp of Joy was written by a collective of serious cooking authorities. In the process, however, all of the "casual culinary chat" (a phrase used in the subtitle of Irma's original book) had disappeared. It was replaced by a sort of dispassionate and anonymous editorial voice.

This loss of the quirky and the personal is what bothered Ethan so much. So his answer was to put back in this newest edition all the personality he felt had been excised. I could go on (and you may already be saying, "Stop. We don't care."), but instead I will show you the little intro written for a recipe called Welsh Rarebit (or Welsh Rabbit) as it appeared in 1) pre-1997 editions, 2) the disputed 1997 edition and 3) the brand-new Joy.

First I must preface this by saying that the name of this dish (basically melted cheese on toast) is hotly disputed. If you look up Welsh Rarebit or Welsh Rabbit on wikipedia, you will find a vicious debate going on about which of these names is correct.

From early (pre-1997) Joys: "Our correspondence is closed on the subject of rarebit versus rabbit. We stick to 'rarebit,' because 'rabbit' already means something else. We can only answer the controversy with a story. A stranger trying to calm a small crying boy: 'I wouldn't cry like that if I were you." Small boy: 'You cry your way and I'll cry mine.'"

From 1997: "Welsh rarebit--a British dish served on toast or crackers as lunch or supper--should really be Welsh rabbit. The idea is that melted cheese on toast is what the Welsh rabbit hunter has to eat when he comes home empty-handed. This is a traditional recipe, made with beer; some experts insist on stale ale."

And from the new 75th Anniversary edition: Word for word the same as in the pre-1997 editions.

And as a final P.S., for anyone who is still reading this, I would like to share a recipe from the 1931 edition of the book, because I like the name so much. I kind of wonder why it disappeared from later editions. It's a recipe for something called Cheese Monkey and it's a variant of Welsh Rarebit.

Cheese Monkey

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup soft stale bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup grated cheese
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne

Over a slow fire, heat the milk and add the crumbs and butter. When they are well blended add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted, then add the egg and the seasoning. Permit the egg to thicken slightly, stirring constantly. Serve the Monkey while very hot over crackers or toast.

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