The 'Joy of Cooking' is new, again Publishing: The kitchen reference -- a friend to cooks for six decades -- has been revised and reissued.

November 12, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

The man couldn't even wait until the box was unpacked at Books for Cooks at Harborplace last week, said bookstore owner Arlene Gillis. He just had to get his hands on a copy of the new "Joy of Cooking."

"There's been a lot of hype," Gillis said of the latest revision of the venerable cookbook, which first appeared in 1931.

The latest revision, the sixth in the book's history but the first in 22 years, has been 3 1/2 years and a couple of controversies in the making. The book was originally written and self-published by St. Louis socialite and housewife Irma Rombauer. Her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, did the illustrations.

For the new version, publisher Simon & Schuster spent $5 million and used more than 100 culinary experts to compile 2,700 recipes, under the direction of Rombauer heir Ethan Becker and editor Maria Guarnaschelli.

Becker, 52, son of Marian and grandson of Irma, who's been involved with other revisions and whose reservations about other recent revision proposals, at least in part, are reported to have kept the book in its 1975 incarnation, said he's quite happy with this one. "I think, now that I've actually seen a bound copy, with an index, that we done good," he said.

From the beginning, there was some question about whether "Joy," which had been revised about every 10 years between 1931 and 1975, needed yet another one. It had sold 14 million copies and was still among the standard reference works in most kitchens.

Rombauer's chatty, personal (and some said patrician) style was beloved by befuddled cooks nationwide. It quoted the seventh-century Chinese philosopher Lao-Tze ("Ruling a large kingdom is like cooking a small fish"), worked in Proust ("It was Proust's fortuitous nibble of a madeleine with tea ") and waltzed through notes on such "gelatinous thickeners" as agar-agar, carrageenan and rennet.

True, few people today prepare braised heart slices in sour sauce, and even fewer, perhaps, need to know how to skin, hang and serve porcupine (if you're one of the few, the recipe is still in the 1975 edition). And the imperial "we" viewpoint and quirky commentary ("Unless you choke your duck, pluck the down on its breast immediately afterward and cook it within 24 hours, you cannot lay claim to having produced an authentic Rouen duck ") left some people cold.

One of those people was Guarnaschelli, vice president and senior editor at Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

"I didn't feel the style was personal," she said, noting that in an article recently she termed it "arch." The new book, she said, "is the food lover's 'Joy of Cooking.' It's about fresh, and about taste, and about connecting with the people you feed."

"I think Mom would be very happy with the book because it is a continuation of her vision -- a friendly but encyclopedic cooking overview for America," Becker said. "The recipes are more flavorful, the book is easier to use, but we're still a friendly companion. I like to think of us as your friend who will gently answer your questions without making you feel like a fool."

Becker, an avid cook, said one of the goals of the new book was to introduce people to ethnic cuisines, and he likes the way the new chapter on "Little Dishes" lent itself to arrangement by country. "And the [new] pasta section is great."

New chapters on appetizers and pasta are just two of the changes in the book. Guarnaschelli gave the book a new outline, taking out chapters on brunch and fritters, adding chapters on grains, and beans and tofu. There's a chapter on sandwiches, burritos and pizza, and one on condiments, marinades and dry rubs.

Getting in the latter was important, she said, because those things "had taken as big a role on our table as sauces did in the past."

However, she said, "The biggest change is taking the Know Your Ingredients information" -- previously grouped together in the center of the book -- "and feeding it into the individual chapters."

But some things even Guarnaschelli couldn't touch -- such as the way the recipes are written, in a step-by-step form that places recipe ingredients within the instructions for preparing the dish. Cooks are divided on whether this style makes it easy or cumbersome to determine what goes into a dish, but it is such an integral part of the Rombauer-Becker legacy that there was never an issue of changing it.

The book's agent, Gene Winick, of McIntosh & Otis literary agency in New York, noted that there were plenty of other changes. All but about 50 of the nearly 3,000 recipes were changed or revised. "It's a whole new look," he said.

The book has been favorably reviewed by Publisher's Weekly and U.S. New & World Report, and the New York Times called it "a comprehensive, well-tested collection of both trendy and homey recipes, paying homage to the moment just as the previous five editions did."

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