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The Friday Buzz: Desert Island Foods Edition

The Friday Buzz: Desert Island Foods Edition

Here's our roundup of all good things, good advice, good feelings. It’s the happy hour of blog posts! Up this week: The Team is dishing all about foods they'd want if stranded on a desert island!

Welcome to The Friday Buzz, our roundup of all good things, good advice, good feelings. It’s the happy hour of blog posts! Up this week: The Team is dishing all about being stranded on a desert island!

Let’s talk desert islands for a minute. I rewatched Castaway for the umpteenth time (it’s a fave!) and it got me thinking on how I would even survive on a desert island. That’d be quite the comical scene, let me tell you. Truth be told, camping is a stretch for me, so Desert Island Claudia isn’t going to be anything pretty. I’m definitely a girl of modern conveniences, buuuut I’m sure if it came down to the wire and I had to survive, I would be able to. #determination

I thought it’d be fun to see what desert island food (or foods) of each member of Our Site Team would choose. I asked them what they would be able to eat for the rest of forever and not get sick of it…. Let’s see what they all said, shall we?

DESERT ISLAND MUST-HAVES

  • Emma, Editor-in-Chief: Eggs are a must. They’re nutritious and delicious. Also: POPCORN.
  • Summer, Associate Editor: Berries or watermelon. She’s also desert island savvy and is thinking beyond food so she’d also take a knife, her phone, and solar charger.
  • Carrie, Associate Editor: Definitely potatoes. Then cookies. Then berries.
  • Megan, Marketing Director: Avocados, ice cream, chocolate covered almonds. Now, wait a minute… she is now adding COCONUT CAKE to the list!
  • Claudia, Community Manager: Peanut butter and jelly. Crunchy Cheetos. Let’s not forget Diet Coke! Definitely not healthy in any way, shape, or form but SO GOOD.
  • Andy, Art Director: Baked Mac and Cheese (preferably including some ham or bacon bits).

What about you?! What’s your desert island food?

WHAT’S HAPPENING OVER ON INSTAGRAM

We asked readers across the globe on how they love to eat avocados. Let’s count the ways in how avocados can be enjoyed:

  • Avocado + milk + sugar
  • Sliced in half with a little salt
  • Guacamole
  • Smashed up on toast with eggs and a dash of hot sauce
  • Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and fill with tuna salad
  • Spicy guacamole

READER COMMENT OF THE WEEK

David P is now deeply devoted to our Three Sisters Casserole. Here’s what he had to say:

Slamming Delicious!! Butternut squash…awesome surprise. This recipe is now permanently placed in my rotation.

You know something is delicious when you eat it regularly!

Cheers to another phenomenal week!


Needhams: Global Connections in a Regional Cookbook

According to an undated history of the Mount Desert Chapter of O.E.S., “a committee consisting of Sisters Helen Fernald, Ada Leland and Lillian Somes” was created in 1930 to “solicit recipes and to compile and publish a cookbook.” Their efforts produced the edition of Favorite Recipes analyzed in this article. This was the chapter’s second attempt at a cookbook. An earlier collection of recipes, also titled Favorite Recipes, appeared in 1903. Both editions and a 1980s reprint of the 1903 cookbook are available in the collections of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

In the late 1920s, members of the Mount Desert Chapter No. 20 of the Order of the Eastern Star compiled a cookbook of favorite recipes. During the peak of associational life (late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century), the Order of the Eastern Star was one of a number of social organizations that shaped civic life and sociability on Mount Desert Island.[i]

The recipes collected preserve the transition to an industrialized food system with ingredients representing local resources, nationally available commercial brands, and global networks comingling within the pages, sometimes even the same recipe. In the eyes of the outside world, Maine food culture revolves around local produce such as lobster, blueberries, or maple syrup. But this collection reveals the importance of global connections in the diets of early-twentieth-century Mainers.

A sense of local foodways emerges from the pages of this collection of recipes. Homey recipes like Brown Bread, Yankee Bean Soup, Halibut Loaf, and Mustard Pickles, provided the foundation for simple family suppers. Recipes for puddings, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, and pies that homemakers baked on Saturdays satisfied sweet tooths and served company throughout the coming week.

Among the staples of nineteenth-century foodways that appear in Favorite Recipes, a new type of cooking is also apparent. The influence of national, commercial brands is unmistakable in the ingredient lists. Approximately forty percent of the recipes contained within the book reference a commercialized name-brand product, such as Dunham’s Coconut, Karo Syrup, Dot Chocolate, or Quaker Oats, or ingredients that were made available by technological advances and national transportation networks. This included various canned products, tropical fruits, marshmallows, puffed rice, and peanut butter.

Among the sweets in the cookbook are Needhams, a chocolate-covered coconut candy. These are an oft-cited example of Maine ingenuity—the recipe calls for three small potatoes—and yet, ironically, their inclusion in the recipe book is perhaps an indication of a growing reliance on mass-produced food and global influences. It is half a package of shredded coconut that provides their iconic taste.

Recipe for Needhams, Favorite Recipes (c. 1930). Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

Despite their association with Maine, few outside the Pine Tree State are familiar with the confection. Yet, Needhams are symbolic of globalized food systems. The sugar, coconut, and chocolate that dominate the taste of a Needham (the potato is a tasteless filler ingredient) are all, of course, imported. Each of these essential baking ingredients became more accessible over the course of the nineteenth-century, even in Downeast Maine, due to advancements in cultivation, processing, transportation–and the exploitation of enslaved laborers. The candy’s namesake, Rev. George C. Needham, further represented the interconnected world of the nineteenth century.

Rev. George C. Needham. New England Historical Society.

Born in Ireland in 1840, at the age of ten Needham joined an English ship bound for South America. In his recounting, he was abused and abandoned by his shipmates he narrowly escaped becoming dinner for a band of cannibal Indians. After his escape, Needham journeyed back to England. As a young man, he was an itinerant evangelical preacher in England and Ireland. Immigrating to the United States in the late 1860s, Needham spent the rest of his life traveling the eastern United States, inclusing Maine, predicting the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. After his sudden death in 1902, his obituary appeared in numerous eastern newspapers evidencing his influence and the extent of his travels.

Needhams, a chocolate-covered coconut candy. New England Historical Society.

The recipe for Needhams is just one example of the global connections in Favorite Recipes. Indeed, the cookbook paints a portrait of a community and its connections to the world by preserving a record of the food items available within a rural municipality along the Maine coast. Favorite Recipes offers a window into the eating habits of the early twentieth-century inhabitants of Mount Desert, Maine at a critical juncture when local and homemade eating habits slowly gave way to nationalized, globalized, and commercialized food choices.

For more information on Favorite Recipes or other materials related to the history of the Mount Desert Island region, visit the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

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Favorite Recipes: Social Networks in the Pages of a Regional Community Cookbook

Members of the Mount Desert chapter may have attended the ceremonial induction of officers at the neighboring Tremont chapter, as depicted in this undated photograph. Courtesy Southwest Harbor Public Library

In the late 1920s, members of the Mount Desert Chapter No. 20 of the Order of the Eastern Star compiled a cookbook of favorite recipes. During the peak of associational life, from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the Order of the Eastern Star was one of a number of social organizations that shaped civic life and sociability on Mount Desert Island. [i]The recipes collected by the members of this chapter provide windows into the lives of early-twentieth-century women, both within and outside of domestic spaces. A previous post explored the representation of globalized food systems within the compiled recipes, this post will examine social networks within Mount Desert. The Order of the Eastern Star, like other women’s organizations of the early twentieth century, strengthened the social bonds between rural Maine women. The recipes for salads and cakes, which would be appropriate for an informal ladies’ luncheon or tea, suggest the significance of social gatherings to the members of the Mount Desert Chapter and complement the histories we have of this chapter. Additionally, the text of the cookbook can be used as a map and as a spatial analysis of the collected recipes, which reveal the continued importance of familial ties and residential proximity in the lives of rural women of the early twentieth century.

This map, created using census and directory data, provides a spatial analysis of the compilers of Favorite Recipes. A full map of the Island can be viewed here.

Cookbook collections such as Favorite Recipes shift our focus from considering women’s experiences in time, to considering their experiences across physical space. Research into historical and genealogical records permit this cookbook to be mapped, allowing women’s networks to be presented visually, and thereby provide an image of social culture on Mount Desert Island during the period in which these recipes were collected. Of the forty-one women and two men who submitted recipes to the cookbook, thirty-three individuals can be definitively identified and mapped through Census Records and local directories. The map reveals that the majority of the recipe compilers, and likely the majority of the members of the Mount Desert Chapter, resided in Somesville. A few lived further afield in Pretty Marsh, Sound, and Northeast Harbor, but the majority appear to have resided within easy commuting distance to the Masonic Lodge.

This undated photograph shows the two and one-half story Somesville Masonic Hall built in the early 1890s. Courtesy of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The clustering of recipe contributors in Somesville affirms the intentions of the founders of the Mount Desert Chapter. According to an undated “Brief History” of the chapter from 1894-1920, “the ladies of Somesville, desirous of enjoying more frequent opportunities of meeting together, held a number of meetings during the fall and winter of 1894, taking preliminary action toward the organization of a chapter of the Order of Eastern Star.” [ii]The creation of the Mount Desert Chapter provided the women of Somesville and surrounding villages with an opportunity to meet regularly at the Masonic Lodge and to attend to chapter business, as well as a chance to socialize outside of domestic spaces and obligations.

Recipes for cake frostings and fillings from Favorite Recipe with a splatter suggesting these recipes were used by the cookbook owner. Courtesy of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The recipes themselves also suggest the importance of this social function. While there is no lack of substantial family fare, recipes for cakes, cookies, salads, and other delicacies that may have formed the menu for a ladies’ luncheon or an afternoon tea are well represented in Favorite Recipes. It is quite possible that these recipes provided the foundation for the menus of suppers served at officer appointments and at regular chapter meetings. Newspaper accounts of the Mount Desert Chapter’s activities frequently note the quality of the spread, such as the comment that “delicious refreshments were served at the close of the chapter” meeting in January of 1932. [iii]In this sense, it is a recipe book perfectly suited to the women of the chapter and their increasingly organized network of friends, family, and neighbors. Recipes suitable for quick, hearty, and wholesome family meals and for impressing guests, or fellow attendees of a neighborhood potluck, comingle within the cookbook.

This post is excerpted from “Favorite Recipes: Relationships Past and Present in the Pages of a Regional Cookbook” published in Chebacco, the magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. The full article is available here.

[i]William J. Skocpol, “Fraternal Organization on Mount Desert Island,” Chebacco 9 (2008), 36-59.

[ii]A Brief History of Mount Desert Chapter #20, O.E.S., 1894-1920, 1, Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

[iii]“Somesville,” Bar Harbor Record(Jan. 27, 1932): 7.

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Tequila-spiked chocolate pots

The combination of unaged tequila, dark chocolate and cream is unbelievably delicious, making this a true desert island treat.

Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr
Chill 3 hr
Makes 6-8

6 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 pinch salt
150g 70% cocoa dark chocolate

250ml double cream
250ml whole milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp
100% agave tequila, or rum (optional)

Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer or whisk for two to three minutes, until pale.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a microwave or over a pan of just-simmering water.

Put the cream and milk in a saucepan, bring to simmering point, then take off the heat and slowly whisk into the melted chocolate. Whisk this in turn into the beaten eggs, then whisk in the cinnamon and tequila, if using, and pour into a large jug.

Divide the mixture between six to eight ramekins, cover each one with foil and place in a deep roasting pan. Bring a kettle to a boil, then pour enough hot water into the tray to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for an hour, then lift out the ramekins from their hot bath, remove their foil lids and leave to cool. Once cool, refrigerate for three hours until thoroughly chilled.

Serve with good pouring cream – you can find some delicious ones online and in farm shops – and little biscuits, if you like.


5 Perfect Pies To Bring To Your Next Party

If crushed graham crackers can make a delicious pie crust, then why can't saltines? That's the thinking behind this unusual pie from Heather Baird's new book, Sea Salt Sweet. You combine the ho-hum crackers with butter and sugar for an unexpected flavor that's terrific with a lemon filling. Add a sprinkling of fleur de sel before serving, for one more salty hit.

Banana pudding and banana cream pie are both classic comfort foods, but we had no idea how well they went together until we tried this twist from Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia's Favorite Pie Boutique by Holly Ricciardi. The recipe has you spread banana-pudding filling into the pie shell top it with a layer of Nilla Wafers and banana slices, then cover them with more pudding, so you get a perfect ratio of creamy to crunchy.

Making a chocolate-bottom pie is as easy as pouring some hot custard onto chopped, semisweet chocolate, whisking to melt the mixture together and spreading it along the bottom of a pie shell. The next and last layer is a coffee mousse then, finally, you top this rich and flavorful dessert from Magpie with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Get the recipe: Cafe Mocha Pie

Coconut milk is the secret to making a pie with full, lush coconut flavor, which Ricciardi demonstrates in this intriguing recipe. The other ingredient that brings the pie to another level: Jamaican rum. The Caribbean spirit plays up the coconut's tropical taste, and a smattering of toasted coconut chips on top adds a lovely finishing touch.

Get the recipe: Coconut Rum Pie

Another version of the crushed-up, salty crust comes from Duff Goldman and Sara Gonzales' new book, Duff Bakes: Think and Bake Like a Pro at Home. The wonder ingredients here are the finely ground crumbs from both long, thick pretzel rods and peanut-butter-filled pretzels. Inside this flavor-bomb of a crust, you spread melted chocolate, then pastry cream and bananas then, finally, whipped cream.


How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition : 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food

Mark Bittman's award-winning How to Cook Everything has helped countless home cooks discover the rewards of simple cooking. Now the ultimate cookbook has been revised and expanded (almost half the material is new), making it absolutely indispensable for anyone who cooks—or wants to. With Bittman's straightforward instructions and advice, you'll make crowd-pleasing food using fresh, natural ingredients simple techniques and basic equipment. Even better, you'll discover how to relax and enjoy yourself in the kitchen as you prepare delicious meals for every occasion.

"A week doesn't go by where I don't pull How to Cook Everything down from the shelf, so I am thrilled there's a new, revised edition. My original is falling apart!"
Al Roker

"This new generation of How to Cook Everything makes my 'desert island' cookbook choice jacked up and simply universal. I'll now bequeath my cookbooks to a collector I need only this one."
Mario Batali

"Mark Bittman has done the impossible, improving upon his now-classic How to Cook Everything. If you need know-how, here's where to find it."
Bobby Flay

"Mark Bittman is a great cook and an incredible teacher. In this second edition, Mark has fine-tuned the original, making this book a must for every kitchen."
Jean-Georges Vongerichten

"Throw away all your old recipes and buy How to Cook Everything. Mark Bittman's recipes are foolproof, easy, and more modern than any others."
Isaac Mizrahi

"Generous, thorough, reliable, and necessary, How to Cook Everything is an indispensable reference for both experienced and beginner cooks."
Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook

"I learned how to cook from How to Cook Everything in a way that gives me the freedom to be creative. This new edition will be my gift to new couples or for a housewarming if you have this book, you don't really need any others."
Lisa Loeb, singer/songwriter


Desert Island Cookbooks: Barbara Fairchild

I had the pleasure of meeting the distinguished and charming Editor-In-Chief of Bon Appétit magazine, Barbara Fairchild, by way of this blog. Around the holidays, I participated in the magazine’s online holiday bake-off, the prize of which was a dinner at Le Bernadin joined by Ms. Fairchild and Andrew Knowlton. With your support, I was overjoyed to win the prize dinner and, of course, get to know Barbara for the curious, inspired and accomplished food media professional that she is.

In just a few days, I will be joining my old pals Barbara and Andrew in Las Vegas. I’ll be spending a few days at Bon Appétit‘s Uncork’d event, pairing a bit of glamour and glitz with a few more impeccable dining experiences on my year’s menu. For the lady with the best dinner recommendations and an even better grasp on what we’ll be bringing to our dinner tables six months from now, I plan to buy a crisp glass of Pinot Blanc or, at the very least, a fruity poolside cabana drink at a flashy Vegas hotel. (She deserves it.) If we were to swap the swank Vegas hotel for a sandy desert isle, what books would Barbara choose to flip through as she sips her frosty cabana drink?


New cookbook highlights dishes from Maine restaurants, chefs

The variety and quality of the Maine dining scene is no longer a secret the natives can keep. Attention from The New York Times, Gourmet magazine and the Washington Post has shined a national spotlight on what Mainers have known for a long time: there are some truly excellent restaurants in the 207.

Photographer Russell French and author Michael Sanders know this as well. The former is a Maine-based artist renowned for his images of food and those who make food. The latter is a 20-year resident of Maine, a food writer and a founding member of Slow Food Portland, an organization devoted to promoting the eating of locally grown foods. Together, they’ve produced a new cookbook, “Fresh From Maine: Recipes and Stories From the State’s Best Chefs,” out on Sept. 1 through Maine-based publisher Table Arts Media.

Sanders, who has written extensively about the cuisine and culture of Southwest France, knew it was time to write a book such as this after the media buzz of the past few years regarding Portland’s large and eclectic restaurant scene.

“I think I had to go out into other places before I could see what absolute richness surrounds me right here in Maine,” said Sanders. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the French countryside, and it’s kind of amazing to think that it’s probably easier to find a very good meal in Maine than it is there.”

Sanders and French spent months traveling up and down the Maine coast, sampling restaurants to be included in the book, which features 20 spots from Kittery to Mount Desert Island. They range from the all-local farm-to-table restaurant Cinque Terre in Portland, featuring chef Lee Skawinski, to Bar Harbor’s own Mache Bistro, a tiny, delightful place owned by the husband and wife team of Kyle and Marie Yarborough.

They had one big question in mind: just what is it that makes Maines food scene so vibrant? They found several answers.

“You cannot have good restaurants without good infrastructure, with good farmers and fishermen, raisers of pigs and poultry and meat,” said Sanders. “I don’t think Mainers realize that MOFGA is one of the most respected organic organizations in the country” Sanders said referring to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardiners Association, which puts on the Common Ground Fair in Unity each year. “People come here to learn from what MOFGA did, and how they managed to get it going from the ground up. The framework was here already.”

With that framework in place, it just took time for those chefs to arrive in the state.

“I think a lot of younger chefs who cooked in San Francisco and Chicago and Las Vegas, with little to no background in running a restaurant, were able to come to Maine and be able to afford to open a restaurant,” he said. “The real estate market wasn’t prohibitive. Even just five years ago it was relatively underdeveloped. It became an incubator of sorts.”

As anyone familiar with the restaurant industry knows, however, opening a restaurant is certainly not an “if you build it, they will come” situation. There needs to be a clientele interested in eating at places that don’t just serve up the fried clams, lobster and blueberry pie synonymous with so many roadside family establishments. Fortunately, there was that clientele, who were waiting for an alternative to traditional Maine fare.

“I think people here really appreciate good food, and will spend money on a nice meal,” said Sanders. “Not everyone is going to do that every week, but enough will and enough people are willing to try different places that it supports the newer local restaurants.”

The restaurants featured in “Fresh From Maine” are not places where you’ll spend $100 for a gastronomically experimental meal, featuring ingredients flown in from halfway across the world. Instead, they’re places that focus on food that’s fresh, local, organic and of the absolute highest quality — all the while remaining simple in approach.

“What they all have in common are the incredible simplicity of ingredients,” said Sanders. “Rob Evans [of Hugo’s Restaurant in Portland] isn’t spending 36 hours producing sauces. He’s looking for the essential thing in the recipe. There’s not a lot of lobster in the book, but there is mackerel and cod and bluefish, and local mushrooms and cheese and chicken, and maybe seven or eight ingredients in a lot of the recipes. It’s as local as it can be. That’s really the essence of it.”

The book boasts more than 50 recipes, ranging from the luscious Stout and Chili Braised Short Ribs over Parmesan Polenta from the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, to the elegant Cod with Sauteed Kale, Bacon and Triple Citrus Beurre Blanc found at the Red Sky Restaurant in Southwest Harbor. It’s also got a wealth of fun, informative background information on the chefs who create those dishes, and the concepts behind their restaurants.

French’s pictures illustrate the chefs in their natural environment: cooking, laughing, creating. It paints a picture of the combination of laid-back charm and high-end food that is the hallmark of Maine dining. And, it sets stomachs to growling, as when you look at, say, the picture of the Handmade Rustic Gnocchi with Winter Sauce found at Town Hill Bistro on MDI, or the Pumpkin Caramel Flan from El Camino Cantina in Brunswick.

Though “Fresh From Maine” has barely hit shelves, Sanders is looking forward to a sequel of sorts.

“I definitely didn’t get to anywhere near enough of the state I wanted to,” he said. “I know there’s so much more to find. I can’t wait to get north and explore.”


Mexican Independence Day Food and Dessert Ideas: Recipes for Hosting Your Own Mexican Celebration

September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, a day that celebrates the start of the Mexican independence from Spain movement. While there will be events going on around the U.S. during the week, Newsweek has pulled together food dishes and drink ideas for your own Mexican Independence Day fiesta at home.

What is typical Mexican Cusine?

Cuisine depends on which region a Mexican is descended from or lives in, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. But a lot of dishes are based heavily on corn, beans and squash. Rice is also used. Other ingredients that you'll find in Mexican food include avocado, chili peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and plantain. Corn tortillas are often served alongside main dishes.

Mexican Main Dishes

Chicken Fajita Rice: A filling one-pot dish that can use up all your leftover ingredients.


Do Modern Cooks Still Need Joy of Cooking?

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Every year, I add dozens and dozens of cookbooks to my (already enormous) collection. There’s a method to my madness I write cookbooks for a living, and so it’s both vocation and passion that drives my purchasing. My wife’s relationship with my collection, on the other hand, is more fraught. She mostly moves the piles from place to place in our 750-square-foot flat only occasionally does she actually thumb through a new title.

But a few weeks back, an advance copy of the newly revised Joy of Cooking landed with a thunk on our porch (literally it’s 1156 pages and weighs nearly five pounds) and I watched my wife’s eyes light up. As with all editions prior, this latest version, shepherded to publication by Irma Rombauer’s great grandson, John Becker, and his wife, Megan Scott, has no photographs. The print is small, the headnotes for each recipe very brief. It is encyclopedic in both its content and design, not the kind of glossy, photo-heavy book you’d expect would catch someone’s eye. My wife grabbed it from me and immediately flipped to the index she wanted to know if this edition still contained the recipe for the classic German cookie Lebkuchen (it does), and if the recipe had been altered since the 1975 edition (it has), which necessitated a text to her mother, who has been making the cookies since my wife was a girl.

Such is the power of this enduring cookbook, which was first published in 1931. Nostalgia is a strong force, particularly when it comes to food, and in the 88 years since that first edition debuted—written by a woman who was, by all accounts, not a great cook—many believe it has earned its spot in the iconic cookbook canon. But today’s cooks have access to millions of cookbooks (not to mention the internet), each more niche than the last, and so I wondered: Do modern cooks still need Joy of Cooking? Or, more to the point, can an updated edition of this iconic book accurately reflect the way the culinary landscape has changed in recent years?

Lebkuchen (German Honey Bars)

To begin to answer that question, I call up John Becker, reaching him at his Portland, Oregon, home. He and Scott spent five years working on the revision of the book, a process that began with reading the previous (2006) edition cover to cover three times, flagging the antiquated, absurd, and altogether absent recipes as they went. Like the Constitution of cookbooks, Joy has always been a living document, with frequent revisions—eight in all—that reflect the times. The undertaking, then, was not without precedent. What’s unprecedented now is how many more cookbook titles are now vying for attention, and how many niche cookbooks exist, books devoted to everything from the Food of Oman to Keto diets to Instant Pots.

When Joy was published—and for, perhaps, its first 50 years—the genre in the U.S. was ruled by general interest books, largely collections of Eurocentric recipes that gave home cooks a quiver of arrows with which to make a decent meal. These sorts of “general interest” books are fewer and farther between now, in part because home cooks can purchase so many cookbooks that address their particular passions, and because the internet became a large-scale general interest cookbook, a vast online treasury of recipes for, well, everything. To ignore the myriad ways in which home cooking has changed in even the short time since the last edition was published would be appallingly tone-deaf, especially given that the whole purpose of revising the book was to make an edition that reflected the way we cook now. But to try and add to the book everything that should be included, from bibimbap to za’atar—foods that reflect the way American cooks cook today—is nothing short of a Herculean effort.

Joy’s revisions was guided neither by a database nor a focus group. Instead, it was up to Becker and Scott, who considered what should stay, what should go, what needed updating and what was perfect the way it was. In the end they added 600 recipes, and revised or updated 4000 more, making decisions led mostly by their own gut feelings, along with lots of recipe testing. “Deciding what should stay and what should go was really hard,” Becker says. He and Scott knew that every removal and addition would face some criticism, but they hoped to make the book useful to modern-day cooks while still preserving all that was good in what came before.

Just as previous editions tackled relevant issues and ingredients of their time, such as wartime rationing, so too this new edition. “Listen,” says Becker, “We’re not perfect recorders of culinary tradition. We’re not historians. We’re not anthropologists. I’m not even a professionally trained cook. But the book attempts to faithfully document cuisine through time.” This edition, for example, has a recipe for quick pressure cooker pho and a chart mapping recommended sous vide times and temperatures. This Joy instructs readers on shellfish safety during neurotoxin-producing algal blooms and teaches them how to make kombucha. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, Becker recognizes that that work of revising Joy is never really done this new edition launches November 12, and already he’s thinking about how to improve upon it for the next one, to be released in ten years, around the book’s 100th anniversary.

As meticulous as Becker and Scott’s efforts to update Joy were, there are invariably going to be some blind spots no one book can include recipes for everything a cook might want to make in their lifetime. Some of those blind spots seem glaring. Why, for example, are there five Sichuan recipes and no West African dishes? Why are there only five Sichuan recipes? Yet it’s precisely this “little about a lot” approach to food and cooking that was one of the defining characteristics of Joy from the very start and, I’d argue, what has made the book so beloved by so many. Change that, and you’ve altered the very heart and soul of the book.

At some point during our conversation, Becker mentioned that he thinks of Joy as a desert-island book. If you could only take one, would you reach for your beautiful, in-depth tome dedicated to Oaxacan moles, or would you yearn for a book that could teach you a little about a lot of different things, from how to make pancakes to the best way to skin a squirrel? It’s a hypothetical question, but it supports some of the anecdotal data I gathered when I wrote and toured in support of my own cookbook. While there are outliers, the majority of my friends do not have the same cookbook library that crowds my own home. They want a book that contains multitudes, and Joy is certainly that book. This is not to say that it’s the only cookbook you should own, of course. But rare are the books from which you could learn essential information about thousands of ingredients, cookbooks you could cook from exclusively and still eat a varied, interesting diet. If home cooks of Rombauer’s generation wanted recipes for pot roast and biscuits, today’s home cooks want recipes for chile crisp and dal and vegan eggnog. Our benchmark for basics is different now. We’ve changed as cooks and, thankfully, Joy of Cooking has changed too.


Watch the video: The Buzz: Desert island playlist (January 2022).