by Anne Mendelson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1996
A winning account of the life of one of America's standard cookbooks, with portraits of the mother and daughter who brought it into millions of homes. Extensive research and a sense of what makes a good story help Mendelson, a culinary historian and contributor to Gourmet and other publications, to combine elements as disparate as an assessment of The Joy of Cooking's place in cookbook history with the gossipy lowdown on its authors (e.g., petite, attractive Irma Rombauer sniped at her shy daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, for being plain; and neither woman was much of a cook). After her husband's suicide in 1930, Irma collected recipes from family and friends and daringly invested half of her cash in the original 1931 Joy, a vanity publication. Imbued with the author's vivacious personality, the text sold well; but Irma could not interest a publisher until she met Bobbs-Merrill's Lawrence Chambers, innocently relinquished the copyright on her work, and entered what Mendelson convincingly depicts as ""a professional marriage made in hell, or at least purgatory."" Despite enduring an author-publisher relationship in which every aspect, from discount sales to index length, offered grounds for battle, Irma blossomed as a natural publicist--and Joy, still a highly personal book with a ""lawless assortment of dishes,"" blossomed with her. As Irma aged, Marion gradually moved into the role of coauthor, although her education was in art history and her own real joy was in gardening. She devoted herself to maintaining the quality of her mother's book and was justifiably appalled to learn on the day of Irma's funeral that Bobbs-Merrill, without a contract, had released the 1962 ""false Joy,"" an error-laced disaster that, nevertheless, garnered favorable reviews. Fortunately, hostilities went off the boil into a gentle simmer, and the cookbook endured. Useful to those interested in the history of women, cooking, or publishing; but it is Mendelson's obvious interest in her project that makes this a good read.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Page Count: 608
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996
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