Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cooking the books

Joy of Cooking was essential to my first learning about cooking. I moved into a co-op house after undergrad and hadn't cooked much other than hot fudge cake before that. So when I learned to cook, it was by preparing vegan meals for twenty. The house had a threadbare, battered copy that eventually split in two. When I say it was "battered," I mean both that it was beat-up, and that it bore actual batter spots. This was a well-loved book and newbie cooks who were "on" to make dinner--people like me, who needed a recipe for basic steamed rice--would get frantic if they couldn't find it. When I left the co-op for law school in another city, and eventually got settled into a shared apartment, one of my housemates had a copy and didn't mind sharing it. Hers was pristine, so I took to copying recipes down in the big blank book I use for food-related notes and magazine clippings.

So I learned from the 1997 Joy, which was apparently controversial, because it departed from prior versions that featured droller copy, more Rombauer family lore, and sections on how to tastefully prepare a meal made of furry woodland creatures. I've had the new 2006 version for a year now--a gift from my grandmother. I'd be lost without it, but I think I may try to hunt up a copy of the prior one. The current version is organized a little differently, but it's hard to describe how with any accuracy without both versions. I do remember there used to be a separate section just on "American fruit desserts," which I miss.

The major problem with the new book: it's riddled with typos--in the basic bread recipe, even!--and one problem that's not addressed by this errata sheet is that there are incorrect page numbers all over the place. And I am very cheesed off about this: To make Mocha Ice Cream Cake (p. 731), you need to make 2 quarts of Mocha Ice Cream. One is referred to p. 832 for that recipe, but it does not exist on that page, nor anywhere else in the ice cream chapter. There's coffee ice cream, and chocolate ice cream, but no mocha. From perusing food blogs, and my own experimentation, it can be difficult to get mocha ice cream right, and I could use a real recipe for it. I'm riled up enough now that I think I'm going to email them about it.

There used to be a recipe for barley with toasted pecans, and co-op people used to really like that. It's gone, but you could just toast some pecans in a skillet, prepare the basic cooked barley from the gigantic grains chart on p. 364, and then mix the pecans into the pot. The 1997 version used a little tree symbol to indicate those cookie recipes that were especially suited to holiday baking. Personally I thought that was charming, but I have some particular neuroses about holiday baking, and if you saw my mother's annual operation you'd understand why.

Anyway, the consensus seems to be that the current version has corrected the problems of the 1997 version. I didn't know enough of the backstory to even know that the 1997 version had problems, and I think I might like it better.

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