Courtesy of John Becker

The author’s Portland-based great-grandson and his wife are behind the major update

Ellen Fort  – November 12, 2019 | Updated November 18, 2019

The Joy of Cooking has been a treasured part of American home-cookery since its publication in 1931 by Irma S. Rombauer, a St. Louis homemaker. Recently widowed, Rombauer wrote the book as both a way of coping with grief and as a guide to America’s new way of cooking, minting a new, conversational style of recipe writing along the way. Now it’s undergone a major update to reflect the changing tastes of cooks around the country. 

After almost 90 years, nine editions, and over 20 million copies sold, the iconic tome is still a staple on many kitchen shelves. It’s also still deeply rooted in family traditions, passed down to its new authors, John Becker and his wife Megan Scott. Becker, the great-grandson of Irma S. Rombauer, collaborated with Scott to test, improve, redact, and add recipes. The result: 600 new recipes, plus updates and improvements to the existing 1,200 pages and over 4,000 recipes.

The latest edition has been in the works for almost a decade as Becker and Scott tested their way through the cookbook’s thousands of recipes. The Joy of Cooking has been part of the family’s life work for much longer than that, however: Irma’s daughter, Marion Becker, published the sixth (and most popular) edition in 1975. Her son, Ethan Becker, managed the 1997 edition and encouraged John to take it on with his wife.

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When tackling the new edition, Becker says there were certain things that just could not be changed. “There would be strong words if we got rid of the banana bread recipe,” laughs Becker. “And plenty of cookie recipes that would get people where it hurts. People swear by our pot roast.”

It’s a big update, incorporating the tastes of both authors, as well as ingredients and flavor profiles that were once considered too complicated for home cooks. Becker, who was raised in Portland, Oregon, included many of the foods that were important to his Pacific Northwest upbringing, like hot smoked salmon and smoked salmon hash, and ingredients like geoduck and wild mushrooms. As a North Carolinean, Scott contributed Southern  recipes like Nashville Hot Chicken and Cheddar-Scallion Biscuits.

Rather than executing one large vision of what to add or subtract, “It was more like a thousand little things we wanted to change,” says Becker. “We wanted to keep the conversational tone and also to keep things focused on the home cook, providing as much practical, useful information as possible.”

Updates are also inclusive of shifts in thinking for home cook, with more consideration for vegans and vegetarians, and explainers on food waste, and organic vs. non-GMO foods. “I’d have to be full of myself to say I had my finger on the pulse of the modern home cook but I feel that we, along with anyone else who is paying attention, can discern that there are changes happening.” 

“We feel honored to be a part of it,” says Becker. “We are already making notes on things we wish we could have added for the next edition. we definitely have one more in us, maybe for the 100th anniversary in 2031.”

The Joy of Cooking: 2019 Edition; Simon and Schuster.