BookThink's Bookseller's Author Reports

by Craig Stark

16 January 2012

Irma Rombauer

Printer Friendly Version


FULL NAME: Irma Starkloff Rombauer


BIRTH/DEATH: October 30, 1877 - October 14, 1962



"Irma Rombauer and daughter Marion Rombauer Becker belong to the company of cookbook writers who, unlike the James Beards or Julia Childs of the field, essentially spent their professional lives working on a single book."

This is a telling point from Anne Mendelson's Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking because in part it explains how a modest book of recipes can be born in 1931, be used and cherished by millions of cooks throughout the rest of the 20th century, and even today, some 80 years out, remain a major bestseller. Had Rombauer simply self-published her first effort and walked away from it forever, it's likely that the Joy of Cooking would now be a nearly forgotten event in publishing history, perhaps not even noted in bibliographies, for many of its recipes would have obsolesced in a matter of years and become little more than culinary curiosities. That it isn't speaks to the unflagging efforts of Rombauer and daughter Marion Becker (and later other family members) to not only promote it enthusiastically but also to continuously expand and revise it over many decades - keeping it fresh and relevant to an ever-changing culinary culture.

But even if the 1931 version had never been reprinted, it's clear from no more than a few moments reading the original recipes that there are several factors that set it apart from most cookbooks. First and foremost, it's palpably inhabited by its author(s) - Irma alone in the early years and later on Marion as well. In fact, so visibly do they both live in the pages of later editions that devotees would often take sides - make that Irma's side - in what appeared to be a conflict going on between the authors, lamenting that Marion's participation, which was less personable and more focused on health oriented recipes - had somehow harmed the book by imposing an inferior color to it. Whatever the case, the conflict could not have been so keenly felt had not both women left clear footprints.

Another factor that sets this cookbook apart is its so-called action format - a radically different format for presenting recipes. Irma conceived the idea sometime between the private publication of the 1931 first edition of The Joy of Cooking and the 1936 Bobbs-Merrill first trade edition - in fact, she used it as a selling point to help secure the acceptance of her book. Essentially, this approach was to eliminate the list of ingredients prefacing the directions - the so-called Fannie Farmer format - and instead work these ingredients into the body of the directions, introducing them when needed, in steps. Bobbs-Merrill took this even further, bold-facing and indenting ingredients four spaces in from the text so as to make them stand out. The result was to instantly distinguish The Joy of Cooking from any other cookbook ever published. This innovation also had the great advantage of allowing cooks to get on with things immediately with no delays via assembling all ingredients first, and a two-column format further enhanced readability.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

| Forum | Store | Publications | BookLinks | BookSearch | BookTopics | Archives | Advertise | AboutUs | ContactUs | Search Site | Site Map | Google Site Map

Store - Specials | BookHunt | BookShelf | Gold Edition & BookThink's Quarterly Market Report | DomainsForSale | BookThinker newsletter - free

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC

 Subscribe in a reader


Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment