The Iconic Cookbook That Shaped 20th Century Cooking

While it may seem that all cooking in the United States leads back to Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" or "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," there is an American cookbook that predates those classics that is just as important. Child even referenced it as "the one book of all cookbooks in English" that she believed was essential.

While the first cookbook is said to have been written on four clay tablets in 1700 BC Mesopotamia, they eventually were embraced by European nobility in the 1300s, per Eat Well. It wasn't until centuries later that cookbooks began to be used by the average home cook, per Eat Well. The first American cookbook was printed in 1796 and titled "American Cookery," according to Book Riot, but recipes didn't appear in a form similar to today's step-by-step guide until 1896 with Fannie Mae Farmer's "The Boston Cooking School Cookbook." The years after World War II spurred the publication of more cookbooks as women returned to the kitchen to take care of their spouses and children and were expected to prepare meals, according to Eat Well.

Decades of culinary guidance

For decades, cooks have turned to "The Joy of Cooking." First published in 1931, the book remains in print today. Described on Simon & Schuster's website as an "indispensable reference," it's no wonder Child found value in its recipes.

"The Joy of Cooking" was written by Irma Rombauer and included a revolutionary approach to recipes — the ingredients were taken out of the directions and listed separately (via Guide Posts). The recipes in "The Joy of Cooking" were all part of Rombauer's collection and included Charlotte Russe and Chicken a la King. It was updated in 1943 to help home cooks during World War II deal with rationing. In 1951, "The Joy of Cooking" was amended to include frozen foods, pressure cookers, and electric blenders, per Guide Posts. In addition to Child heralding the importance of "The Joy of Cooking," it was listed as a book that shaped America by the Library of Congress in 2012. Rombauer's descendants continue to assist with the updates, per CBS News. The most recent edition of the cookbook, published in 2019, includes 600 new recipes and more than 4,000 favorites that have been revised and updated, according to the book's cover.

Whether you own an old copy of "The Joy of Cooking" or have never owned a version, you may want to buy one. After all, the recipes that include squirrels or muskrats have been removed, and the book now contains recipes for mushroom confit and fudgy brownies.