In 1931, Irma S. Rombauer, a recent widow, took her life savings and self-published a cookbook that she hoped might support her family. Little did she know that her book would go on to become America's most beloved cooking companion. Thus was born the bestselling Joy of Cooking, and with it, a culinary revolution that continues to this day.
In Stand Facing the Stove, Anne Mendelson presents a richly detailed biographical portrait of the two remarkable forces behind Joy -- Irma S. Rombauer and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker -- shedding new light on the classic kitchen mainstay and on the history of American cooking. Mendelson weaves together three fascinating stories: the affectionate though often difficult relationship between Joy's original creator, Irma, and her eventual coauthor, Marion; the bitter dealings between the Rombauers and their publisher, Bobbs-Merrill (at whose hands the Rombauers likely lost millions of dollars); and the enormous cultural impact of the beloved book that Irma and Marion devoted their lives to refining, edition after edition.
Featuring an accessible new recipe format and an engaging voice that inspired home cooks, Joy changed the face of American cookbooks. Stand Facing the Stove offers an intimate look at the women behind this culinary bible and provides a marvelous portrait of twentieth-century America as seen through the kitchen window.
When St. Louis housewife Irma von Starkloff Rombauer (1877-1962) self-published The Joy of Cooking in 1931, she was, at age 54, a total amateur in the kitchen. Indianapolis publisher Bobbs-Merrill helped make her cookbook a huge bestseller in its subsequent editions. Whereas Rombauer brought a homespun, spontaneous style to her recipes, her daughter, Maron Rombauer Becker (1903-1976), who collaborated on Joy starting with the 1948 revision, transformed it into an all-purpose learning tool and also imbued it with health-food consciousness. By following Joy's successive incarnations as well as rival manuals, Mendelson, a culinary historian and freelance writer, serves up a delightful social history of Americans' changing cooking and eating habits. She sets Rombauer's German-American roots in the context of a thriving Midwestern immigrant community and also unravels both her and her daughter's tangled, acrimonious relationship with Bobbs-Merrill. Mendelson's narrative is enlivened by numerous personal stories: the suicide in 1930 of Rombauer's manic-depressive husband, Edgar, a civil rights lawyer; Becker's championing of modernist art and her crusading for affordable housing in Cincinnati; her often tense relationship with her mother, who criticized her plain looks; and her steadfast, loving care for her mother, who suffered repeated strokes, even as she herself fought the cancer to which she eventually succumbed. Photos.