The story behind The Joy of Cooking—in contrast to its name—is a tragic one. Irma Rombauer, a St. Louis, Missouri native hailing from a family of German immigrants, was in need of a way to cope with her husband’s suicide in 1930, around the time of the Great Depression. Though Irma herself had no official credentials, even described by her family as a “terrible cook,” she was encouraged by her children to start collecting her favorite recipes. After more than a year embarking on the task, ending up with more than 500 under her belt, she self-published The Joy of Cooking—and it quickly won the hearts of the local community, thanks to its crowd-pleasing recipes and convivial writing style that readers found easy to relate to.
More editions would follow over the next years as the Joy franchise would passed on to the succeeding generations of Irma’s family. Many changes would be made between their release, the most prominent of which include the following: old recipes being reworked to adapt with the evolving trends in cooking, such as ditching the use of canned mushroom soup for a scratch-made bechamel sauce; the addition of new recipes, with contributions from guest chefs; a shift in the style of writing, from the highly personable first edition to a more straightforward, almanac-like tone and back again; and most notably, the eventual introduction of a then-novel format listing ingredients within the procedures as they’re actually called in the recipe—a format now known as the ‘action method’. It taught many a novice housewife how to cook, and has sold about 18 million copies since its release.
To this day, The Joy of Cooking is considered a culinary bible by many. Need a recipe for beef stew? Flip to page 479. Cheesecake? The book has seven different versions. Chocolate pudding? Eggplant parmigiana? Buttermilk biscuits? Tips on stocking and storing food in the pantry? You’ll find it all there. Joy has all the recipes you need (and didn’t know you’d need), from the building blocks (basics such as omelettes or mayonnaise) to the more elaborate (If you look hard enough you’ll find a recipe for braised bear). It might not have the best, most creative, most innovative recipes out there. But it’s extensive, comprehensive, and—like a true friend in the kitchen—reliable, allowing you to whip up just about any dish at moment’s notice.
It was difficult to pick just one recipe in a sea of reliable classics, but I eventually settled on one of its more unusual entries: Joy’s take on Cincinnati-style chili, a specialty of the eponymous city in Ohio originally created by Macedonian immigrant Tom Kiradjieff in 1922. We chose it for its mix of flavors: beyond the standard beef and tomatoes, you get the warmth of spices like cinnamon and cloves, and the depth of chocolate that lingers in the background. You can take it plain (a.k.a. “one-way”) if you prefer, but for the full, authentic Cincinnati experience, we say go by the following serving suggestions: pile the mix on top of spaghetti noodles to have it “two-way”; top it off with shredded cheddar cheese for “three-way”; add chopped onions for “four-way”; and—to really take it to the highest level—add a smattering of red kidney beans to have it “five-way”. While the dish is far from hip or elegant (what with its kitschy, deliberately over-the-top character), a forkful of its complex but comforting flavors will convince you to keep this in your repertoire.
Cincinnati Chili Cockaigne
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition
Yield: 6 servings
Time: 3 hours (15 minutes prep / 2½ hours cooking / 15 minutes assembly)
- 4 cups water
- 2 lb ground beef chuck
- 2 pcs onions, chopped finely
- 5-6 pcs garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 15-oz can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 10 pcs black peppercorns, ground
- 8 pcs allspice berries, ground
- 8 pcs cloves, ground
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ oz unsweetened chocolate, grated
- 500g spaghetti, cooked
- 225g cheddar cheese, grated
- onions, chopped
- red kidney beans, cooked
- oyster crackers, optional
- hot pepper sauce, optional
- Bring water to a boil.
- Add ground beef. Stir until separated, and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Add onions, garlic, tomato sauce, vinegar, and worcestershire sauce.
- Stir in ground black pepper, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, salt, cinnamon, red pepper, cumin, and unsweetened chocolate.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2½ hours.
- Cool, uncovered, and refrigerate overnight.
- Skim off all or most of the fat from the chilled chili mixture and discard.
- Reheat the chili.
- For 2-way, serve over cooked spaghetti.
- For 3-way, top with grated cheddar.
- For 4-way, sprinkle onions on top of the cheese.
- For 5-way, top all with red kidney beans.
- Serve with oyster crackers and hot pepper sauce if desired.