The Joy of Cooking is My Desert Island Book

As your elite cookbook expert, I, the Book Cook, would like to take a minute to tell you that The Joy of Cooking is the cookbook I would choose if forced to choose one, and only one, to cook from for the rest of my life. It is the cookbook I would take with me to a desert island, provided that island was equipped with a kitchen and a 24-hour supermarket. If it weren’t, I’d probably take some sort of “how to survive in the wilderness” book so I could hunt and gather like a cavewoman.

And yes, I’d hunt if I had to. I am a vegetarian, but if I were stranded and had to eat fish or die, I imagine I would take the fish. People seem to love quizzing me on what hypothetical circumstances would make me eat meat. I am not sure why, it’s not like I am going to be magically tricked into becoming an omnivore. I mean, what are they trying to prove? That I am not that good at being a vegetarian? Except I am. That it is OK for them to eat meat? It is. Just not OK for me. That I am just as much a depraved carnivore as my vegetarianism makes them feel? I’m still depraved. We all are. We’re all just monkeys and vegetarianism won’t change that.

Let’s get back to The Joy of CookingLike any prepared cook scout, I have no fewer than three copies. One vintage copyrighted 1964 (oh, those gelatin molds), one distinctly 90’s (lots of low-fat recipes and tofu was novel), and one recent copy from around 2006. Each is important in their own way. You see, they are beyond comprehensive and they have never, ever failed me. I have cooked dozens of recipes from them, if not hundreds, and they have always been winners. I go through phases where I’ll cook one type of dish from as many different cookbooks as I can. I’ve had pancake phases, pumpkin bread phases, mac and cheese phases, and so on. The version of whatever I’m working on from The Joy of Cooking is usually deemed the winner. It just can’t lose.

In toying with ideas of what recipe to share with you, I decided to share a recipe that has stood the test of time from the oldest to the newest copy. It had to be something I had no experience with, something maybe a lot of us don’t have experience with, because it’s old-fashioned. Obviously, since the recipe was included in the newest version, it is still worth making. Hence, I bring you spoon bread. There were two tiny differences between the old and new renditions. In the old Joy it was called Crusty OR Soft-Center Spoon Bread, and called for 1/4 less cornmeal. The new version is simply Crusty Soft-Center Spoon Bread. I made the older version, since I enjoyed being given naming options and was not feeling corn-y. At least not like that; there is enough corny content in my writing.

It’s gonna look like a flipping mess going into the oven, like a pool of butter and milk. You won’t think it is going to work. But it will. Oh, will it ever! And like the title, it goes two ways: you can make it with a savory side of salsa, or pour on some maple syrup for ye olde sweet tooth. Final note: the recipe advises you to bake it “until good and crusty.” If that doesn’t sound like a winner, I don’t know what does.

Crusty or Soft-Center Spoon Bread adapted from Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. double-acting baking powder
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup milk + 1/2 cup milk(I used almond milk)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter (I used unsalted)

Heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder, then sift them into a medium sized bowl. Whisk together the 1 cup milk and egg, then stir them into the cornmeal mixture. Put the butter in an 8×8 square dish (I used a Pyrex one) and put it in the oven just until the butter melts. Take it out and make sure the butter is evenly coating the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour in the batter, then pour the remaining 1/2 milk on top. Put it in the oven and do indeed make sure it is good and crusty before you take it out. Mine took around 40 minutes but start checking around 35; every oven is different!

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