When I was a little girl, my favorite part about helping my mom in the kitchen was flipping through her Joy of Cooking. The thin pages, tiny font, and overwhelming heaviness told me this was an Important Book, and my mother treated it as such. Her mom had a copy, she told me, and it was the only book they trusted. She’d scold me if I turned the pages too quickly, but I wanted to look at each and every illustration for as long as I could before moving onto the next one. I still remember the day I came upon Joy’s step-by-step guide for skinning a squirrel. I was horrified. Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker wanted you to do what?!
I suspect that if pressed to save one thing in a house fire, my mom would save her Joy of Cooking. (Don’t worry, I’d grab the dog.) The book is older than I am and still kicking, only showing signs of wear when it opens easily to her favorite recipe, a pecan bar cookie she makes every Christmas. Over the years, printouts of internet recipes have found their way between its leafs, and my great-aunt’s pie crust recipe has been lovingly copied onto the first page. In many ways I think she loves that book more than she loves her children.
I cannot and do not cook, and so I have never felt love for any cook book to rival my mother’s relationship with Joy. Until, that is, I went browsing through a CB2 and came across a Joy of Cooking bound in black leather.
It was beautiful. It was absurd. It still contained that illustration of a squirrel pelt meeting a boot (I checked) and it cost $156, making it the very definition of opulence, in that it was relatively expensive and would almost certainly endure oil splatter and depreciate in value if used the way it was intended. Cookbooks do not need leather covers — what if you accidentally set it down in flour? — and yet, this one has one, in a sumptuous black that screams “health goth.” It was like if Rick Owens had been distilled into over 1,000 pages of “action-method” recipes and homemaker tips that refuse to list the ingredients outright. I have never wanted anything so badly in my life.
This desire is hampered by the reality that I am the kind of person who is all too likely to store sweaters in my stove, and consider hummus and rice crackers an acceptable “dinner” most nights. Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable sides were made with people like me in mind. But Joy of Cooking speaks to me specifically because I have so many memories of my mom using it. I am convinced it is imbued with magical powers, and holds the secret to kitchens in the way other books do not. If I found a leather-bound How to Cook Everything, I am sure it would be lovely, but I am not sure I would be as obsessed.
Over email, Joy’s John Becker insisted that the cookbook’s origin story was simple: “I wish there was more to it than ‘someone came to us with a good idea.’” (The buried lede is obviously that I have now corresponded with someone presumably of the Rombauer Becker estate, which I am sure is going to blow my mom’s mind.) He credits a company called Graphic Image with the plan. “[They] approached us and Scribner with the idea of limited-edition, leather-bound Joys in 2015. Initially, they were interested in a ‘faithful’ white and red color scheme,” he notes, but that idea soon morphed into single-color editions in black, Yves Klein blue, rust, metallic gold, and millennial pink leather, as well as yellow suede.
Graphic Image also makes a number of other limited-edition, leather-bound books, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s in an appropriate teal and a fittingly opulent edition of The Great Gatsby. Should your copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, well, fail to spark enough joy in you, you can always try a leather-bound version on for size. Leslie Bazik at Graphic Image explained that the company, which specializes in day planners and other leather goods, was initially approached by Restoration Hardware to reproduce a leather-bound version of 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Mark & Graham later came to them with the idea of treating Joy of Cooking the same way (the company currently sells a vinyl-bound edition of Joy for $150 should you be worried about sauce splatter). As for the minimalist cover design, she credits Aesthetic Movement with the make-under.
I have no use for any one of Joy’s recipes, and yet I love the idea of being the kind of person with a black leather-bound edition of Joy of Cooking. Is a $156 cookbook going to make me better in the kitchen? Probably not. I will likely never skin a squirrel, or make aspic, or refer to guacamole as “avocado dip,” as Irma and Marion once did. I turned my oven on yesterday to roast sweet potatoes for easy breakfasts this week, and that is the full extent of my culinary know-how. I am under no pretenses that such an expensive book will improve my skills, nor is it a decent use of my extremely limited money. This is a book for people who have credit cards as black as its cover, not for writers.
And yet, I want it. So badly. It is so goth, and so beautiful. It speaks to my soul.
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