Small Talk

No Joy in cooking without butter

The holidays are upon us, which, in my house, means lots of delicious baking. While I consider myself flexible, I finally discovered where I draw my culinary line in the sand – or perhaps in the flour. It was when CNN broke the news that a team of editors had revised and updated “Joy of Cooking.”

If anyone is unfamiliar, “Joy of Cooking” has been the primary cookbook for America’s homemakers since 1931. It was the book I saw my mother use almost daily, and it was the first cookbook given to me. It is the cookbook that saved my fanny more than once. It is where you go to find out how to convert a sugar measurement because you can only find honey, or to make a basic white sauce to dress up that can of tuna. It tells how to make punch for 50 people, how to set a table, how to double a recipe and how to prepare that weird cut of meat you got on sale today. It probably even tells you how to boil water.

I am hanging on to my first copy, the 1953 edition, stained and dog-eared. According to Ethan Becker, grandson to the original author, Edith Rombauer, the changes in the new book include doing away with the recipe for braised heart and adding Portobello pizza. That sounded reasonable. But just as I considered packing the old book away, they admitted that the majority of recipes now contain no butter.

No butter? Oh no, you just didn’t. This means I will have my old cookbook laminated to preserve it forever. If I am going to bother cooking something that requires a cookbook or take the time to bake up special sweets, the taste needs to be worth the trouble.

If you think I sound politically incorrect,  know that my diet contains lots of fish, vegetables and whole grains these days. I use almond milk, lots of olive oil and turkey-substitute everything. My husband even eats tofu.
But my mom left her mark on me. A treat is a treat. After being raised on Mom’s cooking, I will rarely tolerate store-bought baked goods or eat biscuits with only jelly. Without butter, treats lose all treatness and become something I am not willing to waste my allotment of treat calories on.

Maybe I will put one copy of our “Joy of Cooking” (we have two) into the safety deposit box, or at least into our fireproof safe. I wonder how long you can freeze butter? (My “Joy of Cooking” can probably tell me.)

Life with nary a buttery treat would be simply too, too drab. Physical must be weighed against mental health. For that balance, I believe we all occasionally need a little shortbread, some real whipped cream on our pie or a home-baked chocolate chip cookie. Without them, you might live to be 100, or it might just feel like you have.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer with visions of sugar plums dancing in her head. Contact her at

1 comment

John Becker November 8, 2015 at 8:27 am

Hello Jean,

We’re not sure who gave you the idea that we did away with butter in our recipes–certainly it was not CNN, or my father Ethan. I can assure you: we did not. Butter is an essential, life-giving substance in our household. We call for it in our recipes all the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to flip a few pages of the book without seeing butter in an ingredient line (the Beverages and Frozen Desserts chapters probably have a solid dozen pages that are butter-free). Butter is great. We use the word “butter” over 1,500 times in the latest edition, published 2006. Oh, and our recipe for Baked Stuffed Heart is on page 520.

Butter aside, the 1953 edition, the last written by my great grandmother Irma, is a fantastic book with much to recommend it. Laminate away! The binding might need some help too.

Best wishes,
John Becker
Joy of Cooking

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