Ode to Joy

 

Northern Joy

Don and Juanita Vogelsburg bought Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer’s former cottage in the Methodist settlement of Bay View, east of Petoskey, 45 years ago, though they didn’t realize it was Rombauer’s until they moved in.

"We were elated, of course," says Don, now in his 80’s, adding that "most all the women had Joy of Cooking." The Vogelsburgs installed a plaque on their front porch that says "1920-1936," the years the Rombauers, who lived in St. Louis, summered there.

In Stand Facing the Stove–The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking (1996, Henry Holt and Company), author Anne Mendelson offers more detail: "For many years the Rombauers leased a cottage on the edge of the woods in the Bay View settlement. Here all of them acquired some of Edgar’s [Irma’s husband’s] love for the unspoiled outdoors. From him Irma learned the pleasures of fishing and simply rusticating. (She would later credit him with teaching her how to cook, from his own camping skills.) … She developed a great skill at decorating cakes, an accomplishment [Irma’s daughter] Marion traced to a cooking course her mother–an inveterate pursuer of odd educational opportunities–had taken with a Mrs. Nannie Talbot Johnson of Paris, Kentucky, during one of the family’s many summers amid the Chatauqua classes at Bay View. … All who knew her cooking at first hand agree that her real talent was for contriving clever meals in no time flat, out of what chanced to be hanging around the place. (Marion believed that the Bay View vacations had been the great nurturer of this gift.) If cooking can provide joy, she found it in what is called "whipping something up."

And in Little Acorn: Joy of Cooking–The First Fifty Years, 1931-1981 (Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), Marion Rombauer Becker recalls how her mother, Irma, came to write the book after her father, Edgar’s, suicide: "By 1929 my brother had left home and I was planning to be married and live away, too. My father’s death in early 1930 left Mother, ten years his junior, with the realization that she would soon be entirely without the companionship of an immediate family. My brother and I had often urged her to put into systematic order the underlying directives of a personal cuisine, which had long since excited more than a neighborhood appreciation. It was at this juncture, partly to comply, chiefly to distract her keen unhappiness, that she decided to spend another summer in Michigan, taking with her, needless to say, the mimeographed sheaf of recipes she had compiled, some eight years before, for the Women’s Alliance. She knew she needed salvation in work, and that to work she must avoid people, much as she loved and attracted them. And so, on this very different kind of Michigan trip, she went not to Bay View, which she never again revisited, but to a small inn near Charlevoix, where she was a complete stranger. She had no inkling, of course, that she was carrying with her into Johnny Appleseed country a seed of even more promising potential … "

 

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