Cockaigne, the estate of Marion Rombauer Becker and John Becker in Anderson Township.
The Joy of Cooking is probably the most widely known cookbook in America. Started in 1933, by Germanic immigrant Irma Starkloff Rombauer, it produced editions into the third generation of the Rombauer family, and is still in print.
Irma Starkloff Rombauer, author of Joy of Cooking.
And many don’t know it’s Cincinnati connection and its connection to Bauhaus architecture. When Irma’s daughter Marion Becker took over the cookbook from her mother in 1963, she was living in Cincinnati at her Bauhaus estate in Anderson Township, which the family referred to as Cockaigne, named after a medieval fantasy land.
Her husband, John William Becker, was the foremost Bauhaus architect in Cincinnati, and had built Cockaigne from his designs in 1940. Germany, where the Bauhaus style originated, is celebrating 100 years of Bauhaus design this year. Becker is also famous for the Rauh-Pulitzer house in Woodlawn that the Cincinnati Preservation Society recently restored back to life. I had the opportunity to tour it with the CPA shortly after its restoration and can attest that it’s a masterpiece of modern design. Although more known for his architecture, and wild 70s Trumpian combover, Becker also contributed to the Joy cookbook series with his wit and humor.
John Becker, Cincinnati Bauhaus architect and Joy contributor
Irma was the first sort of amateur cook to undertake a cookbook. She was the daughter of German immigrants in St. Louis who were culturally and politically active. She had no culinary credentials. Her philosophy was that women learned how to cook under the tutelage of a good friend. She wanted to be that friend. At the time all American cookbooks were written by famous chefs or school marms like Fanny Farmer, who had taught in the culinary world. Irma invented the action form of recipes – integrating ingredients into the steps, and added commentary and history for each recipe.
Marion Rombauer Becker
But her daughter, Marion brought a new perspective to the Joy of Cooking series. She added the term “Cockaigne” to any recipe that was one that the family made in their own home. Items like Chocolate Chip Cookies Cockaigne and even Cincinnati Chili Cockaigne (which proliferated the myth of chocolate in Cincinnati Chili), started showing up in editions up to 1976, when Marion passed away and passed the biz along to her son Ethan. Having served as the first professional director of the Cincinnati Modern Art Society, Marion brought a modern design perspective to the books that shunned photography and used only line drawings to demonstrate methods. She also added new recipes utilizing whole grains and introduced Americans to new foods like tofu, jicama, and kiwi.
Unfortunately the wonderful Cockaigne estate was demolished in 2005, but the Joy of Cooking lives on as the most influential American cookbook.