Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe

What shall we read before bed?

Geor­gia O’Keeffe was a fan of cook­books, telling her young assis­tant Mar­garet Wood that they were “enjoy­able night­time com­pa­ny, pro­vid­ing brief and pleas­ant read­ing.”

Among the culi­nary vol­umes in her Abiquiu, New Mex­i­co ranch home were The Fan­ny Farmer Boston Cook­ing School Cook­bookThe Joy of Cook­ingLet’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Cook Right, Live Longer.

Also Pick­ups and Cheerups from the War­ing Blender, a 21-page pam­phlet fea­tur­ing blend­ed cock­tails, that now rests in Yale University’s Bei­necke Library, along with the rest of the con­tents of O’Keeffe’s recipe box, acquired the night before it was due to be auc­tioned at Sotheby’s. (Some of the images on this page come cour­tesy of Sothe­by’s.)

In addi­tion to recipes—inscribed by the artist’s own hand in ink from a foun­tain pen, typed by assis­tants, clipped from mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, or in pro­mo­tion­al book­lets such as the one pub­lished by the War­ing Prod­ucts Company—the box housed man­u­als for O’Keeffe’s kitchen appli­ances.

The book­let that came with her pres­sure cook­er includes a spat­tered page devot­ed to cook­ing fresh veg­gies, a tes­ta­ment to her abid­ing inter­est in eat­ing health­ful­ly.

O’Keeffe had a high regard for sal­ads, gar­den fresh herbs, and sim­ple, local­ly sourced food.

Today’s bud­dha bowl craze is, how­ev­er, “the oppo­site of what she would enjoy” accord­ing to Wood, author of the books Remem­ber­ing Miss O’Ke­effe: Sto­ries from Abiquiu and A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Geor­gia O’Keeffe.

Wood, who was some 66 years younger than her employ­er, recent­ly vis­it­ed The Spork­ful pod­cast to recall her first days on the job :

…she said, “Do you like to cook?” 

And I said, “Yes, I cer­tain­ly do.” 

So she said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” 

And after two days of my hip­pie health food, she said, “My dear, let me show you how I like my food.” My first way of try­ing to cook for us was a lot of brown rice and chopped veg­eta­bles with chick­en added. And that was not what she liked. 

An exam­ple of what she did like: Roast­ed lemon chick­en with fried pota­toes, a green sal­ad fea­tur­ing let­tuce and herbs from her gar­den, and steamed broc­coli.

Also yogurt made with the milk of local goats, whole wheat flour ground on the premis­es, water­cress plucked from local streams, and home can­ning.

Most of these labor-inten­sive tasks fell to her staff, but she main­tained a keen inter­est in the pro­ceed­ings.

Not for noth­ing did the friend who referred Wood for the job warn her it would “require a lot of patience because Miss O’Ke­effe was extreme­ly par­tic­u­lar.”

The jot­tings from the recipe box don’t real­ly con­vey this exact­ing nature.

Those accus­tomed to the extreme­ly spe­cif­ic instruc­tions accom­pa­ny­ing even the sim­plest recipes to be found on the Inter­net may be shocked by O’Ke­ef­fe’s brevi­ty.


Per­haps we should assume that she sta­tioned her­self close by the first time any new hire pre­pared a recipe from one of her cards, know­ing she would have to ver­bal­ly cor­rect and redi­rect.

(O’Keeffe insist­ed that Wood stir accord­ing to her method—don’t scrape the sides, dig down and lift up.)

The box also con­tained recipes that were like­ly rar­i­ties on O’Keeffe’s table, giv­en her dietary pref­er­ences, though they are cer­tain­ly evoca­tive of the peri­od: toma­to aspic, Mary­land fried chick­enFloat­ing Islands, and a cock­tail she may have first sipped in a San­ta Fe hotel bar.

The Bei­necke plans to dig­i­tize its new­ly acquired col­lec­tion. This gives us hope that one day, the Geor­gia O’Keeffe Muse­um may fol­low suit with the red recipe binder Wood men­tions in A Painter’s Kitchen:

This was affec­tion­ate­ly referred to as “Mary’s Book,” named after a pre­vi­ous staff mem­ber who had com­piled it. That note­book was con­tin­u­al­ly con­sult­ed, and revised to include new recipes or to improve on old­er ones…. As she had col­lect­ed a num­ber of healthy and fla­vor­ful recipes, she would occa­sion­al­ly laugh and com­ment, “We should write a cook­book.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Explore 1,100 Works of Art by Geor­gia O’Keeffe: They’re Now Dig­i­tized and Free to View Online

Geor­gia O’Keeffe: A Life in Art, a Short Doc­u­men­tary on the Painter Nar­rat­ed by Gene Hack­man

The Art & Cook­ing of Fri­da Kahlo, Sal­vador Dali, Geor­gia O’Keeffe, Vin­cent Van Gogh & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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