Alcoholic, adulterer … and foodie? As a stash of the painter’s personal recipes are published, an old friend spills the beans on dinner chez Pollock and Krasner.
By Carmel Melouney. ‘Exceptional’: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s foolproof recipe for blueberry blintzes. Photograph: Robyn Lea
Jackson Pollock’s alcoholism and adultery are well documented. Less well known is that the celebrated modern artist was a massive foodie – before the term even came to prominence. That we know more about Pollock’s wild nights at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village than we do about his prize-winning apple pie says something about the way we fetishise tortured artists – readily equating bacchanalian behaviour with creative genius. But a new book sheds light on the softer side of Pollock’s life.
Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature is the work of Robyn Lea, an Australian photographer based in New York who first visited Springs, the hamlet in East Hampton where Pollock lived with wife and fellow artist, Lee Krasner, to document the couple’s creative process. “I ended up in the pantry photographing their pots and pans, and that got me thinking: ‘I wonder what they ate? Were they cooks [or] did they not care?’ ” says Lea.
It was on a follow-up visit that she discovered Pollock and Krasner’s handwritten recipes hidden in the back of their cookbooks. “It was mind-boggling to see bread recipes in Jackson’s handwriting perfectly crafted along the page,” says Lea, who was given permission by the Pollock family to publish the recipes.
Among the notes were lots of recipes for rye bread (Pollock was a seasoned baker) as well as his foolproof apple pie, which won top prize at a local fair. “We know he won on more than one year because the locals would bid ahead before he made the pie – they knew that his was always the best,” says Lea.
Other recipes include that staple of the hipster diner menu, classic American mac’n’cheese, and special dishes such as artist Elaine de Kooning’s fruit and grain salad. “They used a lot of ingredients that were purely available to them often without cost at all because they would find the ingredients themselves,” says Lea. “He loved clamming in the local bay, and the whole area around Springs, and they would do clams with garlic and dry vermouth, or classic clam pies with potato, which is very typical on that south fork of Long Island.”
There were also recipes from Pollock’s mother, Stella – dishes such as eggplant Constantinople and Swedish meatballs – but Lea’s favourite discovery was the couple’s take on blintzes, a type of thin pancake: “when they’re done well and done fresh, they’re exceptional and these are done with a really delicate almost cheesecake filling with a blueberry sauce.”
Lea met several people who had dined with the pair at their home, and found close friends of Pollock’s were willing to discuss his cooking because “food wasn’t one of those subjects that people found threatening”. Among these was fellow artist Cile Lord, who still lives in Springs and dined with Pollock and his mistress, Ruth Kligman, the night before he died in a car crash in 1956.
“[Lord] was very much in the circle and was able to shed some light on the way Krasner would entertain: the very strategic way of ensuring the right people were at the table, how particular she was about the presentation of a dish and how it should look and what brand of ingredients you should use,” says Lea. “All these particular things, I think, reflect her desire to do things in an artistic way and also her quite controlling personality.”
As for Pollock, Lord said he had to dealt with a lot of nastiness from people who didn’t understand his work, and this could be witnessed over the dinner table. “He often started off at the table very sweet and interested, asking her and her husband about their work, and by the end of the dinner, he would ask the same questions again in a different way with a different tone, more accusatory in their feel. Questions like: ‘Are you an artist? Oh, you’re an artist!’ ”
Pollock’s behaviour often deteriorated during dinner because of his drinking; it was around 1950 that alcohol began playing a bigger part in Pollock’s life, as evidenced by the recipes for “food cures” Lea discovered. “He had a pharmacist who basically suggested if he follow his diet – it was called the ‘proteen [sic] diet – that he would be cured.”
The diet stipulated a very particular list of ingredients – black molasses but no honey; beets but no other vegetables – alongside mineral injections and a twice-daily dose of a soy-based protein drink. “Essentially, it was a very healthy vegetarian diet,” ” says Lea, “but obviously used in a way that was never going to work for the intended purpose.”