Around a table with a paint-splattered cloth, photographer Robyn Lea and guests waited for the first course. In the kitchen, which looks the same as it did when Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner used it, Mike Rozzi, chef at 1770 House in East Hampton, was ladling bright magenta soup into bowls and placing salmon loaf on bread made using a recipe from Pollock’s own collection.
Music played through a Bluetooth speaker connected to someone’s iPhone. “If we were here during Pollock’s time,” said Helen A. Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, “the music would be coming out of here.” She opened a closet door in which a hole had been cut to hold an old cone speaker. Inside was a turntable. The guests marveled aloud. “They were poor artists,” she said. “They had to make everything themselves.”
Which might be why Lea’s new book, Dinner with Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art and Nature (Assouline, 2015) is so fascinating. Residents of the East End are very familiar with Pollock—who lived at 830 Springs Fireplace Road from 1945 until his death in a car accident in 1956—and his instantly recognizable masterpieces, and many have visited the house and the studio where one has to change into foam slippers to walk on the multicolored floor where the drips from his brushes and sticks are art itself. But like Lea, who had photographed the grounds and buildings and interiors many times, we know there is more to the story. What was his everyday life like? How was it informed? And, if you get down to the mundane, what did he eat?
That answer came when Harrison showed Lea a collection of 16 handwritten recipes. The more the two looked, the more recipes they found: on scraps of paper and used envelopes, and tucked inside the covers of cookbooks. Pollock’s father was a farmer, and he grew up with a mother, Stella, in full command of the kitchen; she selected the best of her husband’s produce for her own cooking before he left for the market. After he married Krasner and they bought the house in Springs (with the help of a $2,000 loan from Peggy Guggenheim), Pollock maintained an extensive garden with fruit and vegetables. According to Lea’s book, he “loved nothing more than to make a batch of fluffy pancakes for his friends, open fresh clams at high speed to share with guests who came up from the city or bake an apple pie for the annual local fair competition.” (His pie regularly won at the Fisherman’s Fair at Ashawagh Hall.) He bought chickens at Iacono Farm and dug clams using a rake or his feet from Accabonac Creek behind his home. During her research, Lea found a profound connection between food, art and nature in the artists’ lives.
The recipes, Lea believes, illustrate that connection. And each new recipe led to another story, and Harrison credits her for “excavating” family members, who have added to the study center’s archives. For her book, Lea worked with Rozzi, who tested many of the recipes and updated some so home cooks could easily replicate what Jackson Pollock and his friends ate while disrupting the art world.
In August, the duo invited a dozen lucky souls to eat a meal made from Pollock and Krasner’s recipes in their home, which in many ways is much the same as when Pollock was alive. (Krasner continued to live and work there until her death in 1984.) The number posted on the rotary phone, EA4-4929, is still in service today.
For the dinner, Rozzi made borscht with Stella’s salmon loaf on Jackson’s white bread, Bonac clam pie served in the shell with spinach muffins and tomato chutney, and strawberry peach Bavarian crème with Cody cookies. (The Cody cookies are believed to be named after Cody, Wyoming, where Pollock was born. The meringue topping on these drop cookies resemble snow-topped mountains.)
All of the prep for the dinner was done in the kitchen at 1770 House, but the final heating and assembly were done in the kitchen where Krasner’s spice rack still hangs and a narrow gas stove still stands. The artists’ dishes and utensils were integral to the plating, and the diners got to sit at the same very large, heavy wooden expandable table where Pollock and Krasner encouraged a whole new culture. At the end, they also got to watch the light fade over the east-facing back lawn, just as Pollock did in the early ’50s.