Eat like a Nobel winner: 1955 cookbook offers tastes of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s culinary past

    Pies, pastas, sauces, souffles and more — see fascinating recipes submitted by scientists and their families

    March 13, 2023

    By National Security Research Center staff

    Former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Harold Agnew’s barbecue sauce. Applesauce meatballs from the wife of Nobel laureate Frederick Reines. Two different recipes for chopped liver and dozens more for soups, salads, meats, breads, desserts, drinks — plus a big taste of the past.

    The “What’s Cooking” cookbook was published in Los Alamos in 1955 and recently discovered in a used bookstore in Santa Fe by Lab physicist Roseanne Cheng.


    “It was buried and on a forgotten shelf,” Cheng said. “I started flipping through it, and I couldn’t believe all the (recognizable) names inside.”

    The wives of Laboratory staff, including prominent scientists, and Los Alamos community members had submitted recipes to the Los Alamos chapter of Hadassah, also known as the Women's Zionist Organization of America — an American Jewish volunteer women's organization — which compiled them and printed the book.

    “There’s so much to learn about Los Alamos back then from the food they were eating,” Cheng said.

    Both a peek inside the kitchens of Los Alamos and a snapshot of gender roles nearly 70 years ago, “What’s Cooking” is a little tattered with food stains on its yellowing pages, but its contents are intact and legible. Cheng paid $12 for the cookbook, perused it with great interest and then decided to donate it to the Lab’s National Security Research Center (NSRC).

    But not before she made dinner.

    Easy, tasty recipes

    Cheng chose the “company casserole” recipe (below) submitted by Elsie M. Tuck, wife of James Tuck, who came to Los Alamos during World War II to work on the atomic bomb and then later thermonuclear power.

    “He’s a physicist I admire. And his wife was a genius — the recipe was easy and it tasted good,” Cheng said. “I thought, 'I should do this [make casseroles] more often.'"


    Pies for Pi Day (and any day)

    The pages of the book are filled with appetizers and entrées, but you’ll also find plenty of desserts: cheesecakes, sponge cakes and even something called a “fruitcake-ice cream brick.” On March 14 — 3/14, celebrated as “Pi Day” in honor of the mathematical constant 3.14159 — you might be especially compelled to try your hand at the peppermint chiffon pie, lemon cheesecake pie,  sugar pie or shoo-fly pie (all below).


    Making yesterday accessible today

    “What’s Cooking” is now a part of the NSRC’s collections, as is a digitized copy. Part of the NSRC’s mission includes the digitization of materials to preserve information and make it accessible, be it classified weapons data or unclassified historical relics like this one.

    “Preservation and digitization allow a physical object to live on while increasing the discovery and understanding of the Laboratory’s mission and history,” said Mia Jaeggli, a digital archivist.

    By creating high-quality digital collections, the NSRC is ensuring access to vital historical resources, she said. “That access enables today’s researchers to discover and use the NSRC’s collections.”