Brain Pickings

Wild Raspberries: Young Andy Warhol’s Little-Known Vintage Cookbook

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The story of a labor-of-love masterpiece that lay dormant for nearly half a century.

In the spring of 1959, legendary interior decorator and bohemian hostess Suzie Frankfurt came across the work of a young artist at one of the occasional art exhibits held at Manhattan’s Serendipity ice cream parlor. She was unfamiliar with him but was immediately taken with his whimsical watercolors of flowers and butterflies. The artist, it turned out, was Andy Warhol, who was working as an art director at Doubleday at the time and illustrating his little-known children’s books shortly before he invented himself as Andy Warhol.

Intrigued, Frankfurt got herself an appointment to be introduced to young Warhol and went to meet him in the fourth-floor walkup he shared with his mother, Julia Warhola. She recounts that fateful encounter:

I shall never forget that meeting. Andy greeted me as if we had known each other for years. He was especially fascinated by the fat I grew up in Malibu and had lived next door to [the actress] Myrna Loy. He also loved the fact I collected antique jewelry. I felt we had become new best friends in an instant. We made a lunch date for the following day, and that was how it started.

They became fast friends — a wavelength alignment only solidified when, one day, Warhol went to Frankfurt’s apartment for dinner and brought her a gold vermeil rose from Tiffany; she promptly filled a Coke bottle with water and put the rose in it — an act that especially delighted Warhol. By the fall, they had decided to collaborate on a series of handmade books that mocked the fashionable, mass-produced French cuisine cookbooks popular in the 1950s. Frankfurt wrote some recipes, Warhol illustrated them with his Dr. Martin’s paints, and his mother did the calligraphy. Wanting all the books to be hand-colored, they hired four boys who lived upstairs to come down every afternoon and do the coloring. So painstaking was the process that they were only able to produce 34 full-color books, which they took downtown for the rabbis to do the hand-binding. The result was nothing short of mesmerizing. But to the duo’s disappointment, the dream that New York’s booksellers would flood them with orders never materialized — instead, they left a few of their labor-of-love masterpieces for consignment at Doubleday and Rizzoli, and gave the rest away as Christmas presents to friends.

And so Wild Raspberries (public library), titled after the movie Wild Strawberries, lay dormant for more than forty years, until Frankfurt’s son, Jaime, discovered the cultural treasure in his mother’s papers and published it in 1997.

What’s perhaps most noteworthy about the cookbook, however, is that it became a laboratory in which Warhol perfected the process he would later instill in the heart of the Factory: He drew the pictures, a team of assistants colored them in, Frankfurt wrote the recipes, and Warhol’s mother transcribed them — an almost industrial production model in which Warhol conducted an orchestra of collaborators. Jaime Frankfurt writes of the process in the foreword:

Like a great chef, he would create the art, and then direct an assembly line of assistants to put it together.

As for the recipes, they cater more to the artistic than the culinary — more to expressionism than to realism. One instructs that you call Trader Vic’s, order a 40-pound suckling pig, then “have Hanley take the Carey Cadillac to the side entrance and receive the pig.” Frankfurt’s son captures their singular allure:

Clearly, [the recipes] won’t help with your cooking, but they are indicative of all of Andy’s work: they are immediate. … Wild Raspberries, like everything Warhol did, is about finished product, not about process.

For more unusual vintage cookbooks at the intersection of art and cuisine, complement Wild Raspberries with The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, an illustrated edition of the Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook, the Alice in Wonderland Cookbook, the James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book illustrated by the Provensens, the Liberace cookbook, and Mimi Sheraton’s impossibly delightful Seducer’s Cookbook.

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