Los Alamos scientists couldn’t get enough of this sweet treat. Courtesy of LANL
LANL PRESS RELEASE
BY PATTY TEMPLETON
National Security Research Center
In 27 months, Manhattan Project scientists created the world’s first nuclear weapons. They had a six-day work week and a goal of harnessing atomic energy before Adolf Hitler. Amid this constant stress, boosting morale was in order.
In a nod to National Cake Day (November 26), here’s how a woman and her chocolate cake played a role in shaping the minds of scientists when they discovered how to turn atoms into energy.
When the Los Alamos scientists needed a break, they drove halfway to Santa Fe and stopped at Otowi Crossing. Near a wooden suspension bridge, too rickety for army trucks to cross, Edith Warner had a tea room, a single gas pump and a small guest house.
The lab’s future director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, met Warner in the summer of 1937. Years later, after the then-secret Los Alamos lab was set up, Oppenheimer convinced his boss, General Leslie Groves, to allow scientists to visit Warner’s house for dinner, while it was closed to the public.
Throughout the war, Warner offered dinner for $2 per person and did not accept tips. She served five to six couples a night, sometimes having two seats, but eventually had to downsize for health reasons. No running water, no electricity and a wood stove made for a 16 hour shift.
Warner didn’t have a phone. According to “In the Shadow of Los Alamos”, future lab director Harold Agnew made reservations in person, “one minute after midnight when Edith said she had a few openings and would give them on a first-mover basis. arrived on a certain date. He said he was not the only one at that time with the same idea.
Oppenheimer had a permanent weekly reservation. Other regulars included top scientists in the lab Norris Bradbury, Phillip Morrison, Edward Teller, Stanislaw Ulam, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr — all used pseudonyms to make their reservations.
Warner served dishes from the garden to the table. A typical meal included boiled corn, five varieties of squash (she grew 10), stew (seasoned meat simmered with vegetables; pronounced “ra-goo”), and chocolate cake with raspberries.
Print and Bake
You can make the cake that scientists loved. Warner freely shared his recipe. This version appeared in “The House at Otowi Bridge” by Peggy Pond Church. (Be sure to use the recipe below; previous prints had an error in the amount of flour.)