Edith Warner’s Atomic Tea Room

iIt was top secret. But everyone in Santa Fe knew there was something going on up on the hill in the remote, desert mountains of Los Alamos in 1943. J. Robert Oppenheimer and dozens of the top scientists and thinkers in the world were sequestered away up there — fenced in, with military guard towers all around. But there was one little sanctuary down along the river where they could escape and find solace, nature, normalcy — Edith Warner’s Tea Room.

Edith Warner’s small, rustic home and her legendary chocolate cake brought solace to members of the Manhattan Project as they secretly worked to build the atomic bomb — reshaping the future of modern warfare. When they weren’t at the lab, there was a good chance that Oppenheimer and his colleagues were at Edith’s tea room, savoring the fresh vegetables she grew in her garden and the chance to disconnect from the unimaginable weight of their task. Through Edith’s eyes and the civilian bystanders who witnessed this extraordinary effort we see these souls in their last mundane moments before man and god bled together forever.

Produced by Brandi Howell, Mary Franklin Harvin, and Zoe Kurland

Special thanks to Jon Else, Meridel Rubenstein, Patty Templeton, Nick Lewis, Steven Horak from the Los Alamos National Lab, to Sharon Snyder and the staff of the Los Alamos Historical Society, Ellen Bradbury Reed, and Paul Rainbird.

The Kitchen Sisters Present, part of PRX’s Radiotopia, is produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson) with Brandi Howell and Nathan Dalton.

Edith Warner’s Chocolate Cake

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups flour, sifted three times
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 oz baker’s chocolate
4 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 250° F. Grease and flour a 9” x 5” loaf pan. Mix eggs, sugar and flour. Mix in milk gradually. Mix in salt, vanilla and baking powder. Melt together baker’s chocolate and butter. Beat all ingredients together until light. 

Bake 1 hour total. First 15 minutes at 250° F. Next 15 minutes at 275° F. Remainder of time at 300° F.

3 heaping tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons coffee or milk

Sift sugar and cocoa together.
Beat all ingredients until smooth.

The recipe is slightly altered for clarity and the measurements are standardized. Baking times and temperatures are approximated. (Edit Warner didn’t list oven temperatures or times and used a wood stove.) Increase cake moistness by decreasing baking powder to 1 teaspoon and increasing milk by 1 tablespoon. When available, Edith Warner added raspberries. 

The Oppenheimer Martini

  • 4 oz dry gin
  • A smidgen of dry vermouth
  • To rim the glass: lime juice and honey