One of the last things Osa Johnson wrote about before her untimely death was her desire to write a cookbook. The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum decided to fulfill her wish by collecting all the known recipes she used or invented and publish them as I COOKED Adventure. FOOD in the FIELD, a special exhibition highlighting these recipes and teaming them with photographs and artifacts from collections is now showing in the Selsor Art Gallery through April.
I COOKED ADVENTURE is available in the Osa’s Ark Museum Store.
If you go, I go”
When Osa took her wedding vows, she was also agreeing on a life forever on the move. The recipes that Osa carried from her home in Chanute, Kansas went with her around the globe, serving as both a link to her own heritage and becoming the definition of what we call “comfort food” today. It took considerable ingenuity and a great deal of hard work to produce the same midwestern flavors thousands of miles from the family kitchen. Whenever she found new foods, Osa simply made up new recipes. The Johnsons are credited with inventing the wildlife documentary film genre, but Osa should also be recognized for her role in the popularity of international culinary fusions.
In her own words, Osa would rave about the culinary delights found all over the world, but especially in Africa. “Much as I enjoyed the vegetables and fruits out of our garden that was planted with Kansas seeds, I think I relished even more the wild delicacies I found in the forest. Often I’d return to camp or our home at Lake Paradise with armfuls of wild asparagus and spinach. There was black cranberry, very sweet and good; a native coffee I could roast, abundant mushrooms, a fruit that seemed a cross between an apricot and an apple, a bitter wild plum that made fine jam and a wonderful brown honey. Oh, Darkest Africa!”
Osa is credited in hundreds of news articles for her culinary skills, and her recipes appeared in books and articles in all 50 states and 8 countries—that we’ve found so far—but her mother, Belle Leighty, succinctly summed up Osa’s cooking skills:
“Osa was a born cook. She didn’t use recipes—she could taste a dish and know if it was right. She was one of those cooks who use what is at hand, and improvise and substitute for what is not.”