Born in 1913, Elsie Henderson lived a life full of rich family, social and cultural experiences, and included among them was her culinary merit. Elsie learned baking and cooking techniques from her mother, and it was that comfort food, southern style of cooking that commanded her presence in the homes of some of Pittsburgh’s most prominent families, including the Heinzes and Mellons.
After Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., tasted one of her dishes, Ms. Henderson, then 34, was asked to join the Fallingwater staff as the cook at this important site. Fallingwater’s extraordinary architecture and beautiful landscape offered renewal in nature, and from 1947 to 1963, Elsie elevated the Fallingwater experience further through her culinary expertise and delicious, memorable meals.
Along with being a talented cook, Elsie was a wonderfully charismatic and passionate person, and she built lasting relationships with the Kaufmanns and Fallingwater. Even after the house became a museum, Elsie frequently visited with the museum’s staff to share her love of Fallingwater and strong affection for the Kaufmanns.
Her memories have enriched our understanding of the house’s interior life, giving us rare glimpses into the tastes and personalities of the family and their friends. Those memories, family stories and her recipes are the subject of “The Fallingwater Cookbook,” which captures the experience of fine and casual dining that she helped shape.
The passing of Elsie on March 20, 2021, marks a tremendous loss for all of us, but through her wonderful stories and recipes, the rich culinary history she created will forever live on as a remarkable and treasured part of the Fallingwater story.
The staffs and boards of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Fallingwater extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to Elsie Henderson’s family and friends. She was 107.
Justin W. Gunther
Vice President, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy