A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus, and Recipes


A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus, and Recipes

by Mary Brigid Barrett 


The White House Kitchen
White House Menus
A Sampling of Recipes from the First Ladies and a few from the Presidents, too!
Activity Ideas for Young People
Discussion Questions for Young People at Home and in the Classroom
Reference Sources



The White House Kitchen

When she toured the White House kitchen in 1933, Henrietta Nesbitt, Eleanor Roosevelt’s housekeeper, found cockroaches crawling about. In her book White House Diary she describes her first inspection of the premises—“I can’t work up any charm for cockroaches. No matter how you scrub it, old wood isn’t clean. This was the ‘first kitchen in America,’ and it wasn’t even sanitary. Mrs. Roosevelt and I poked around, opening doors and expecting hinges to fall off and things to fly out. It was that sort of place. Dark-looking cupboards, a huge old-fashioned gas range, sinks with time-worn wooden drains, one rusty wooden dumb waiter. The refrigerator was wood inside and bad-smelling. Even the electric wiring was old and dangerous. I was afraid to switch things on.”

“There is only one solution,” she told Mrs. Roosevelt. “We must have a new kitchen.”

Public Works Project No. 634 was instituted; demolition and new construction on the kitchen began in the summer of 1935. During the Depression, the jobless rate was exceedingly high and Franklin Roosevelt insisted relief workers be employed for the reconstruction whenever possible. The renovation, planned by the White House staff and engineers from General Electric and Westinghouse corporations, reconfigured the working space, replaced rusted pipes, put in a whole new electrical system with all-new electric appliances, and installed more efficient dumbwaiters to transport the food to the State Floor dining rooms above. New equipment included six roasting ovens, a sixteen-foot-long stove, eight refrigerators, five dishwashers, a soup kettle, a meat grinder, waffle irons, multiple mixers, a thirty-gallon ice-cream storage freezer, and a deep fryer that held five gallons of fat. Stainless steel storage and counter tops were installed throughout.

The President and Mrs. Roosevelt were delighted, but Mrs. Nesbitt reported that the staff was overwhelmed by the latest technological innovations. They continued to do things the way they had been done in the past: washing dishes, as well as chopping and slicing food—by hand. And unfortunately for President Roosevelt, a new kitchen did not improve the quality or variety of Mrs. Nesbitt’s menus. Mrs. Nesbitt believed in economical, simple, American fare: cheap cuts of meat including brains, sweetbreads, and beef tongues; mashed potatoes; flavorless canned vegetables; molded gelatin salads dotted with marshmallows; and insipid desserts. Franklin Roosevelt once joked that the only reason he sought a fourth term of office was so that he could return to the White House to fire Mrs. Nesbitt! Although Roosevelt won his fourth election, Mrs. Nesbitt and her bland menus remained, for Mrs. Roosevelt ran the household staff. In her biography Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, author Blanche Wiesen Cook writes, “ER’s curious disregard for her husband’s tastes suggests an explanation for her persistent defense of Henrietta Nesbitt: The housekeeper was one expression of her passive-aggressive behavior in a marriage of remarkable and labyrinthine complexity.”

Irwin “Ike” Hoover was the White House usher when the Roosevelts moved into the house in 1933. “Republicans dropped out of sight overnight. Those who were left seemed to have changed into Democrats,” he observed. During his forty-plus years of service he had only served under two democratic administrations, that of Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. When he began his stint in the White House, the basement kitchen was blackened with dirt and grime, the floor covered with slimy bricks. In his memoir Forty-Two Years in the White House, he wrote that he found, “the old open fireplaces once used for the broiling the chickens and baking the hoecakes for the early Fathers of our country, the old cranes and spits still in place. Out of the door to the rear there yet remained the old wine-vault, the meathouse, and the smokehouse . . . you could still almost smell the wine odors and the aroma from the hams and bacon that must have been so deliciously and painstakingly prepared here.”

Open hearth cooking—cooking in a fireplace—was the only way to cook in the White House up until Millard Fillmore’s administration (1850-1853). Meats sizzled on spits over cracking flames or roasted within tin reflecting ovens in front of the hot fire. Iron and bronze pots suspended from a swinging crane held stews, soups, and vegetables. Bread was baked first in the bake ovens built into the back of the hearth wall, and as the temperature dropped inside the oven, in went the pies, and later the cookies and custards. Knowing how to control the cooking temperatures was an art. A cook had to have an understanding of coal and woods and their burn properties. Coal was the hottest and burned the longest. Hard woods—ash, oak, hickory, maple, and dogwood gave good heat, burned evenly, and lasted a long time. Pots and pans were moved in and out of the heat, moved close to the fire or away to control cooking time. A kitchen inventory during James Monroe’s administration included, “1 large copper soup kettle, 1 Large ham boiler, 1 large preserving kettle, 1 ditto fish kettle, with drainers, 1 Large coffee boiler, 1 Brass stew pan, 3 Large sauce pans, 19 Of different sizes . . . 2 Griddles, 1 Toasting iron, 1 Frying pan, 5 Jack spits, 3 coffee mills, 1 Old dripping pan, 2 Spit stands, 4 Trivets, 1 Marble pestle and mortar, 4 Sheet iron cake bakers.”

Today the chefs, cooks, dishwashers, and waiters in the White House kitchens must prepare and serve meals for the President and his family, as well as guests from many countries around the world. Sometimes they create meals and refreshments for five or more social events a day, ranging from family meals, to teas, to private parties, to formal state dinners, to larger receptions for hundreds of people. Many of those who have served our nation cooking for “America’s First Dining Table” feel the same about their experience as did Henry Haller, the Executive Chef for five presidential families from the Johnsons to the Reagans: “My own role as the Executive Chef of the White House has certainly been the most rewarding position I have ever held.”

To view historic pictures of the White House kitchen, go to: www.whitehousemuseum.org/floor0/kitchen.htm

For information concerning open hearth cooking* go to: www.nps.gov/archive/fosc/cooking_info1.htm

*Many early American historical societies and house museums offer open hearth cooking classes for young people. On the search engine of your choice list open hearth cooking classes along with your state’s name and you will find classes near you.

White House Menus

Thomas Jefferson was many things—writer, scholar, horticulturist, architect, interior designer, paleontologist, inventor, philosopher, politician–and an expert of wine and fine cuisine. He preferred to be addressed as Mr. Jefferson, not Mr. President, and criticized both George Washington and John Adams for their “imperial” federalist ways. He advocated a plainness of manner in presidential style; but his table was set for a king. Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington hostess and wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, the publisher of the National Intelligencer newspaper, was often a guest of Mr. Jefferson’s. She described Jefferson’s dinners as “republican simplicity . . . united to Epicurean delicacy.”

Jefferson loved all things French and employed a French cook, Honoré Julien. Patrick Henry once remarked that Jefferson, after serving as minister to France, “came home from France so Frenchified that he abjured his native victuals.” But Jefferson loved native-grown fruits and vegetables—corn, black-eyed peas, huckleberries, turnip greens. Invitations to the Jefferson’s dinner parties at the White House were coveted not only for social and political reasons, but because the food was delectable. Congressman Manasseh Cutler of Massachusetts wrote this of the dinner menu he attended at the White House on February 6, 1802. “Dined at the President’s—Rice soup, round of beef, turkey, mutton, ham, loin of veal, cutlets of mutton or veal, fried eggs, fried beef, a pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with scallion onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis [Meriwether Lewis] told me there were none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed with them. Ice cream very good, crust wholly dried, crumbled into thin flakes; a dish somewhat like a pudding—inside white as milk or curd, very porous and light covered with cream sauce—very fine. Many other jimcracks, a great variety of fruit, plenty of wine and good.”

“Plenty of wine” was a correct assessment, for Jefferson drank one to four glasses of wine a day, ordering it by the barrel from Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, and served four to six wines with dinner. His wine bill exceeded $10,000 for his eight years in the presidency, a princely sum in the first decade of the 19th century.

Today, White House menus and wine lists from small dinner parties to large state dinners are much discussed by the first lady, her social secretary, and the White House chefs. The type and style of the meal or event, the special guests and their country or state of origin, the social and political goals of the event, the world and local atmosphere surrounding the meal, the availability of fresh ingredients, the season of the year, the guests’ attitudes toward alcoholic beverages, and guests’ food allergies—all these things must be assessed before planning a White House menu.

After significant research by the executive chef, the pastry chef, their staffs, and the White House social staff, a menu is developed that is appropriate for the proposed social event. The first lady, and sometimes the president, reviews the food and wine choices that are proposed and give their opinion and approval. For important occasions, like state dinners, the chefs will actually cook menu items so that the first lady and her social secretary can taste foods and work with the chefs to refine the menu.

Menus may be printed, but more often than not White House calligraphers hand-letter individual menus for guests. Guests can then take their menus home with them as a souvenir of their experience. Some guests even circulate their menus at their table requesting the autographs of their table mates. You never know who you will be sitting next to when you dine at the White House!



Menu for the James Buchanan Inaugural Ball—March 4, 1857

400 gallons of oysters

60 saddles of mutton

4 saddles of venison

125 beef tongues

75 hams

500 quarts of chicken salad

500 quarts of jellies

A four-foot cake

$3,000 worth of wine

James Buchanan, the only bachelor president, thought that multiple inaugural balls were outrageous wastes of time and energy. He reinstated the single inaugural ball concept, but had to construct a new $15,000 building* on Judiciary Square in Washington to accommodate his 6,000 guests. Guests were served on long tables set against red, white, and blue walls, and when their appetites were satiated they danced beneath a white ceiling glittering with hundreds of gold stars.

*To see a picture of Buchanan’s Inaugural Ball go to:
www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/vc88a.jpg
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/pin:@field(NUMBER+@band(cph+3a07597))



Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Luncheon Menu, March 4, 1861

Mock Turtle Soup

Corned Beef and Cabbage   Parsley Potatoes

Blackberry Pie   Coffee

Abraham Lincoln was not known for his culinary sensibilities. He was more of a “food for fuel” kind of guy and often got so caught up in his work that he forgot to eat. He was partial to cornbread drizzled with honey and good cup of strong coffee. He did have a sweet tooth. A Washington, D.C., baker claimed the president was one of his best pecan pie customers. Despite his apparent lack of interest in cuisine, Lincoln did plan the menu for the luncheon that followed his inauguration. It was served midday at the Willard’s Hotel in Washington after the ceremonies at the Capitol had ended. Immediately after the luncheon, Lincoln and his family moved into the White House.



Nellie Grant’s Wedding Breakfast Menu, May 21, 1874

State Dining Room

Woodcock and Snipe on Toast

Soft Crabs on Toast

Chicken Croquettes with Fresh Peas

Aspic of Beef Tongue

Lamb Cutlets

Broiled Spring Chicken

Strawberries with Cream

Wedding Cake iced with Doves, Roses, and Wedding Bells

Ice Creams and Ices

Fancy Cakes

Punch   Coffee   Chocolate

Nellie Grant, the charming and vivacious daughter of President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, was sent off on a tour of Europe in the hopes of removing her from the public’s eyes and press’ grasp. Bad idea; Nellie made even more news across the ocean. She was wined and dined all over Europe and presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. And at age seventeen, on the voyage home, she fell madly in love with a young, handsome English diplomat, Mr. Algernon Sartoris, the nephew of a famous actress. The whole White House staff prepared for her wedding. It was to be “one of the most brilliant weddings ever given in the United States.” The bride wore a gown of white satin edged in Brussels lace; a crown of orange blossoms held her tulle veil to her head. She carried a bouquet of tuberoses and orange blossoms and in the cluster of pink rosebuds at the center of her bouquet was a small flag with the word “Love” printed on it. The wedding breakfast menu was printed in gold on white satin and given to guests as souvenirs of the occasion. Gifts poured in from all over the world, but the most unique gift was a poem, “A Kiss for the Bride” written by Walt Whitman. Unfortunately, Nellie and Algernon did not live happily ever after. Algernon became an alcoholic and Nellie left him, taking their four children with her.

A Kiss to the Bride

by Walt Whitman

Sacred, blithesome, undenied,
With benisons from East and West,
And salutations North and South,
Through me indeed to-day a million hearts and hands,
Wafting a million loves, a million soul-felt prayers;
—Tender and true remain the arm that shields thee
Fair winds always fill the ship's sails that sail thee!
Clear sun by day, and bright stars at night, beam on thee!
Dear girl—through me the ancient privilege too,
For the New World, through me, the old, old wedding greeting:
O youth and health! O sweet Missouri rose! O bonny bride!
Yield thy red cheeks, thy lips, to-day,
Unto a Nation's loving kiss.



President and Mrs. Eisenhower’s Dinner Menu
in Honor of King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece, October 28, 1955

Shrimp Cocktail

Cocktail Sauce   Saltine Crackers

Sherry

Clear Consommé

Sliced Lemmon

Celery Hearts    Assorted Olives

Fairy Toast

White Fish in Cheese Sauce

Coleslaw

Boston Brown Bread Sandwiches

White Wine

Crown Roast of Lamb

Stuffed With Spanish Rice

Mint Jelly

French Peas   Braised Celery

Bread Sticks

Orange and Roquefort Cheese Salad Bowl

French Dressing

Toasted Triscuits

Champagne

Caramel Cream Mold

Burnt Caramel Sauce

Lemon Iced Diamond Shaped Cookies

Nuts   Candies   Demitasse

Mrs. Ike, as President Eisenhower affectionately called his wife, was a girlie girl. She loved hair curls and bangs, the color pink, sparkles, tulle, flowered hats, long gloves, flounced skirts, and—at fifty-six—she had no problem wearing sleeveless gowns that bared her less-than-firm upper arms. 1950’s America adored her because she was open, unpretentious, and genuinely loved people. Seeing themselves in her, many women viewed her as a kindred spirit, a wife dedicated to home and family. But she was far from the typical housewife. The White House staff nicknamed her “Sleeping Beauty” because she was known to lie in bed for long hours in her favorite pink negligee. The truth was she suffered from asthma and heart palpitation and needed to rest. And Mamie Eisenhower was not fond of cooking; her husband was the culinary expert in the family. Nevertheless, it was Mrs. Eisenhower, having successfully managed thirty households in her thirty-seven years as a military wife, who approved the menus for events large and small, including her husband’s many stag dinners. Her food choices reflected both the times and her Iowa upbringing.



President and Mrs. John Kennedy’s Menu
for a Luncheon with Princess Grace, May 24, 1961

 
Soft-Shell Crab Amadine

Puligny-Montrachet 1958

 

Spring Lamb Á La Broche Aux Primeurs

Château Croton Grancey 1955

 

Salade Mimosa

Dom Pérignon 1952

 

Strawberies Romanoff

Petits Fours Secs

Demi-tasse
 

Joining President and Mrs. Kennedy and the Prince and Princess of Monaco for lunch were Senator and Mrs. Claiborne Pell, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. (the third of Mr. Roosevelt’s five wives), movie producer and director Fred Coe and his wife, and Mr. William Walton, a journalist, painter, and close friend of the president. Princess Grace, the actress Grace Kelly before her marriage, wore a fringed green jacket over a matching sheath dress, white gloves, and an unusual white turban from which exploded a froth of curled feathers or ribbons. The hat was definitely a fashion faux pas. Mrs. Kennedy’s social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, in her conversations with the President the week before the luncheon, had jokingly referred to Prince Rainier of Monaco numerous times as Prince Reindeer. At one point during lunch the president turned to respond to Prince Rainer and out slipped “Prince Reindeer.” For a few days after the luncheon, Miss Baldrige was not one of the president’s favorite people. But four years later, in an interview, Princess Grace was able to recall every detail of the lunch including all the dishes she had eaten. By that measure, the lunch was a huge success.


 

A Sampling of Recipes from the First Ladies and a few from the Presidents, too!

The George Washington Administration: Martha Washington and Nelly Custis Lewis

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was a plump widow with two children when George Washington married her. She not only brought property and elite social status to the match, she brought vast property holdings, too. A self-described “old-fashioned Virginia house-keeper,” she was experienced in handling a large household and was a much admired if somewhat reserved hostess.

At fifty-eight, Lady Washington was a grandmother when her husband became president. She never resided in the White House, but she managed the first two presidential mansions, first in New York City, and later in Philadelphia, with a the help of many servants as well as her own personal slaves brought north from Virginia. Her “receipt book” was filled with directions for making cakes, fools, hartychoakes, oly-kocks, possets, trifles, and chickin frykasies.

Martha Washington’s Black Great Cake Recipe:

Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work'd. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy. Five and a half hours will bake it.

Nelly Custis, was Martha’s granddaughter, George Washington’s beloved step-granddaughter. She described the average day for George Washington at Mount Vernon: “He rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in summer or half past seven in winter. His breakfast was then ready—he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, drank three cups of tea without cream . . .”

Nelly Custis Lewis’s Recipe for Hoecakes

". . . The bread business is as follows if you wish to make 2 1/2 quarts of flour up-take at night one quart of flour, five table spoonfuls of yeast & as much lukewarm water as will make it the consistency of pancake batter, mix it in a large stone pot & set it near a warm hearth (or a moderate fire) make it at candlelight & let it remain until the next morning then add the remaining quart & a half by degrees with a spoon when well mixed let it stand 15 or 20 minutes & then bake it—of this dough in the morning, beat up a white & half of the yilk of an egg—add as much lukewarm water as will make it like pancake batter, drop a spoonful at a time on a hoe or griddle (as we say in the south). When done on one side turn the other - the griddle must be rubbed in the first instance with a piece of beef suet or the fat of cold corned beef . . .”

–Excerpt from a letter written by Nelly Custis Lewis, Martha Washington's youngest granddaughter

 

The Thomas Jefferson Administration: Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Jefferson

The Virginia Housewife was Martha Jefferson Randolph’s cookbook. As one of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters, Martha Randolph sometimes acted as the White House hostess for her father during his time as president. The cookbook was published as a gift of her sister-in-law, and her father could not help but jot down his own recipes on the some of the blank pages in the book.

Martha Jefferson Randolph’s Recipes:

Macaroni: Boil as much macaroni as will fill your dish, in milk and water, till quite tender; drain it on a sieve sprinkle a little salt over it, put a layer in your dish then cheese and butter as in the polenta, and bike it in the same manner.

Beef Olives: Cut slices from a fat rump of beef six inches long and half an inch thick, beat them well with a pestle; make a forcemeat of bread crumbs, fat bacon chopped, parsley, a little onion, some shred suet, pounded mace, pepper and salt; mix it up with the yelks of eggs, and spread a thin layer over each slice of beef, roll it up tight, and secure the rolls with skewers, set them before the fire, and turn them till they are a nice brown; have ready a pint of good gravy, thickened with brown flour and a spoonful of butter, a gill of red wine, with two spoonsful of mushroom catsup, lay the rolls in it, and stew them till tender; garnish with forcemeat balls.

To Boil Eels: Clean the eels, and cut off their heads, dry them, and turn them round on your fish plate, boil them in salt and water, and make parsley sauce for them.

To Pitchcock Eels: Skin and wash your eels, then dry them with a cloth, sprinkle them with pepper, salt, and a little dried sage, turn them backward and forward, and skewer them; rub a gridiron with beef suet, broil them a nice brown, put them on a dish with good melted butter, and lay around fried parsley.

Chicken Pudding, a Favorite Virginia Dish: Beat ten eggs very light, add to them a quart of rich milk, with a quarter of a pound of butter melted, and some pepper and salt; stir in as much flour as will make a thin good batter; take four young chickens, and after cleaning them nicely, cut off the legs, wings, &c. put them all in a sauce pan, with some salt and water, and a bundle of thyme and parsley, boil them till nearly done, then take the chicken from the water and put it in the batter pour it in a dish, and bake it; send nice
white gravy in a boat.

Flummery: One measure of jelly, one of cream, and half a one of wine; boil it fifteen minutes over a slow fire, stirring all the time; sweeten it, and add a spoonful of orange flower or rose water; cool it in a mould, turn it in a dish, and pour around it cream, seasoned in any way you like.

Gooseberry Fool: Pick the stems and blossoms from two quarts of green gooseberries; put them in a stew pan, with their weight in loaf sugar, and a very little water—when sufficiently stewed, pass the pulp through a sieve; and when cold, add rich boiled custard till it is like thick cream; put it in a glass bowl, and lay frothed cream on the top.

Thomas Jefferson’s Recipes

Amongst his many talents, Thomas Jefferson was of connoisseur of food and wine. These recipes were found inside his daughter’s cookbook in his own handwriting.

Observations on Soup

Always observe to lay your meat in the bottom of the pan with a lump of fresh butter. Cut the herbs and roots small and lay them over the meat. Cover it close and put it over a slow fire. This will draw forth the flavors of the herbs and in a much greater degree than to put on the water at first. When the gravy produced from the meat is beginning to dry put in the water, and when the soup is done take it off. Let it cool and skim off the fat clear. Heat it again and dish it up. When you make white soups never put in the cream until you take it off the fire.

Cabbage Pudding

Shred one-half pound of lean beef and a pound of suet very fine, the yolks of three eggs, one spoonful grated bread, some sweet herbs, pepper, salt, and onion.  It will fill a cabbage that must be parboiled and opened on top. Scoop it out till you think it will receive the meat. Fill it, close it up, tie it hard and close in a cloth. When it has boiled a little, tie it closer. It must boil two and a half hours.

Ice Cream Recipe

2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar
mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well.
put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it's sticking to the casserole.
when near boiling take it off and strain it thro' a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere*
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice
open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a
plate.

 

Thomas Jefferson hand written recipe for ice cream at:
www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/tri034.html

 

The Rutherford B. Hayes Administration: Lucy Web Hayes

Lucy Hayes was the first first lady to graduate from college at nineteen with high honors from the Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although she believed in women’s intellectual abilities in an era when women’s capabilities were questioned by many, she, like many women in the 19th century, was not yet liberated. She wrote, “Woman’s mind is as strong as man’sequal in all things and his superior in some.” Mrs. Hayes promoted simple American fare in the family’s private dining, but state dinners were executed and served in the French style with one exception; no wine or alcoholic beverages were given to guests at the White House. Her temperance attitude earned her the nickname Lemonade Lucy, and many a White House visitor was disappointed that the president approved her stance. 

Corn Bread

2 pints corn meal mixed with a little pinch of salt

1 pint jar milk with 1 teaspoonful soda

1 egg, well beaten

Add a little more milk if needed. Have the pan buttered and very hot.

Oysters Stew (like many Americans, President Hayes was an avid oyster-lover)

Put a quart of oysters on the fire in their own liquor. The moment they begin to boil, skim them out and add the liquor, a half-pint of hot cream, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste. Skim it well, take off the fire, add to the oysters an ounce and a half of butter broken into small pieces. Serve immediately.

 

The Franklin Roosevelt Administration: Henrietta Nesbitt

When meat was rationed during World War II, the White House had to stretch its meat allotment, too. But Mrs. Nesbitt, Roosevelt’s housekeeper, said that she would not skimp on the president’s food if she could help it; others would have to sacrifice because she did not want to worry him about food. According to Mrs. Nesbitt, favorite White House meat-stretcher foods were: “stuffed peppers, stew, ham scallop, noodles and mushrooms with chicken scraps, spaghetti with meat-cakes cut down from the ‘good old American size’ to mere marbles, curries or omelets with meat tidbits; croquettes for a sustaining meal in themselves; minestrone soup or fish chowders, ‘both good meals in themselves;’ creamed cheeses (soft ones weren’t rationed) for a satisfying light meal; gumbo z’herbes (good light meal for children if less spiced); stuffed eggs (meat bits for stuffing); baked beans, deviled meats and casseroles.”

Gumbo Z’Herbes (Cheapest Soup)

2 tablespoons lard

2 tablespoons flour

1 bunch each of spinach, mustard greens, green cabbage, beet tops, watercress, radishes, chopped onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, green onion top, salt, pepper, red pepper pod or drop of Tabasco. Bacon strip, veal or port brisket, or hambone.

Wash well the greens, bacon strip, hot water and boil well. Drain off water and save it. Fry meat in one tablespoon lard, chopping up the while with the greens with the onion and seasoning. Take out the meat and fry the greens, stirring. When well fried, all the flour, stir. Season well. Add meat and the treasured water of the boiled greens; leave all to simmer for an hour or so.

Croquettes (Can be Done Day Ahead)

Make thick heavy cream sauce, let it get cold. Use left-over fish made into regular croquettes. Dip in fine bread crumbs, then into eggs, and back into bread crumbs. Cover with cloth if you want to keep until next day to cook.

Lismore Stew (Serves Six)

2 pounds lean chuck cut in cubes

12 onions size of walnut or quarter

2 bunches carrots cut

Tops of bunch of celery cut in short lengths.

Use Dutch oven or iron pot. Braise meat in some fat until nicely browned on all sides so as to have nice gravy. Add vegetables and water, salt and pepper to taste. Add a clove of garlic, then one-fourth teaspoon of stew herbs. Simmer over low fire several hours, watch and stir. Before serving add teaspoon of Worcester or similar sauce. Simmer few minutes.

 

The Dwight Eisenhower Administration: President Dwight Eisenhower

As mentioned, Mamie Eisenhower was not interested in cooking, but her husband was an enthusiastic cook. He had been taught to cook, sew, and clean by his mother who believed that all her sons should be well versed in what she considered to be essential life skills. The following recipe of President Eisenhower was included in a menu for a dinner given in honor of the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico in April, 1956.

Green Turtle Soup

Cut off the head from a live green turtle and drain the blood. Remove the four flappers from the turtle with a sharp knife; divide the back and the belly into four parts and put the whole (without the intestines) in boiling water for about three minutes.

Now lift the pieces from the boiling water. While they are still warm, remove the skin with a coarse cloth, then wash the pieces well and lay them in clean water with a sufficient amount of mixed vegetables, bay leaves, thyme, a little garlic, lemon skin, parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

Let the whole cook from two and a half to three hours. Strain and cut the turtle meat into small cube-sized pieces and place in a pot, covered with sherry. Put the strained turtle broth into a clean pot; add chopped beef, fresh mixed vegetables, whites of eggs, bay leaves, garlic, cloves, parsley; season with salt and pepper and cook this again for three hours.

Strain the turtle broth with a cheesecloth; wash the pot in which you have just finished cooking and put into it again the strained broth. Keep the whole hot.

To obtain a more delicate and more spicy flavor prepare the following: add to sherry wine, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, sage, basil, black and white pepper. Heat and strain and according to your taste add this to the turtle soup before serving.

 

The John F. Kennedy Administration: Chef René Verdon

René Verdon was the French chef hired by Jacqueline Kennedy to work at the White House. He received the title Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for his contribution to French cuisine. During the Kennedy administration he became an American citizen. Here are two of his recipes from In the Kennedy Style:

Chef René Verdon’s recipes:

Strawberries Romanoff from the Kennedy’s White House Luncheon with Princess Grace

1 cup vanilla ice cream
4 cups halved small strawberries
2 tbsp each curacao and Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/2
cup whipping cream
1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Candied violets or mint leaves

Place ice cream in refrigerator for 30 minutes or until soft enough to smooth easily with the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile, place the strawberries in large bowl. Pour curacao and Grand Marnier over berries; stir gently to combine. Let stand for 30 minutes.

In large chilled bowl and using electric mixer, beat whipping cream at low speed for 45 seconds or until slightly thickened. Add sugar and vanilla; increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes, or until thick.

In large bowl, stir softened ice cream with wooden spoon until soft. Using rubber spatula, fold dollop of whipped cream into ice cream. Add remaining whipped cream and fold gently until well combined.

Into each of chilled glass dessert bowls, spoon enough strawberries to just cover bottom; top with large dollop of cream mixture, then divide remaining berries, and any juices, among bowls. Distribute remaining cream equally. Garnish each dish with candied violets or mint leaves. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Tips: If strawberries are large, cut into quarters. Candied violets can be purchases at most upscale grocers or cake decorating shops.

 

John F. Kennedy’s Favorite Boston Clam Chowder

2 lb little neck clams in shells (or 1 cup shucked clams)
1 tbsp butter
1 oz salt pork or bacon, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 lb)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup warm milk
3/4
cup warm whipping cream

Under cold running water and using a clean nylon scrub pad or small brush, scrub clams to remove loose barnacles and dirt. Place clams in a large deep saucepan; add just enough water to cover. Bring to boil; boil for 5 minutes or until shells open. Strain through fine mesh sieve set over bowl, reserving broth. Remove clams from shells; chop flesh into 1⁄2 inch pieces. Reserve.

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add salt pork; cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes or until just translucent. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until translucent but not brown.

Add potatoes; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add reserve broth and bring to boil; boil for about 8 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Add clams, salt, and pepper; cook for 1 minute or until clams are heated through. Remove from heat; stir in milk and cream. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Tip: if re-heating, do not boil.


Activity Ideas for Young People

Find a White House cook booka few are listed in the reference section below—at your local library and try to create some of the dishes at home with the children and teens in your family. Cooking with recipes will increase your child’s and teen’s reading and comprehension skills, as well as challenge their math skills. It also introduces your child to chemistry. And most importantly, it is a fun activity the whole family can enjoy together! For more information on literacy/cooking activities go to: www.thencbla.org/PTMpages/parents/cookingwithcookbooks.html.

For a classroom activity choose an international event from the era of America history your class is studying. Have students research the event and the countries involved in the event. They could also research a county’s culture with the goal of planning a menu for a state dinner that would help America build a working relationship with that nation. The menu should also reflect the social and cultural norms of that time period.  

To get young people excited about different eras in American history, include information and projects that address domestic history, too. We recommend two great online sources for incorporating food and recipes, both of which reveal so much about any era of history.

The first is The Food Timeline at: www.foodtimeline.org. The Food Timeline was created by Lynne Olver, reference librarian and International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) member, in response to students, parents, and teachers who frequently asked for help locating food history and period recipes at the Morris County Library (Whippany, NJ). The site is an independent research project and is not sponsored by, or affiliated with, any food companies. Information is checked against standard reference tools for accuracy—Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (Smith), The Oxford Companion to Food (Davidson), The Cambridge World History of Food (Kiple & Ornelas), Larousse Gastronomique (Revised/Updated English edition, 2001), The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Mariani), Food in History (Tannahill), History of Food (Toussaint-Samat), and other sources as needed. 

The second site is Feeding America: The Historic America Cookbook at: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/index.html. The Michigan State University Library and the MSU Museum have partnered to create an online collection of some of the most influential and important American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The goal of this project is to make these materials available to a wider audience with digital images of the pages of each cookbook as well as full-text transcriptions and the ability to search within the books across the collection.

Discussion Questions for Young People at Home and in the Classroom

What do food and menus tell us about people, countries, and eras of history?

Can food and menu choices tell us anything about historical figures’ personalities?

In this piece, it’s mentioned that President Eisenhower’s mother thought it important to teach him how to cook. Should everyone learn to cook? Would cooking have been an important skill for President Eisenhower to learn? Why?

Although some presidents have been concerned with food issues at the White House, historically it has been the first ladies who have had most influence and have controlled White House menus. What do you think will happen when a woman becomes president of the United States? Will the “first gentleman” be in charge of food, menu, and dinner planning at the White House?

 


Reference Sources

Books:

Baldrige, Letitia. In the Kennedy Style. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. An Invitation to the White House: At Home with History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2. New York: Viking, 1999.

Ervin, Janet Halliday. The White House Cookbook. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1964.

Haller, Henry. The White House Family Cookbook. New York: Random House, 1987.

Klapthor, Margaret Brown. The First Ladies Cookbook. New York: GMG Publishing, 1982.

Landau, Barry H. The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

McCully, Helen and Bullock, Helen Duprey. The American Heritage Cookbook. U.S.A.: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964.

Truman, Margaret. The President’s House. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

Whitcomb, John and Claire. Real Life in the White House. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Periodicals:

Haber, Barbara. “Home Cooking in the White House.” White House History Journal (Journal of the White House Historical Association) no. 20 (Spring 2007).

Ross, Alice. “Kitchens Past: Thoughts on Open Hearth Cooking for the Presidents.” White House History Journal (Journal of the White House Historical Association) no. 20 (Spring 2007).

Tederick, Lydia Barker. “A Look at the White House Kitchens.” White House History Journal (Journal of the White House Historical Association) no. 20 (Spring 2007).

©2008 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance