by Mary Brigid Barrett

From Martha Washington’s Black Great Cake to the Kennedy’s Strawberry Romanoff, delight in the following recipes enjoyed by our nation’s presidents and first ladies. Click a recipe category or scroll down to discover each one. To learn more about White House kitchens and menus, be sure to read all of  “A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus, and Recipes.”

Washington Administration (1789-1797)
Martha Washington’s Recipe for Black Great Cake
Nelly Custis Lewis’ Recipe for Hoecakes
Jefferson Administration (1801-1809)
Martha Jefferson Randolph’s Recipes
Thomas Jefferson’s Recipes
Hayes Administration (1877-1881)
Lucy Web Hayes’ Recipes
Franklin Roosevelt Administration (1933-1945)
Henrietta Nesbitt’s Recipes
Eisenhower Administration (1953-1961)
Dwight Eisenhower’s Recipe for Green Turtle Soup
Kennedy Administration (1961-1963)
Chef René Verdon’s Recipes

Martha Washington’s Recipe for Black Great Cake

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 Lewis’ 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

Martha Jefferson Randolph’s Recipes

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.

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

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

To see Thomas Jefferson’s hand-written recipe for ice cream in the Library of Congress collection, click here.

Lucy Web Hayes’ Recipes

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.

Henrietta Nesbitt’s Recipes

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.

Dwight Eisenhower’s Recipe for 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.

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 purchased 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.

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©2016 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance