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Presidential Grub

Happy Presidents’ Day! On a recent flight I poured through the food issue of The New Yorker. So many great pieces, but what had me gasping was a piece by Laura Shapiro called “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Inedible Cuisine”. You know Eleanor, wife of FDR, delegate to the United Nations, helped create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Actually my senior year high school quote was from First Lady Roosevelt … “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

To my shock, one place Eleanor did not excel in was food! The New Yorker piece documents the absolutely horrifying meals served at the White House at the request of Eleanor. She hired a housekeeper named Henrietta Nesbitt, who, for the next twelve years, “turned out meals so gray, so drooping, so spectacularly inept that they became a Washington legend.”

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the piece, taken from The Presidential Cookbook — a collection of White House recipes written by Mrs. Nesbitt…

“Sometimes we used pineapple cut in lengthwise sticks and rolled lightly in crushed peppermint candy as an opener for the meal.”

“Pear salad was a great favorite… For that we riced cream cheese, added a mite of heavy cream, chopped chives, candied ginger or nuts, and poured this over the pear halves on lettuce. We either used the green minted canned pears or colored the mayonnaise green.”


I found this neat Our White House site of presidential menus and recipes. A few of the early presidents were said to have been fond of gooseberry fool including Thomas Jefferson. According to the Our White House link, Martha Jefferson Randolph (Thomas’s daughter) had this recipe: “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.” Of course, you can substitute gooseberries with strawberries or blueberries, or if you are very lucky, black currants.

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