Food Fit for a President

Executive pastry chefs during Bill Clinton's tenure prepare a gingerbread White HouseAs you might have heard, President-elect Obama will be using Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Bible when he is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

Lincoln is, of course, a major inspiration to the President-elect and a strong influence on the themes of the upcoming inauguration.

So we know you’re waiting with baited breath, as are we, to find out whether Obama is going to serve Lincoln’s favorite scalloped oysters — the recipe for which contained sherry as well as Worcestershire sauce and cracker crumbs. While this delicacy was not included on either of Lincoln’s inaugural menus, pickled oysters were served at the second inaugural. Yum! (No, seriously, that sounds good to me.)

White House cuisine has changed a bit with the times. Although French cuisine is still popular for state dinners, our contemporary presidents seem to be leaning toward Tex-Mex fare. On Inauguration Day you might wish to plan your own presidential menu. You could start off with Barbara Bush’s Mexican Mound (corn chips, ground meat and taco seasoning), followed by Bill Clinton’s favorite chicken enchiladas, topped with Laura Bush’s guacamole and served with LBJ’s “ranch spiced tea.” For dessert, jump back in time and serve Lincoln’s favorite lemon custard pie.

If Tex-Mex is not your thing, try Harry Truman’s tuna and noodle casserole with white cheese sauce and Pat Nixon’s baked stuffed tomatoes. If this seems too healthy, indulge a little with the Carter family’s peanut refrigerator cake or Warren Harding’s favorite bourbon balls. In moderation, of course.

Or maybe you want to celebrate the inauguration by using recipes from the time of our Founding Fathers, such as Martha Washington’s “Great Cake,” Thomas Jefferson’s macaroons or Dolly Madison’s pink peppermint ice cream. To wet your whistle, try John Adams’ “berry shrub” (blackberry or raspberry juice, sugar, brandy and rum), James Madison’s favorite whiskey sours (lemons, water, sugar, and aged bourbon whiskey, 100 proof), or a fine wine from Monticello.

Presidential food and entertaining at the White House always seem to capture people’s interest. The Library of Congress Science Reference Section frequently fields a number of queries relating to presidential cuisine. Take a look at science reference specialist Alison Kelly’s Presidential Food Guide for more information about cooking and entertaining in the White House.

Image: Executive pastry chefs during Bill Clinton’s tenure prepare a gingerbread White House.

(Mad props to Jennifer Harbster in our Science, Technology and Business division for helping with this post!)


  1. Steve Heimoff
    January 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I would be interested in hearing more about wines served in the W.H. over the years.

  2. K.G. Schneider
    January 8, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Whoa! Dude! It’s “bated” breath, not “baited” breath. Otherwise, great article. Would love to see either oyster recipe.

  3. L Lanning
    January 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    LOL@mad props

    Just a note to say that I enjoy this blog immensely, thanks for sharing

  4. Bob Meade
    January 8, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks. Great article as usual, supported by your able colleagues.

    One caption correction. In any food production organisation, let’s call it a kitchen, there is usually only one Executive Chef, and only one Executive Pastry Chef.

    Chefs guard these honored titles fiercely.

    You’ll find if you click through all the links that the correct caption to the photograph of the gingerbread White House should be:

    “Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier and Assistant Pastry Chef Franette McCulloch carefully construct the White House … in gingerbread! ”

    You can’t actually have the plural of “Executive Pastry Chefs” in one kitchen. No matter how democratically a kitchen may be run, there is only one of those.

  5. Bob Meade
    January 8, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    p.s. read more about that gingerbread White House here:

  6. Crystal King
    January 12, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Fun post!

    Not quite presidential but certainly influential, Ben Franklin had an orange shrub which we make from time to time. It’s better with a little age.

    The recipe can be found in Hilaire Dubourcq’s book “Bejamin Franklin’s Book of Recipes” and the recipe itself can be seen here:

  7. Matt Raymond
    January 13, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    K.G.: I’m crestfallen! But I’ll leave that (somewhat rare) lapse out there for others to enjoy. :-)

  8. Jennifer Harbster
    January 13, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Hi K.G, Oh boy there are lots of oyster recipes to choose from- In Cannon and Cook’s The President’s Cookbook there is a brief description of Lincoln’s oyster parties along with a simple recipe for steamed oysters. (Lincoln was a frequent visitor of Harvey’s Restaurant in Washington, which served the infamous steamed oysters.) The First Ladies Cook Book features Lincoln’s favorite scalloped oyster recipe. President Grant loved Spiced Oysters. This recipe is featured in Marie Smith’s Entertaining at the White House. President Van Buren was fond of oysters, a recipe for pickled oysters from Van Buren’s day can be found in Cannon and Cook’s The President’s Cookbook.

  9. Alison Kelly
    January 14, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Steve: There’s a long tradition of serving wine at the White House – I think the only exception since 1800 was during the administration of Rutherford B Hayes, 1877-1881. In the early years, wines were imported from Europe, but today American wines are primarily served.

    A few sources to check (these are all in the guide):
    There’s an interesting article on White House Wines in “White House History: Journal of the White House Historical Association” (no. 20, spring 2007).

    John R.Hailman’s “Thomas Jefferson on Wine” (Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2006).

    Menus are one way to compare wine trends at the White House – try the Heinz Bender, Executive Pastry Chef of the White House Collection at Culinary Arts Museum, Johnson & Wales University, for wines of the 1960s and 1970s.
    You can also find historical information and modern menus on the White House site –

  10. K.G. Schneider
    January 17, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Jennifer, I look forward (with bay-ted breath?) to sitting down at the LoC someday and browsing through all those cookbooks. That would be a marvelous afternoon. You all rock.

  11. Christine
    January 20, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    It is not “baited” breath, it is “bated” breath.

  12. Guy Aron
    January 20, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    There’s a joke about a cat who ate cheese and waited in front of a mousehole with baited breath! (Didn’t say it was a good one.)

  13. easy indian food
    February 16, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Found this site with a search for curry. Thought it would be about Indian food.

    I’m dissapointed but not downhearted.

  14. Ann Chandonnet
    February 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I believe that’s “bated” breath–a shortening of “abated.”

  15. LegoAdmin
    February 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Wow! Looks good to me! That would be cool if we could see pictures of all the food Obama gets to choose from.

  16. L.A.
    February 25, 2009 at 3:35 am

    They really should post pictures of ALL the dishes Barack Obama eats! I wish I could eat like that every day…

    Star Wars

  17. Roger Stemcovski
    October 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Does anyone know where to find George Washington’s recipe for making Peach Brandy?

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