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14 Of The Best Recipes From US Presidents And First Ladies

Updated June 12, 2019 14.2k votes 2.2k voters 62.3k views14 items

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They say people are what they eat - and that is equally true of US presidents. Food is more than a dish to be consumed; it is also an expression of identity. For American presidents, food is often political: Their signature dishes are tools that have helped them express their regional roots, public image, and political brand.

But US presidents were not the only ones setting culinary tones in the White House. Historically, first ladies have had an important role in overseeing meals within the White House, because many of them created and used recipes that world leaders, politicians, and everyday Americans would sample. However, enslaved cooks - who seldom got credit for shaping the tastes of the presidency - may have developed and prepared some historic White House recipes.

From Thomas Jefferson's obsession with French cuisine to LBJ's love of Texas barbecue, the dishes presidents have consumed say a lot about their identity and politics.

  • Photo: John Chester Buttre / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Abraham Lincoln apparently didn't have a big appetite and was pragmatic about food. In an era that prescribed men should be the breadwinners while women should be the bread-makers, Lincoln actually helped cook in his family kitchen in Springfield, IL.

    His tastes were also simple. During his childhood, Lincoln ate corn dodgers every day except Sunday. This recipe - which comes from Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen - yields hearty and filling corn dodgers.

    Abraham Lincoln's Corn Dodgers

    2 cups coarse, stone-ground cornmeal
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon melted butter or bacon drippings, plus more for cooking dodgers
    1 ½ cups boiling water
    ⅓ cup regular cornmeal (optional)

    Mix the coarse cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the butter or bacon drippings. Pour the boiling water over the butter or drippings and stir carefully and thoroughly. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes to cool. Form the loose dough into shapes like ears of corn ("dodgers") by hand, adding regular cornmeal as needed; dodgers should be around 2 inches long and 1 inch thick.

    Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet until melted. Place 6 dodgers in the skillet. Lower the heat and cook until the dodgers' bottoms are brown and tops are dry, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn them over and brown the other side, about 5 to 7 minutes. Repeat with remaining dodgers. 


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  • Photo: Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Ulysses S. Grant was a military general before he became president in 1869, and his time in the military shaped his eating habits. Perhaps because he witnessed what happened to men in the heat of conflict, he could not stomach rare meat.

    In contrast to his more culinarily adventurous wife Julia, Grant's tastes were simple. One of his favorite dishes was this rice pudding recipe - reprinted from the Courier-Journal - that featured a lemony punch of flavor.

    Ulysses S. Grant's Rice Pudding

    1 tablespoon butter
    3 cups hot cooked rice
    4 eggs, separated
    2 cups half-and-half
    2 cups milk
    ½ cup sugar
    1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    ⅛ teaspoon salt

    Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir butter into rice. Beat yolks and add half-and-half, milk, sugar, lemon peel, vanilla, and salt. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into rice mixture. Turn into a buttered, shallow 2-quart baking dish. Set in pan of hot water. Bake in oven for 1 hour or until inserted knife comes out clean. Serve warm.

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  • Photo: Rembrandt Peale / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Thomas Jefferson was apparently a major foodie - more than any other Founding Father, his culinary tastes were bold and daring. His time abroad as ambassador to France exposed him to continental tastes, which he brought back to America. Among the French sweet treats he helped popularize in America was ice cream. This recipe for almond macaroons - as it appears in Baking Recipes of Our Founding Fathers - reflects his love of French cuisine.

    As an owner of enslaved people, Jefferson relied on enslaved men and women to run his kitchen. One who accompanied him to Paris was James Hemings, who learned about French cuisine and eventually secured his own freedom. 

    Thomas Jefferson's Almond Macaroons

    1 pound almonds
    Boiling water
    ¾ pound powdered sugar
    3 eggs, whites only

    Put almonds in a small kettle and pour boiling water over them. Stir well and remove skins. Wash the almonds thoroughly with cold water, then dry with a clean towel. Place almonds in a food chopper and grind to a fine consistency. Transfer the almond mixture to a large wooden mixing bowl and gradually beat in powdered sugar with a wooden mixing spoon. Beat in egg whites, one at a time, until it forms a smooth paste. With a teaspoon, drop small, nut-size balls of paste on parchment paper. Bake at 275 F for 15 to 20 minutes or until done. Set aside to cool.

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  • America's second president embodied the New England value of simplicity. Consequently, John Adams generally passed over elaborate dishes in favor of simple meals.

    As manager of the household, Abigail Adams oversaw the planning of menus and preparation of foods for the family. Her molasses cookie recipe, as published in Baking Recipes of Our Founding Fathers, uses only five ingredients. 

    John and Abigail Adams' Molasses Cookies

    1 cup butter
    2 cups molasses
    1 teaspoon cloves
    1 tablespoon ginger
    Flour to suit

    In a large wooden mixing bowl, blend all ingredients. Use enough flour to make stiff batter, not dough. Mold batter into small cookies. Place cookies on a shallow buttered cookie sheet. Bake in a moderately quick oven (350 F to 375 F) for about 12 minutes or until done. Watch cookies carefully as they tend to burn easily. 

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