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.
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Lyndon Baines Johnson inherited a fraught presidency after John F. Kennedy's passing. Johnson had to define himself and his own style of governance against the "high-style culture" of the Kennedys.
To do that, Truman turned to barbecue. As Texans, LBJ and his wife Lady Bird appreciated the power of barbecue as a community-building activity. Johnson even used so-called "barbecue diplomacy" to host world leaders for informal discussions at his ranch.
The Daily Beast shared this recipe for Lady Bird Johnson's barbecue sauce.
Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson's Barbecue Sauce
¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt to taste
Red pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
Melt butter in sauce pan. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
- Photo: Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain21,057 VOTES
Theodore Roosevelt embraced life. As the man lived, so he ate - and Roosevelt had a sweet tooth. As first lady, Edith Roosevelt upheld her role as a supportive spouse and managed virtually all aspects of family life in the White House. She also collected and published favorite recipes.
This recipe - as it appears in Mrs. Wilson's New Cook Book - for her spiced cake does not include instructions on how to prepare the ingredients.
Theodore and Edith Roosevelt's Spiced Cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Bake in loaf or two layers.
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Harry and Bess Truman became president and first lady of the United States in 1945 after Frederick D. Roosevelt passed. Truman, tasked with leading the United States - and much of the world - out of the rubble of WWII, remained a Missourian at heart. Ozark pudding - a bready dessert - was one way he and Bess maintained their Midwestern identity in Washington.
Ozark pudding had a cameo in a crucial moment of 20th-century history. The Trumans actually included it on the menu when they hosted Winston Churchill in Missouri, where he delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946.
Here is the original recipe, as shared by the Loveless Cafe.
Harry and Bess Truman's Ozark Pudding
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped nuts, pecans preferred
½ cup raw Granny Smith apples, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat egg and sugar until very smooth. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir into the sugar-egg mixture. Add apple pices, nuts, and vanilla. Bake in a buttered pie pan for at least 35 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
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As a candidate and president, Bill Clinton was known for his love of meat and relished making campaign stops at McDonald's. His favorite chicken enchiladas recipe - shared by The Guardian - is fit for a meat-lover like Clinton.
Ironically, Clinton isn't likely to enjoy this dish in the future because his meat-eating days are over: he became a vegan after undergoing a quadruple bypass in 2004. These days he enjoys a nearly vegan diet.
Bill Clinton's Chicken Enchiladas
2 (4-ounce) cans green chiles, drained and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes
2 cups onions, chopped
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon oregano
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 cups sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cooking oil
15 tortillas, corn or flour
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the chiles and garlic in a small amount of cooking oil. Drain the tomatoes, reserving a cup of liquid. Break up tomatoes and add to skillet. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, and reserved liquid. Simmer, uncovered, until thick (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, sour cream, cheese, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 cup cooking oil. Dip the tortillas in the oil until they become limp and drain well on paper towels. Fill the tortillas with the chicken mixture; roll up and arrange side by side, seam side down, in a 9x13x12-inch baking dish. Pour the tomato mixture over the enchiladas. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until heated thoroughly.
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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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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.