All the Presidents’ Tables: Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Menus

In the throes of the 2008 election campaign, I decided to do a little looking into what the candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, eat when no one’s watching. (Chili for Obama and ribs for McCain – hmmm, wonder if there’s any Freudian, Jungian undertones there?)

Such musings lead, naturally, to a perusal of the various books out there about the presidents of the past and their food. In particular, the ostentatious inaugural dinners, with all the pomp and circumstance, frankly enthrall me and, I think, will fascinate you, too.

Let’s start with Abraham Lincoln, who served as president at possibly the most challenging time in history for the great American experiment. Probably only Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced an equally dangerous time for the future of the United States. One of Lincoln’s favorite dishes was Oyster Stew. His wife Mary said once that he also liked fresh fruit, particularly apples.

Elected twice, Lincoln obviously presided over two inaugural dinners, one during wartime. Ironically, the dinner held on March 6, 1865 appears to be opulent as any feast held in a French chateau or German castle.

For the inaugural luncheon on March 4, 1860, the menu was rather simple:

Mock Turtle Soup

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Parsley Potatoes

Blackberry Pie

Coffee

White House at the Time of Abraham Lincoln
White House at the Time of Abraham Lincoln

In 1865, in spite of the war and food shortages, the opulent dinner served on March 6, 1865 seems both dreamy and extravagant, the French a little rough and crude and incorrect, something hard to swallow for a nation enduring four long bloody years of internecine warfare. According to chef and cookbook/historical menu collector, Louis Szathmary (1919-1996), only three copies of the menu exist today:

BILL OF FARE

of the Presidential Inauguration Ball

in the

City of Washington, D.C.

On the 6th of March, 1865

Oyster Stew

Terrapin Stew

Oysters, Pickled

BEEF

Roast Beef

Filet of Beef

Beef à la mode

Beef à l’anglais

VEAL

Leg of Veal

Fricandeau

Veal Malakoff

Chicken Fricassee, Lincoln's fave, not on the menu. Used with permission.)
Chicken Fricassee Lincoln's Fave. Not on the menu (Used with permission.)

POULTRY

Roast Turkey

Boned Turkey

Breast Chicken

Grouse, boned and roast

GAME

Pheasant

Quail

Venison

PATETES

Patète of Duck en gelee

Patète of Foie gras

SMOKED

Ham

Tongue en gelée

do* plain

SALADES

Chicken

Lobster

ORNAMENTAL PYRAMIDES

Nougate

Orange

Caramel with Fancy Cream Candy

Cocoanut

Macaroon

Croquant

Chocolates

Trea Cakes

CAKES AND TARTS

Almond Sponge

Belle Alliance

Dame Blanche

Macaroon Tart

Tart à la Nelson

Tart à l’Orleans

do à la Portugaise

do à la Vienne

Pound Cake

Sponge Cake

Lady Cake

Fancy small cakes

JELLIES AND CREAMS

Calf’s foot and Wine Jelly

Charlotte a la Russe

do* du Vanilla

do* à la Nelson

do* Chateaubriand

do* à la Smyrna

do* à la Nesselrode

Bombe à la Vanilla

Inaugural Menu for Lincoln's Second Term
Inaugural Menu for Lincoln's Second Term

ICE CREAM

Vanilla

Lemon

White Coffee

Chocolate

Burnt Almond

Maraschino

FRUIT ICES

Strawberry

Orange

Lemon

DESSERT

Grapes

Almonds

Raisins

&cc

Coffee and Chocolate

Furnished by G. A. Balzer, Confectioners,

Cor. 9th & D Sts, Washington, D.C.

*do = “ditto”

Such a detailed, but enormous menu! I shall be examining the menu more later in regard to the food and possible comments made by the attendees. Then comes the interpretation, how this menu reflects history and social values of the times. How on earth did the chefs find grapes and strawberries in the dead of winter of 1865? Now that should be fun!

Stay tuned for the next installment on inaugural menus, due on Monday, October 27, 2008.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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