The following menu, served at the inaugural ball of President Benjamin Harrison (in office 1889-1895), omits the news that 5,000 live terrapins waited in the wings to star in the show and game birds packed in lard did the same. Since 1200 people ate at this event, the number of turtles and birds loomed large. Held in the Federal Pension office, Harrison’s inaugural ball followed his inaugural speech delivered in driving rain. Fortunately, he kept it short. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, gave the longest inaugural speech (10,000 words) of any president, caught a cold, and died a month later …
But not everybody felt happy about the new president. Mrs. Cleveland, the wife of the outgoing president, said to her staff as she left for the formal inauguration ceremony, “I want to find everything just as it is now when we come back again. We are coming back four years from today.” She was right — four years later to the day, after Grover Cleveland won back the presidency, she walked back into the White House. Now whether or not it was the same as when she left, who knows?
Like many late nineteenth-century inaugural balls, Harrison’s resembled “Roman feasts with tables spread in an opulence of foods buffet style,” according to former White House chef François Rysavy, who cooked for the Eisenhowers and wrote A Treasury of White House Cooking.
The Harrisons began their White House food life with a Madame Petronard as chef, an unusual arrangement in that women rarely reached that level in a professional kitchen. Madame cooked previously for the British legation. Due to some displeasure on the part of President and Mrs. Harrison, who grew to dislike the “rich sauces” spilling forth from the pans of Madame Petronard, a new cook soon arrived. Dolly Johnson, an African-American cook who’d worked for the Harrison family in Indianapolis. Miss Dolly made all the American foods that President Harrison preferred.
Madame Petronard’s European tastes weighed heavily, it seems, on the inaugural ball menu. Obviously.
Inaugural Ball Reception Menu for President Benjamin Harrison
March 4, 1889
Bluepoints in Ice
Bouillon in Cups
Steamed Oysters Oysters à la Poulette
Chicken Croquettes Sweetbread Paté à la Reine
Terrapin, Philadelphia Style
Assorted Roll Sandwiches
Mayonnaise of Chicken Lobster Salad
Cold Tongue on Bellevue Cold Ham à la Montmorency
Boned Turkey à l’Americaine
Breast Quail à la Ciceron
Paté de Foie Gras à la Harrison
Terrine of Game à la Morton
Assorted Ice Creams
Orange Water Ice
Pyramid of Nougat Renaissance
Beehive of Bon-Bons Republican
Assorted Fancy Cakes
Notice that oysters played an important in both Harrison’s inaugural menu, as well as Abraham Lincoln’s. Apparently Harrison loved to eat oysters, too.
© 2008 C. Bertelsen