Election-Day Menu: Food from Our Greatest Presidents

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart
George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart

Hands down, my vote for the greatest presidents we’ve seen in this country goes to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. John Kennedy might have been a truly great president, but he died before he could prove his mettle, though his stand against the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis counts as something commendable, I guess. Anyway, I thought it would be nice to get in the mood for Election Day by cooking up food served in the White House during the time each man served as president. The following recipes come from these men or their wives and chefs/cooks. Bon appétit!

For semi-vegetarians, there’s George’s veggie soup, that is, George Washington’s:

George Washington’s Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8

3 T. butter
1 T. vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced onions (red is nice)
1 cup diced peeled potatoes
1 cup diced peeled carrots
8 cups rich beef broth (2 quarts – use fat-free, lower salt broth, if possible)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T. butter
8 slices firm white bread, cut into fourths

Fry the onions in the butter and oil over medium heat in a large pot until they begin to look translucent. Add the potatoes and carrots and fry until onions begin to turn deep golden in color. Pour in the beef broth and cook until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, fry the bread squares in butter in a heavy skillet. Serve the bread floating on top of the soup. [Note: This is the original recipe. I add a bay leaf and about ¼ t. or so of dried thyme leaves to the broth. I also sprinkle on chopped parsley after I add the bread squares.]

Meat lovers might prefer Thomas Jefferson’s meatier soup, which he named “Mexican Bean Soup,” because that’s what the grocer who sold him the beans called it.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s Mexican Bean Soup
Serves 8-10

2 cups Black Mexican beans (turtle beans), picked over and rinsed
2 ½ quarts water
2 lbs. beef short ribs (or other cut with bones)
Salt to taste and lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
3 T. butter
6 slices bread, cut into quarters

Place beans and beef in a large pot; add water and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about 4 hours, or until meat and beans are tender. Remove meat and any stray bones; shred meat and discard bones. Strain beans, reserving the stock, pressing beans through the colander. [Modern adaptation alert! Using a blender or food processor, purée the beans.] Return the meat, stock, and beans to the pot. Heat through. Add wine and more pepper. Heat through and remove from stove. Cook the bread quarters in the butter. Serve the soup topped with the bread. [A sprinkling of parsley or even cilantro leaves makes this an even tastier —  and prettier — dish.]

Under the culinarily untalented Harriet Nesbitt – who served as housekeeper and cook for all twelve years of the FDR’s presidency and who’d lived near the Roosevelts in Hyde Park and ran a baking business – the White House kitchen served rather mundane, boring food. That’s according to the various people who ate there at the time. Guests joked that one needed to eat before attending in order to avoid the feeling of not having eaten.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR’s Sauerkraut with Pork
Serves 6

1 3- to 3 ½ – lb. pork roast
Garlic slivers, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. caraway seeds
4 cups sauerkraut

Cut random holes in the meat and insert one garlic sliver in each cut.  Roast the meat at 350 degrees F for about 2 ½ hours or until meat is quite tender. While meat roasts, mix the caraway seeds with the sauerkraut and let sit, covered, at room temperature. When meat is done, remove meat to a warm platter and cover; pour off excess fat and add the sauerkraut to the pan. Return the pan to the oven, raise the heat to 400 degrees F, and heat through, about 10 – 15 minutes or so. [Note: Serve with boiled potatoes and a mustard sauce.]

Now, for those of you with a penchant for the bubbly, here’s a thought (of course you can make less — or more, if you wish!). On second thought, you can just drink the two wines separately and not make the punch.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

Mary Lincoln’s Champagne Punch
Serves 64 (!)

3 quarts champagne
2 quarts sauternes
3 quarts soda water (salt-free)
1 gill (4 ounces) Curacao
Fresh fruit, e.g., strawberries, raspberries, or other seasonal fruit

At serving time, mix beverages together in large punch bowl.  Add fruit. Serve.

If you make the champagne with the fruit, don’t use strawberries if you plan to make the following easy dessert served in the Kennedy White by French chef, René Verdon.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy

Cream Cheese and Strawberry Frozen Delight from the Kennedy White House
Serves 6

1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup sugar
16-oz. package frozen strawberries, sliced, thawed, and drained
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth and very creamy. Stir in the sugar and blend well. Fold in the strawberries and the cream cheese with a spatula. Spoon the mixture into a 1-qt. mold, smoothing the top with the spatula. Freeze for four hours or longer. Serve with the champagne.

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