All the President’s Tables: Ulysses S. Grant’s 1873 Inaugural Supper

Grant's Inauguration 1873
Grant's Inauguration 1873

Grant Taking the Oath of Office 1873
Grant Taking the Oath of Office 1873

The punch froze. So did the canaries. Brought in to sing for the guests, the poor creatures stiffened seemingly in mid-air, falling to their deaths onto the guests below.

Luckily, supper began at 9 p.m. with hot coffee and hot oysters. And the people needed something hot to forget their blue noses and the sad fate of the canaries.  Most of the gala took place outside in tents, society women dancing in their furs and men in heavy coats.

Grant Inaugural Ball
Grant Inaugural Ball

But the chill in the air didn’t stop the flow of food. A New York Times article dated March 5, 1873 almost trills with the following mind-boggling list of dishes and provisions:

10,000 fried oysters

8,000 scalloped oysters

8,000 pickled oysters

63 boned turkeys

75 roast turkeys

150 roast capons, stuffed with truffles

15 saddles of mutton

40 pieces of spiced beef, 40 pounds each

200 dozen quails

100 game patis [sic], 50 pounds each

300 tongues, ornamented with jelly [aspic]

200 hams, ornamented with jelly [aspic]

Julia Dent Grant, Wife of President Ulysses S. Grant
Julia Dent Grant, Wife of President Ulysses S. Grant

30 salmon, baked, Montpellier butter

100 chickens hot and cold

400 partridges, Washington style

25 boar’s heads, stuffed and ornamented

40 patis [sic] de foie gras, 10 pounds each

2,000 head-cheese sandwiches

3,000 ham sandwiches

3,000 beef-tongue sandwiches

1,600 bunches celery

30 barrels salad

2 barrels lettuce

350 chickens boiled for salad

6,000 eggs for salad

2,000 pounds lobster, boiled for salad

1 barrel of beets

2,500 loaves of bread

8,000 rolls

24 cases of Prince Albert crackers

Francis Toms)
Butter Keeper (Photo credit: Francis Toms)

1,000 pounds of butter

300 charlotte russes, 17 ½ pounds each

200 moulds wine jelly

200 moulds blanc mange

300 gallons ice-cream, assorted

200 gallons ices, assorted

400 pounds mixed cakes

150 large cakes, ornamented

60 large pyramids, assorted

25 barrels Malaga grapes

15 cases oranges

Grant at Cold Harbor, Virginia, 1864 (Matthew Brady photo)
Grant at Cold Harbor, Virginia, 1864 (Matthew Brady photo)

5 barrels apples

400 pounds mixed candies

10 boxes raisins

200 pounds shelled almonds

300 gallons claret punch* [Recipe below]

200 gallons coffee

200 gallons tea

100 gallons chocolate

Grant could only have dreamed of this food and abundance as he chased General Robert E. Lee across northern Virginia during the Civil War. That less than ten years separated this culinary abundance from the devastation of that war is a sobering thought. And testimony to resiliency of  Americans …

(A special “Thank You” to Janet Clarkson of The Olde Foodie blog for pointing me to this marvelous list.)

Grant China Place Setting
Grant China Place Setting

Note: You may buy reproductions of various presidential china sets from the JFK Library online store, including copies of the Grant china:

The Grant White House china was created under an alliance of an American artist and the considerable talents of France’s Haviland and Company. William E. Seaton created a range of floral decorations to grace the center of each plate. Lissac, painter-engraver of Haviland then transmitted these designs to porcelain, adding the same yellow-colored border, as well as the Grant coat of arms to each. During the Grant administration, this china received a great deal of use as the Grants were known for their lavish entertaining.

Kurt Collins
Photo credit: Kurt Collins

Serves 25

“Claret,” technically a dark red wine from Bordeaux, is essentially a Cabernet Sauvignon with a pinch of Merlot.

1 ¼ cups confectioner’s sugar
15 cups Claret
10 cups sparkling mineral water
1 ¼ cups lemon juice
2 measures Curaçao

Place the ingredients in a large punch bowl containing plenty of ice. Stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Decorate with orange and apple slices. Keep the punch bowl packed with ice.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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