The Weirdest Foods Our Presidents Ate
Every Presidents' Day, our nation’s commanders in chief are remembered for their leadership. This year, honor our past presidents by recognizing the preferences of their palates. From decadent to pragmatic to downright gross, our former leaders had unusual tastes
Yes, he'll take fries with that. Bill Clinton's penchant for fast food was famously captured in a Saturday Night Live skit in 1992. And the video doesn't stray far from the truth--during a regular run in the capitol, Clinton, along with his secret service crew, really did stop at a McDonald's for a Big Mac. The cheeseburger wasn't the 42nd president's only taste for all-American cuisine. Clinton was partial to it in the White House too, much to the chagrin of the official chef who preferred to serve sophisticated French fare. He was later replaced by Chef Walter Scheib, who dished up traditional American meals with a healthy slant.
Richard Milhous Nixon is certainly remembered for a lot of things, yet oddly enough his favorite breakfast is at the top of the list. He loved to mix cottage cheese and pineapple, topped off with a dollop of ketchup, according to the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he even ate it as his last presidential meal before resigning from office. Sometimes he would vary the recipe by substituting fruit or pepper for the ketchup. Another culinary quirk? In the earlier days of his presidency, Tricky Dicky had fresh yogurt flown in daily from California.
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Our first president's wooden teeth must have been pretty strong because he allegedly used them to crack nuts. The President's Cookbook by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks tells us that although George Washington wasn't much of a foodie, he was nuts about nuts. (You should be too--nuts are high in protein and fiber and can help you lose weight faster.) The book recounts that he would buy hazelnuts by the barrel and grew several varieties of walnuts on Mount Vernon, his plantation in Virginia. He planted 30 nut trees in 1763 alone, and later complained in a letter that "poachers" were stealing his trees for the wood. He usually carried a handful of nuts with him so that his snack of choice was readily available.
The soup du jour for our portliest president, who weighed in at 332 pounds, was always turtle soup. William Howard Taft had a chef on staff whose only duty was to prepare it upon his request. While the stew may raise eyebrows today, it was considered a delicacy in our country's earlier years, served at presidential inaugurations and on the first transcontinental trains. Green snapping turtles were plentiful in the original colonies, and they were likely served in a soup at the very first Thanksgiving. By the Revolutionary War, turtle soup was a popular dish in cookbooks nationwide and their popularity raged on through the 1800s, but by World War II the dish had become passé.
Like a true Midwestern boy, Gerald Ford's taste in food was all-American and simple. The Gerald Ford Library and Museum reports that his favorite meal at the White House was "savory" pot roast, specifically served with red cabbage. He'd top the spread off with butter pecan ice cream for dessert. The 38th president also enjoyed munching on German apple pancakes and fresh strawberries. His absolute chart topper was waffles with strawberries and sour cream--perhaps he was ahead of the sweet and savory trend.
Ronald Reagan had quite a sweet tooth and regularly indulged in pumpkin pecan pie, ice cream, chocolate, and of course Nancy's fudge brownies. But his absolute favorite was jelly beans. Three and a half tons of Jelly Belly beans were shipped to the White House for his presidential inauguration in 1981. He always had a jar of jelly beans on his desk in the Oval Office, which he offered to share with guests. Hopefully they knew not to pick the licorice ones--his flavor of choice.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Try these 3 Tricks for Healthier Desserts.
George H.W. Bush caused his first food ruckus before he even became president. During his campaign he declared pork rinds were his top snack, causing their popularity to surge so much that pork rind manufacturer Rudolph Foods Company had to ask its employees to work overtime to meet the demand. Then, while in office, he made an enemy of moms everywhere by stating during a news conference: "I do not like broccoli and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." (Maybe Bush should try these foolproof tricks to sneak in more vegetables.)
Like father, like son. Following in his dad's footsteps, George W. Bush told White House Chef Walter Scheib that he wasn't a fan of vegetables. Instead, the chef revealed in 2007 that for dinner he relished "cheeseburger pizzas"--all of the ingredients of a cheeseburger on top of a margherita pizza. But his most famous food moment is when he nearly choked on a pretzel in 2002 while watching Sunday Night Football. When a piece of pretzel got lodged in his throat, he lost consciousness for a few seconds, then fell and injured his face, but the White House medical team came to the rescue. (Pretzels, by the way, are a low-fat food that can actually make you gain weight.)
Soon after becoming president, Lyndon B. Johnson stopped drinking alcohol and replaced it with an unlikely beverage: Fresca. The calorie-free grapefruit soda was so in demand by LBJ that he had a button installed on his desk in Oval Office that signaled his military aide to bring him the drink. (There were also buttons for coffee, tea, and Coke.) And when it came to grub, his go-to dishes were equally simple: tapioca pudding, canned peas, and sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows.
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A patriotic tradition for John Adams was eating his favorite dessert, Apple Pan Dowdy, every Independence Day. Though its name isn't appealing, the ingredients are: nutmeg, molasses, cinnamon, and of course apples. According to The President's Cookbook, another crucial ingredient was ice water. Apples were a staple in many of the colonial era's treats. Adams was certainly a fan of the fruit--he drank a tankard of cider every morning just after waking up.
One of our founding fathers was also a founding farm-to-table devotee. Thomas Jefferson had a huge garden at Monticello, his home in Charlottesville, VA. During his trips overseas, he collected recipes and brought back seeds for his garden, according to the US Library of Congress. He grew an assortment of 300 vegetables, including 30 types of cabbage and 40 varieties of kidney beans, as well as eggplant, tomatoes, okra, garlic, lima beans, peanuts, and hot and sweet peppers. The locavore enjoyed swapping recipes and seeds with neighbors and friends, and hosted an annual pea-growing competition.
For William Henry Harrison, today's rodent could be tomorrow's soup. Our ninth president's favorite meal was squirrel stew. He even liked to serve a version of it on the campaign trail in 1840, called "Burgoo"--a squirrel and vegetable stew--because extra helpings could be cooked up to accommodate the crowd. Most likely he washed it all down with his preferred brew: hard cider. Shockingly, he wasn't alone--President James Garfield was a fellow fan of the soup. It's too bad squirrel stew didn't have healing powers--Harrison died on his 32nd day in office from pneumonia, serving the shortest term in American history.
The only bachelor to serve as President was James Buchanan, and his marital status may have had a hand in creating the manly menu for his Inaugural Ball. The occasion on March 4, 1857 included 400 gallons of oysters, 75 hams, 60 saddles of mutton, four saddles of venison, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 500 quarts of jellies, a four-foot cake, and $3,000 worth of wine. But out of all those heaps of food, Buchanan was surely most excited for his signature dish: beef tongue. And there were exactly 125 beef tongues at the celebration. A new building on Judiciary Square in Washington, DC had to be constructed to accommodate all 6,000 guests. They dined at long tables set along red, white and blue walls, and after the meal they danced under a white ceiling shimmering with hundreds of gold stars.
Following the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as our 21st president. For his first dinner in the White House, on December 7, 1881, it's unknown what was served at the intimate meal. However, we do know that it was prepared by a French chef that Arthur brought with him to Washington, DC, who had previously worked in New York. During a typical day for Arthur, his chef made a breakfast of coffee and a roll; a meatless lunch of oatmeal, fish, and fruit; then dinner at 6 which was often a mutton chop or slice of rare roast beef with a baked potato. His best-loved category of food was seafood, and he most of all had a hankering for Rhode Island eels.
A TV tray was the dining table of choice for Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie. They'd eat seated on the couch while watching television. Eisenhower especially liked chicken noodle soup, succotash and fluffy turnips, and his absolute favorite dessert was prune whip. The old-fashioned indulgence is a type of custard made of prune puree and whipped cream.