In honor of President’s Day, the New England Historical Society brings you another guide to how to eat like a president.
We focus on New England presidents beginning with John Adams and including one or two diversions such as Abraham Lincoln. (Though it’s worth pointing out that Legal Seafood’s clam chowder has been served at every presidential inauguration since Ronald Reagan.)
Eat Like a President
John Adams drank a tankard of hard cider when he got up in the morning, and when in Boston he stopped off later at the Green Dragon Tavern.
Paul Revere talks in his memoirs about meeting John and the other Sons of Liberty, like Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren, to start a revolution. The tavern isn’t exactly where it was back in the day, but absent the karaoke bar and table tents it’s quite evocative of the Revolutionary era.
When at home, John and Abigail ate typical New England foods such as codfish cakes, New England clam chowder, Johnny cake, apple butter, succotash, Indian pudding and gingerbread.
Their son, John Quincy Adams, was notoriously indifferent to food despite his exposure to many fine international cuisines. He liked fruit, and was known to say, “Five or six small crackers and a glass of water give me a sumptuous dinner.”
Pie at the White House
Franklin Pierce was another president who liked solid, traditional fare. It was a preference he would have picked up at his father’s tavern in Hillsborough, N.H., where a Christmas dinner was once held for Revolutionary War veterans. Pierce and his family were fond of maple syrup and New Hampshire fried pies, made with dried apples.
Abraham Lincoln, though not a New Englander, had relatives in Massachusetts. His distant cousin Levi Lincoln supported his political career. You can visit Sturbridge Village and see his former mansion where Abraham Lincoln dined in September 1848.
Levi Lincoln, former governor and then the mayor of Worcester, held a meal that Cousin Abraham remembered long afterward. Thirteen years later, he told Massachusetts Gov. Henry Gardner:
I had been chosen to Congress then from the wild West, and with hayseed in my hair I went to Massachusetts, the most cultured State in the Union, to take a few lessons in deportment.
Lincoln, Gardner said, added
That the dinner at Governor Lincoln’s by reason of its elaborate hospitality and social brilliancy was different in kind from any function he had ever attended before. He remarked upon the beauty of the china, the fineness of the silverware and the richness of all the table appointments, and spoke of the company of distinguished and thoroughly educated whom he met there in the animated, free and intimate conversation inspired by such an accomplished host as Governor Lincoln.
Picky Presidential Eater
Calvin Coolidge, as a state lawmaker and governor, enjoyed dining at the private Algonquin Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. He was a fastidious eater who believed chicken should be raised close to where they were eaten and kept chickens at the White House. They had an unusual flavor because the chicken yard was built on top of Theodore Roosevelt’s mint bed.
Coolidge liked roast beef, Vermont pickles and corn muffins. According to the Food Timeline, his fastidiousness created a problem for the White House chef, who couldn’t get the recipe for corn muffins right. First Lady Grace Coolidge finally sent off to a Northampton inn to get the recipe.
Coolidge’s discriminating dining habits are illustrated by several versions of a story told about him while he attended Amherst College. Here’s one version:
Dwight Morrow was a classmate of Coolidge’s at Amherst and the father of Anne Morrow, the wife of Charles A. Lindbergh. (Coolidge later appointed Morrow as Ambassador to Mexico.) Morrow used to like to tell the story of when he and Coolidge went to the same boarding house to take their meals. Hash was served frequently. When it was served, Morrow said Coolidge turned very grave. The landlady had a dog and a cat. As the hash was being served, Coolidge would ask “Where’s the dog?” and the dog would be brought in. Then he’d ask “Where’s the cat?” — and the cat would be called in. Only then would he help himself to the hash.
The Modern Era
As a member of Congress, John F. Kennedy stayed at a hotel near the Statehouse in Boston. He notoriously showed up at the nearby 21st Amendment for a beer he never paid for.
Kennedy also liked to read his Sunday paper at the Union Oyster House, where another presidential wannabe, Daniel Webster, used to consume six plates of oysters and a tumbler of brandy for lunch.
Like Coolidge, Kennedy liked corn muffins. He also dearly loved Boston clam chowder. White House chef Rene Verdon remembered,
He asked me to prepare it for him on many occasions…I did everything I could to satisfy Mr. Kennedy’s New England liking for good fish cookery. Quite naturally, as a Catholic, he had it every Friday.
When vacationing on Cape Cod, the Kennedys liked the homemade ice cream from the Four Seas ice cream parlor in Centerville, near the family compound in Hyannisport. Jackie Kennedy’s favorite flavor: peach.
George H.W. Bush was as fastidious about vegetables as Calvin Coolidge was about everything else. He hated broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Barbara Bush said,
The day he was 60, he said to me: `I am never going to eat broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or cabbage again.’ And he hasn’t!
Bush and his family liked lobster and ice cream, though. When vacationing in Kennebunkport, they enjoyed Mabel’s Lobster Claw, a seafood restaurant that’s been serving tourists since the 1950s. The Bushes allegedly liked the peppermint stick ice cream.
And on the walls of Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana in New Haven hangs a framed photo of Bill Clinton. Though now a vegan, he liked a good white clam apizza in his day.
This story about eating like a president was updated in 2022.