If you really want to know what a president was like, find out what he ate. That’s what Leslie and Dan Landrigan did with the six presidents from New England. The authors wrote the New England Historical Society’s new book, Eat Like a President: 30 Recipes from the White House to Your House, which tells you about the presidents’ families, their servants, their friends — and how they struggled to run the White House and the country at the same time.
You’ll find some surprises in Eat Like a President. Calvin Coolidge, for example, loved to play practical jokes on the servants. Chester A. Arthur indulged in fine dining despite having a fatal kidney disease. John Quincy Adams had a passion for Madeira wine.
Other presidential preferences won’t surprise you. The revolutionary presidential couple, John and Abigail Adams, served distinctly American food. Franklin Pierce, the backwoodsman, preferred comfort food from his native New Hampshire. And Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy loved fancy French cuisine.
The book also explores the historic setting in which the food was made and served. Each president grappled with America’s defining conflicts over freedom and equality. How they treated their servants revealed a lot about their attitudes toward servitude and slavery. Abigail Adams hated the Constitutional compromise that allowed slavery, and she hated watching enslaved servants toiling just outside the White House. She treated her own servants like family. Then, more than a century later, Calvin Coolidge tried to pass an anti-lynching bill and took his ill African American wine steward with him on an Adirondacks vacation to improve his health.
You’ll get a fuller picture of the difficulties a president faces from Eat Like a President. Among pressing cares about war, disaster, legislation and re-election, they still have to meet with hundreds of people every week – and feed many of them. A presidential couple still must host a state dinner even if their child is dying. A president has to spend hours shaking hands even when his enemies are killing his infrastructure bill. In the midst of all that, the first couple has to try to make the White House presentable.
You’ll also get a fuller picture of the presidential couples and their times just from what they ate and drank. Jane Pierce, a teetotaler, came from a cold roast Boston family, while Franklin, an alcoholic, grew up in a tavern. They didn’t appear together publicly very often.
Calvin Coolidge loved the Vermont pickles of his modest boyhood. People even said he looked like he was weaned on one. And yet he also enjoyed Chinese food, a cuisine embraced by aspirational middle-class city dwellers. Coolidge was both.
In the reckless 1960s, the Kennedys served tumblers of Cuba Libres at their White House Twist parties. Those were prosperous times, and the Kennedys — Jackie especially — spent lavishly. At one party they served 10 pounds of caviar in a gold bucket.
Finally, Eat Like a President describes where the presidents ate – in the White House. The first couples had to keep improving the building as America grew in power and prestige. In 1800, Abigail Adams furnished a drafty, unfinished 36-room house; 162 years later, Jackie Kennedy turned a 132-room mansion into an elegant showplace.
In the book…
Let’s face it, food is a fun way to learn about history. And history is a fun way to cook food.
In this book you will get step-by-step instructions on how to make 30 different kinds of presidential food in a modern American kitchen. The foods range from fairly simple colonial fare to fancy French dishes preferred by the Kennedys and the Chinese entrees the Coolidges loved.
You will also get an engaging account of each president’s White House years, with historical background and context. High school students might find it a compelling way to learn about American history — and American cooking.
About the authors
Dan and Leslie Landrigan are the authors of the New England Historical Society website. Over the past decade, they’ve written thousands of stories about New England history. They now live on an island in Maine, where they do a lot of cooking for themselves.
This books is the fourth in a series about historic foods. The others are 21 Historic Thanksgiving Foods, 29 Historic Apple Recipes: Cooks’ Favorites from 1650 to 1960, and Historic Italian Christmas Cookies, all ebooks available from Amazon.
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