The Gallery: Eating What the Presidents Ate

Left: Wine Jelly.
Recently, I’ve been reading The First Ladies Cookbook: Favorite Dishes of all the Presidents of the United States. It was printed sometime around 1976, in the history-loving fervor surrounding our bicentennial. I’m always a little suspicious of historic books printed in this era, as the research often seems a tad sketchy. But TFLC (as it shall hereby be known) seems fairly trustworthy, and has footnoted its references. I always appreciate a good footnote.

I learned a few interesting facts after glancing over the introduction, “Notes on Early American Cookery.” It speaks of the early housewife, who regulated “…the temperature (of) the Dutch oven so that she would not have a ‘sad cake…'” Meaning: a cake that was baked unevenly, so that it was tragically lopsided and irrevocable burnt. A sad cake! Aw.

I also discovered a thing or two about Gelatin: “Gelatin was made from calves’ feet, or from a product called isinglass, taken from the swim bladders of fishes…In the elaborate molded desserts they gave a meaty or fishy flavor to the pudding.” Jee-sus.

Additionally, I found out Thomas Jefferson was not only quite the gourmand, but also a consummate host. I’ve added this new knowledge to my list of reasons to love Jefferson–in fact, thinking of him makes my heart flutter.

Being a widower, Jefferson would occasionally call upon the aid Mrs. Dolley Madison, the wife of his secretary of state. She seems like she was a real firecracker–she saved all those paintings and popularized ice cream!

A guest at one of Jefferson’s dinner parties recounts his first experience with Macaroni:

“…A pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed in them.”

What was this strong liquor? I need to seek out a recipe contemporary to this account; I’ve become very curious about the evolution of macaroni and cheese in America. After all, “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.”
One of Jefferson’s favorite recipes was Wine Jelly, which is exactly what it sounds like: booze-flavored Jell-o. I think I’m going to try out the recipe, although I will probably use unflavored gelatin for simplicity’s sake, instead of extracting isinglass from the swim bladders of fishes.
Right: Turban of Chicken.
Below: “Sausage Rolls.”
Other presidential favorites: Martin Van Buren loved Huguenot Cake, an apple torte I’ve been jonesing to bake. Grover Cleveland was fond of “Turban of Chicken, Cleveland style,” a molded pate-style ring made from mushrooms and mushed chicken pieces. And Benjamin Harrison’s favorite dish? Pigs in a blanket. Who can blame him?

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