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Presidential First Ladies’ Recipes
Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to find favorite recipes from some recent First Ladies. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Recently at the funeral of First Lady Rosalynn Carter, her grandson Jason shared his memories of his beloved grandmother including two food memories. First, he commented that almost all of his grandmother’s recipes included mayonnaise (something many of us can relate to). Then he relayed a story of a flight she took with her grandchildren:
“The plane took off and we looked over and my grandmother took out this Tupperware of pimento cheese and this loaf of bread and she just started making sandwiches. She gave them to all of us grandkids and then she started giving them to other people on the plane.” *
That food memory got me thinking about 20th century First Ladies and their recipes. This topic continues to be of interest to cookbook authors and newspaper food writers. Readers enjoy trying recipes from famous people. Searching through historical newspapers is one way you can find recipes served by or enjoyed by First Ladies and their families.
Aside from her pimento cheese sandwiches, Rosalynn Carter had a number of recipes published in newspaper articles, including a few that were first printed in the Plains Pot-Pourri cookbook by the Junior Women’s Club of Plains, Georgia, in 1977. Two of the First Lady’s recipes, “Plains Special” Cheese Ring and a Chicken and Rice Casserole, are featured. Other Carter women recipes included daughter Amy Carter’s Daisy Salad, Lilian Carter’s Peanut Butter Cookies (Jimmy Carter’s mother), and Sybil Carter’s Grits and Egg Casserole (wife of Billy Carter).
According to this 1988 newspaper article coinciding with the release of the cookbook The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller, Pat Nixon’s meatloaf recipe was so popular that it was printed on White House stationery and sent to those who requested it. This family-style recipe calls for onion, garlic, thyme, marjoram, fresh pepper and parsley.
Another recipe enjoyed by Pat Nixon but prepared by the family chef is found in historical newspapers printed in 1972 during her husband’s presidency. The recipe for Chicken with Walnuts includes soy sauce, cabbage, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
In addition to any causes they supported, newspaper articles about First Ladies often focused on home matters such as cooking, whether they cooked the recipes or not. This 1976 sampler of White House recipes includes Betty Ford’s Ruby-Red Grapefruit Chicken. Aside from grapefruit this recipe also calls for cranberry sauce and honey.
The same article includes a dessert, Strawberry Blitz Torte, which is labeled as one of Betty Ford’s favorite desserts.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if recipes attributed to a famous person are really from that person. In this case, this chocolate chip cookie recipe published in the San Antonio Light on 29 July 1992 was Barbara Bush’s recipe – or at least, the one she used, borrowed from a friend. The newspaper article explains that a previous recipe printed in Family Circle magazine, originally from a McCall’s magazine article, credited a recipe to Barbara Bush – but First Lady Bush came forward to set the record straight. That recipe was from a chef who worked for the family. The corrected recipe printed here was provided by the First Lady’s press office.
Historical newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, are a great place to search for the recipes enjoyed by presidential first families. In addition to newspapers, First Ladies’ recipes can be found in community cookbooks printed in the state they were from as well as cookbooks focusing on the White House. Most enjoyed the food of professionally trained chefs while serving in the presidency, but many had favorite recipes they prepared or passed on to their kitchen staff.
Searching newspaper articles for First Lady recipes should use her name and the keyword “recipe.” Also, a search of the words “White House” and the keyword “recipe” will reveal cookbooks with recipes.
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Note on the header image: mixing bowl and cooking utensils.
* “Rosalynn Carter Practiced Tai Chi with a Sword, Says Grandson Jason: ‘She Was a Cool Grandma,’” People (https://people.com/rosalynn-carter-tai-chi-sword-jason-carter-speech-8407897: accessed 1 December 2023).