Inside the Beltway: Historic eats: White House Thanksgivings of yore

By – The Washington Times – Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What have presidents dined on over the years at ? The White House Historical Society has traced the menus back to Nov. 26, 1789, when George Washington issued a proclamation for a “public ,” then dined upon turkey, Chesapeake Bay oysters, Potomac rockfish and assorted pies. From that auspicious beginning comes many a menu, and a few interesting moments. A brief selection from the society’s records:

Nov. 25, 1897: “First lady Ida McKinley directed the White House chef to prepare a plain dinner that included a 26-pound turkey from Rhode Island stuffed with oysters, new potatoes from Idaho given to the McKinleys by a friend, cranberry, celery, mince, and pumpkin pie.”

Nov. 27, 1902: “After a vigorous morning horseback ride out into northwest Washington with first lady Edith Roosevelt and a party of six friends, President Theodore Roosevelt spent a quiet afternoon at the White House before a 7:30 p.m. dinner in the State Dining Room. On hearing that workmen building the new west wing annex could not take off the holiday because of their tight work schedule, the president insisted that the men be served an early afternoon turkey dinner.”

Nov. 28, 1912: “President William Howard Taft anxiously awaited the arrival of a big mince pie from his favorite aunt, Delia Torrey, of Millbury, Massachusetts. It arrived in plenty of time for a dinner featuring a turkey from Horace Vose, the Rhode Island ‘Poultry King’ who had been sending turkeys to grace the presidential table for years.”

Nov. 26, 1942: “After reading the first wartime proclamation in 25 years over the radio, President Roosevelt led the nation in prayer for a return of the days of peace. The White House dinner menu included clam cocktail, clear soup, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce, Spanish corn, small sausages and beans, sweet potato cones, grapefruit salad, pumpkin pie and cheese, coffee, and ice cream.”


“Let us keep in close memory our fellow Americans who have faced hardship and tragedy this year. In the spirit of generosity and compassion, let us joyfully reach out in word and deed, and share our time and resources throughout our communities. Let us also find ways to give to the less fortunate — whether it be in the form of sharing a hearty meal, extending a helping hand, or providing words of encouragement,” notes President Trump in his official proclamation.

“We are especially reminded on of how the virtue of gratitude enables us to recognize, even in adverse situations, the love of God in every person, every creature, and throughout nature. Let us be mindful of the reasons we are grateful for our lives, for those around us, and for our communities. We also commit to treating all with charity and mutual respect, spreading the spirit of throughout our country and across the world.”


Back by popular demand: Inside the Beltway once again features “President Reagan’s Favorite Macaroni and Cheese,” a simple recipe shared by “Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Washington, D.C., Wife of the President” in a spiral-bound community cookbook published in Northern Virginia in 1983. This appears to be Nancy Reagan’s own recipe, tucked in a modest, spiral-bound community cookbook, and found at a local library sale.

The recipe serves six people, and the dish is baked at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. The minimal directions are verbatim from the cookbook — reflecting the style, perhaps, of another era: “One half pound of macaroni, 1 tsp. butter, 1 egg, beaten; 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 3 C. grated cheese, sharp; 1 C milk.

“Boil macaroni in water until tender and drain thoroughly. Stir in butter and egg. Mix mustard and salt with 1 tablespoon hot water and add to milk. Add cheese, leaving enough to sprinkle on top. Pour into buttered casserole, add milk, sprinkle with cheese. Bake until custard is set and top is crusty.”

REAGAN ON , 1981

“ has become a day when Americans extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. Long before there was a government welfare program, this spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character. Americans have always understood that, truly, one must give in order to receive. This should be a day of giving as well as a day of thanks,” Ronald Reagan said in his first proclamation, on Nov. 26, 1981.

“We should reflect on the full meaning of this day as we enjoy the fellowship that is so much a part of the holiday festivities. Searching our hearts, we should ask what we can do as individuals to demonstrate our gratitude to God for all He has done. Such reflection can only add to the significance of this precious day of remembrance. Let us recommit ourselves to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation, and which will be needed as a source of strength if we are to remain a great people,” the 40th president advised.


dinners are complicated. Those who coordinate the feast, however, love doing so. A LendingTree poll of Americans hosting dinner this year finds that they plan to serve an average of 11 dinner guests, spend an average of $251.11 on the meal, and buy an average of $83.23 worth of housewares like dishes, serving ware and decorations. They will also take close to two days off work to host , resulting in an average of $587.62 in lost wages.

“Although hosting dinner means extra responsibilities, the survey found only 18 percent of hosts are very stressed about it; meanwhile, nearly half of respondents (46 percent) showed no signs of being stressed at all. And despite the stress and financial strain, 76 percent say they love to host dinner,” said the poll of 1,040 U.S. adults hosting the event, conducted Nov. 2-6.


35 percent of American men “don’t cook at all on “; 19 percent of women say the same.

30 percent of men “cook one or two things, and others cook most of it”; 27 percent of women say the same.

11 percent of men “cook about half the dishes, and others cook the rest”; 13 percent of women say the same.

13 percent of men “cook a majority of the dishes, and others cook the rest”; 17 percent of women say the same.

9 percent of men say “I cook everything myself”; 22 percent of women say the same.

Source: A YouGov Omnibus poll of 1,203 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 15-18.

• Happy , and thank you for reading Inside the Beltway.

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