All the Presidents' Menus: What First Families Eat on Christmas
People are strangely fascinated by what other people eat, and even more so when that other person is the president. Here are 10 Christmas dinner menus from presidents past and present.
1. 1790 - George Washington
Christmas at Mount Vernon was no small affair. In addition to Washington's super-tasty eggnog, the first president served onion soup, oysters, broiled herring, Yorkshire pudding, roast suckling pig, turkey with chestnut stuffing, boiled beef with horseradish sauce, Virginia ham, lima beans, acorn squash, baked celery with almonds, hominy pudding, candied sweet potatoes, cantaloupe pickles, spiced cranberries, and mincemeat, apple, and cherry pies. There were more desserts, including blancmange, jellied plums, snowballs (whatever those were), ice cream, and plum pudding, plus an assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese and egg-free alcoholic beverages.
2. 1887 - Grover Cleveland
After a hearty breakfast of oranges, boiled rice and salt mackerel, Grover Cleveland and his family and guests were treated to an elaborate dinner menu featuring oysters on the half shell, game soup, boiled fish, roast goose, applesauce, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, more boiled rice, stewed onions, lobster salad, duck, plum pudding, vanilla ice cream, mince pie, salted almonds, various fruit, candies and cookies, and coffee. The White House Christmas Plum Pudding recipe is a monster of culinary proportions: it begins with a cup of beef suet followed by at least 16 more ingredients, 12 steps of preparation, four hours of boiling, and then to top it off there's a brandy sauce recipe that calls for "a piece of butter as large as an egg." Though he never found himself stuck in the presidential clawfoot tub, it might be worth noting that President Cleveland was quite large.
3. 1907 - Teddy Roosevelt
Whatever else the Roosevelts were planning for their Christmas feast in 1907, they probably didn't expect the shipment that arrived from Helen Longstreet. She hand-fed a pair of possums for months — "mostly persimmons" — for the sole purpose of gifting them to the president and his family. Longstreet, a postmistress in Gainesville, Georgia, wrote on the box, "These o'possums surrendered near the Wren's Nest, Atlanta, both contending smilingly for for the honor of furnishing the Christmas dinner for the American Prince and his family." It's hard to imagine anyone would get away with the shipment of animals or that "American Prince" line today without a surprise visit from men with badges, but it's a sweet story, if you're into eating possum.
4. 1941 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt
As the United States celebrated Christmas for the first time as combatants in WWII (while still climbing out of the Great Depression), the dinner menu at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was pared down a bit to reflect the country's wartime sacrifice. FDR and guest of honor Winston Churchill dined on clear soup, thin toast, turkey and dressing, and beans, and of course the Christmas plum pudding made an appearance as well.
5. 1947 - Harry S. Truman
The Trumans served what was probably the first roll-free White House Christmas dinner: the menu was "minus bread or rolls and butter, in keeping with the national food conservation program," and included only tomato consomme, curled celery, assorted olives, roast turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, asparagus, the now-infamous plum pudding, fruit salad, and coffee.
6. 1960 - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Details are scant about the Eisenhowers' holiday menus, but one fact is known: in 1960, the family received a 42-pound turkey and a gallon of oysters for the affair, courtesy of a Mr. Arthur Briscoe. To put that bird into perspective, the average 5-year-old weighs around 40 pounds.
7. 1973 - Richard Nixon
Things were not looking great for Nixon's presidency in 1973, what with that whole Watergate thing. The Nixons had a very small, private dinner in 1973 with just a few family and friends, some turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. Eight months later, Nixon became the first (and only) president to resign the office.
8. 1993 - Bill Clinton
Since the Clintons were already in the practice of hosting Christmas dinner for both their families, they put out quite a spread to include everyone's favorites: turkey and ham, bread stuffing and cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli, ambrosia, a cranberry mold, giblet gravy, a relish tray with green onions, watermelon pickles and olives, and pumpkin, pecan, apple and cherry pies. And on top of all of that, champagne, wine, eggnog, syllabub, and sweet potato punch (from a recipe clipped from an Arkansas newspaper).
9. 2007 - George W. Bush
The Bushes enjoyed a relatively low-key Christmas lunch at Camp David in 2007. On the menu? Turkey, dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, Parker House rolls, pumpkin and pecan pies, and red velvet cake.
10. 2012 - Barack Obama
Last year, the Obamas celebrated in Hawaii with steak, potatoes, green beans and pie. This year's menu will be slightly more traditional, though just as simple: turkey, string beans, dressing, and mac and cheese.