Hail to the Chef

Jan 16, 2017

Gesturing toward the White House, a senator once facetiously asked Calvin Coolidge, "Who lives there?" Coolidge replied, "No one. They just come and go."

Though Coolidge was correct that occupants of the White House are only temporary tenants, their impact is often felt long after they move out. And perhaps nowhere is this more the case than with dining and entertaining. Each first family has left its own culinary imprint on the country and the executive mansion.

Certainly not every Commander-in-Chief has approached the dinner table with the same degree of gusto. Some, like Abraham Lincoln and William Henry Harrison, were thin and bound by restrictive diets.

Others like Grover Cleveland, who tipped the scales at 250 pounds, and William Howard Taft whose weight yo-yoed between 300 and 350 pounds had heartier appetites. Some like Thomas Jefferson and Herbert Hoover had lavish tastes or were connoisseurs.

Others, most notably Calvin Coolidge, were more frugal. He personally reviewed menus and opted for cheaper breakfast meetings over luncheon meetings. At leaving the White House, he said his greatest disappointment was never having discovered what happened to the leftovers.

Some were easier to please at the table than others. FDR once served hotdogs and baked beans to the King and Queen of England. Others, like Dwight Eisenhower, were genuinely interested in cooking and knew their way around the kitchen.

Even the choice of presidential tableware can have political consequences as Nancy Reagan discovered some years ago. However, she was hardly the first to have her china policy criticized. People complained that Mary Todd Lincoln thought she was royalty because she ordered purple china for the White House.

Since John and Abigail Adams first opened the White House to the public over 200 years ago, it's been a showcase for what America stands for in a culinary sense as much as any other.

So when we hear the Marine Band play "Hail to the Chief," we ought to say "Hail to the Chef" as well.

++++++++++ Bess Truman's Ozark Pudding ++++++++++

Harry Truman preferred home cooking to fancy fare. Though he was most fond of buttermilk pie, Mrs. Truman's favorite dessert was this one, not really a pudding in the traditional sense, but a chewy cake-like concoction, not unlike a dacquoise. Served with ice cream or whipped cream, it can be addictive.

2 eggs
1½ c. sugar
6 heaping tbsp. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. chopped apples

Beat eggs. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, and blend into egg mixture. Fold in nuts and apples, and spread in a greased 8x11½-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.