President’s Day is 217 years old. It was first observed in 1800, in honor of our first President, George Washington, who was born on February 22 and passed away in 1799. The iconic first President is most often associated with cherries and cherry pie. As we honor the 217th President’s Day and Week, let’s indulge in a brief overview of the preferred table fare of our first five Presidents.
Five Days at The Tables of Five Presidents…
Monday – George Washington (1789-1797)
Washington’s love of cherries has been confirmed by historians and biographers. He preferred simple foods and would no doubt embrace our love for “Local.” Washington’s Mount Vernon home was self-sufficient and provided ample variety for his household and guests. The Washington estate included orchards, extensive gardens and animals raised for meat. Ham and bacon were typical choices at the President’s table, along with a variety of fruits and nuts as recorded in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.
Tuesday – John Adams (1797-1801)
Adams’ heritage was rooted in New England, with a distinct influence from multi-cultural traditions he encountered while living in Paris, London and New York. The Adams were natural entertainers who enjoyed lavish, European-style dinners offering a variety of elaborate dishes. However, they always returned to their New England roots. A typical first course consisted of Indian Pudding, molasses and butter. Lamb and vegetables was a main course of choice.
Wednesday – Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Jefferson was introduced to waffles while traveling in Holland and was so smitten that he promptly acquired a waffle iron. He was an avid traveler. He was also a farmer. These passions merged to give him an appreciation for a widely varied table. He loved figs and olives and French pastries. However, native foods retained his attention most. Partridge, venison, Virginia ham and sweet potatoes were among his favorites.
Thursday – James Madison (1809-1817)
The White House had been home to three Presidents by the time Madison took office. The kitchen pantry was filled with a legacy of ingredients from around the world as well as from the biggest cities established in the United States to date. Thus elaborate feasts and hearty native meals were the basis of a balanced diet at the Madison table. But his love for agriculture prevailed and harvest-style dinners, beginning with Virginia Ham and concluding with apple pie, were common and welcome.
Friday – James Monroe (1817-1825)
Monroe, like his predecessor, was also fond of the fruits of the land. He grew up on the family plantation and his wife Elizabeth frequently served the dishes of his boyhood. Chicken fried with rice was a welcome choice. Monroe was particularly fond of biscuits and breads. The White House kitchen was certainly filled with delicious aromas during his presidency.
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