Tess on the Town: Presidential tastes vary

Hail to the vittles! Or, victuals, as our earliest forefathers said.

We all know about the likes and dislikes of our recent presidents: Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans. George H.W. Bush hates broccoli. Bill Clinton never met a Big Mac he didn’t gobble down. And the younger George Bush was a problem pretzel eater.

But what about our other presidents?

Researching that information, I got most the answers from “The Presidents’ Cookbook” by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, who gathered their descriptions from historical records, biographies and newspapers.

George Washington, war hero and reluctant first president, is often associated with cherries. According to biographers, he did, indeed love cherries.

Washington’s tastes were simple and routine. Every morning, Martha Washington made tea and coffee and served them with two small plates of sliced tongue and dry toast, bread and butter.

Many of the early forefathers were men of the land, and ate pretty much what they were able to produce themselves from their fields, orchards, gardens and barnyards. A breakfast of cold fish or tongue was common.

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson had an adventurous palate and loved French food, having spent four years in Paris. Chocolates, meats and oranges were among his favorites. After tasting waffles in Holland, he was so pleased that he immediately bought a waffle iron.

Little is known about James Madison’s food likes and dislikes, although his wife, Dolley, was a lavish entertainer. Presumably he ate whatever Dolley served.

Andrew Jackson was a legendary host. He like to serve White House guests Daniel Webster punch, which included lemon, sugar, green tea, brandy, claret, champagne, oranges, cherries and strawberries.

Martin Van Buren had “a reputation as a bon vivant and epicurean, but avoided sweets.” His favorite Christmas meal was boar’s head.

William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia on his 32nd day in office, favored burgoo (squirrel) stew.

Creole cooking was brought to the White House by Zachary Taylor.

The president credited for modernizing the White House by having the first iron cookstove installed? Millard Fillmore. Before that time, all cooking was conducted colonial-style with an open hearth.

Lifelong bachelor James Buchanan, Pennsylvania born and bred was no Southerner, but he did love some Southern rich and sinful desserts. A favorite was Confederate Pudding.

Although his administration served elaborate gourmet state banquets, Honest Abe was almost entirely indifferent to food, according to observers. He did like apples, hot coffee and bacon, according to his bodyguard.

Andrew Johnson established a dairy at the White House to supply the family with fresh milk and butter.

Military man Ulysses S. Grant brought a quartermaster from his Army days to Pennsylvania Avenue. His wife, Julia, finally objected to the mess hall grub and hired a French chef.

James Garfield ate anything he was given, save oatmeal. When told that Native American leader Sitting Bull was staging a hunger strike in prison, Garfield said, “Let him starve.” A moment later he said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

William Howard Taft, a classic “steak and potatoes man,” consumed enough foodstuffs to make him arguably the most corpulent president. Tipping the scales at about 300 pounds, Taft had a special bathtub installed at the White House after he got stuck in the old one. “A typical Taft lunch might include bouillon, smelts with tartar sauce, lamb chops, Bermuda potatoes, green peas and for dessert, raspberry jelly with whipped cream, bonbons and large amounts of sugar and cream coffee.” When Mrs. Taft was around he would nibble fruit and lean steak.

Next week, I’ll complete the culinary list of our presidents’ food penchants.

In the meantime, here’s a quiz question: Which president liked ketchup on his cottage cheese?

QUOTE: “My manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out by it. A glass of wine and a bit on mutton are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed.”

— President George Washington

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