White House dining: Hoover a speed eater, other preferences

Continuing our way through the food histories of our presidents, we come to Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States.

Born to Quaker parents, Hoover could be considered the “get ‘er done” president at the dinner table.

The president was very hasty in his repast, eating as quickly as possible. “The kitchen staff used to make bets as to how long it would take him to speed through a meal, according to “The Presidents’ Cookbook,” which is the source for most of this information.

Although Hoover is credited with promising Americans “a chicken in every pot,” it was not an original expression and dates back much further. It did, however, become his catch phrase.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the country through times of great privation, the Great Depression and World War II. At the end of each week the Roosevelts looked forward to their Sunday suppers, a relaxing, informal meal to which they invited family and friends.

The president and first lady involved themselves in the preparation. Eleanor always made scrambled eggs with cream and served them in a silver chafing dish. Roosevelt liked to play bartender and often whipped up martinis for his guests.

Perhaps the couple’s biggest dare on the Washington social scene was to serve hot dogs to the king and queen of England at their Hyde Park summer home in 1939, according to The New York Times.

Some social arbiters of the time said it was a ghastly faux pas. Others said it was a (calculating?) gesture to the scarcity that had befallen their nation. Whatever the reason, the royal couple was said not to be offended by the menu.

Dwight D. Eisenhower liked to cook traditional American favorites for family and guests. His favorite was beef stew. The president and first lady were not known to be gourmands and were happy to spend dinner alone in each other’s company. They often took their dinner on trays while watching television.

The first Catholic president of the country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was fond of the fish and soups of his native New England. Meatless meals were served on Fridays, often in the form of clam chowder, fish stew or vichysoisse.

The cosmopolitan first lady had a preference for French food and lured chef Rene Verdon from the Carlyle Hotel in New York to be the White House chef.

Texas-born Lyndon Baines Johnson had a big appetite and enjoyed every style of cookery, but his favorites were Tex-Mex cuisine and barbecue.

LBJ, like FDR, sometimes broke with social niceties, treating visiting heads of state to a giant outdoor barbecue, with aplomb.

Lady Bird tried to keep her husband to his diet, but he couldn’t resist a big bowl of Fiddle-Faddle.

Richard and Tricia Nixon brought with them their fondness for the fresh fruits and vegetables that grow in their home state of California. Salads with fresh oranges, grapefruit and avocados were often served.

President Nixon was said to love cottage cheese, on which he drizzled ketchup.

Mrs. Nixon once said “Dick eats everything, but he likes meatloaf.”

He did indeed eat what was served to him, including course after course of exotic Chinese delicacies, such as shark fin and ancient eggs, on his diplomatic travels.

The Carter family fended for themselves on Sunday nights, eating leftovers or sandwiches, while the kitchen staff was given the day off.

Media reports that the Georgia-born Carters served grits and collards in the White Hous led visiting dignitaries to expect that they would be served the Southern fare, and the first family did not disappoint. The food was, though, fancied up a bit.

According to “The President’s Cookbook,” the Carters “enjoyed eating peanuts, plain, or as an ingredient ... but no more than the typical family.”

Ronald and Nancy Reagan were healthy, sensible eaters. Mrs. Reagan was concerned about fiber and fat and calories and generally steered the president away from his homestyle favorites, mac and cheese, hamburger soup and apple brown betty.

George H.W. Bush had his favorites, but was better known for what he detested: broccoli; and add cauliflower, cabbage and Brussel sprouts to the list. His favorite junk food: pork rinds.

Favorites for Bill Clinton, renowned for his garbage gut, were chicken enchiladas, tacos, barbecued ribs, cheeseburgers, lemon chess pie and his mom’s sweet potato casserole,” according to “Bill and His Diet.”

A heart attack later, I’m guessing he’s not bellying up to that table anymore.

The 43rd president’s food style is described as direct, non-negotiable and quick. Fond of Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex, the second President Bush often settled down to an ultimate childhood comfort food: a grilled cheese sandwich made with Kraft Singles and white bread.

The Obama family, whose tastes are evolving, are upscale, healthy and trendy. Michelle re-introduced a vegetable garden to the White House and has made a healthy diet the cornerstone of her time in the White House.

One of the Obamas’ regular haunts, going way back to the Chicago years, is Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’ shrine to refined Mexican food.

QUOTE: “Never notice what’s put before me. Learned in the Army to eat what could be obtained and like it. In my outfit, when a man kicked about the food, he was given a chance to improve it. That soon cured the kickers and they took what was put before them and liked it.” — Harry S. Truman

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