Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

By Charlene Smith
Pine Bluffs Post staff 

Presidential recipes from Washington and Lincoln


I know you think I’m going to give you a recipe for cherry pie, as we all tend to associate cherries, particularly cherry trees with our first president.

But just as the mid-19th century accounts detailing the first Thanksgiving feast were debunked as nationalism, Washington’s the cherry tree story has found its way into the national myth column. Folks back then felt the nation was divided and needed to “cut” a unified history if it was going to survive. It worked, or I wouldn’t have brought it up again almost 250 years later.

George Washington did, indeed, love cherries, but his eating habits were relatively simple. Mount Vernon was self-sufficient with meat preservation facilities for ham and bacon as well as many orchards and farms that could provide everything the Washington’s preferred to eat. One of Washington’s favorites was nuts and he would purchase hazelnuts and shellbacks by the barrel.

But plain to Washington might sound presidential to us. One guest recorded a dinner at Mount Vernon included an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch.

If Washington was known for his simple and plain menus, some thought from the balls and banquet menus during his administration that Abraham Lincoln was a gourmet of all gourmets. However, certain observers claimed that Lincoln was “almost entirely indifferent to food.” Maybe that was how he stayed so thin.

Lincoln did like apples and hot coffee, was very fond of bacon and “was a hearty eater,” noted one of Lincoln’s bodyguards. As with our strongest presidents, Lincoln relied on food to “feed the furnace.”

Lincoln was a gentleman and companions that followed him from attorney to the presidency said they never heard him complain of a “hard bed or a bad meal of victuals.” His stepmother said “He ate what was before him, making no complaint.”

When Mary Lincoln hosted large receptions, she “simply put food on the table, and the crowds poured into the house to eat it.”

Washington was a devout beer lover. In particular, he was fond of the dark, English-style brew known as porter, and always demanded that an ample supply of it be kept on hand at Mount Vernon, his Virginia estate. However, it was not porter, but rather “small beer,” for which Washington once recorded an early recipe. This recipe was preserved in the collections of the New York Public Library in a notebook kept by Washington. Below is a verbatim recital of George Washington’s personal hand-written recipe for making beer included in the notebook.

George Washington’s recipe for beer (recipe from

To Make Small Beer, take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working. Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

There are reports claiming Lincoln thought this cake made by his wife was “the best he ever ate.” The Todd family acquired the recipe from Monsieur Giron, a Lexington, Ky., caterer, and cherished it. The baking powder must have been added at a later date.

Mary Todd’s Vanilla Almond Cake (recipe from The Presidents Cookbook)

Cream together 2 cups sugar with 1 cup butter. Sift 3 cups flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder three times and add to the butter-sugar mixture alternately with 1 cup milk. Chop 1 cup blanched almonds until very fine and add them to the mixture. Beat vigorously, then fold in 6 stiffly beaten egg whites carefully. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, then fold in 6 stiffly beaten egg whites carefully. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla (almond extract if you prefer) and pour the mixture into a greased and floured angel-cake pan. Bake in a preheated moderate (350 degree F.) oven for approximately 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the cake’s center. Turn the cake out on a wire rack and allow to cool before frosting it. This makes a very large cake. If you prefer, you can bake it in 2 9-inch layer-cake pans. The cake may be made without the almonds and is a splendid plain white cake, very light and good.

Mary Todd’s Candied Fruit Frosting

Beat 2 egg whites until very stiff. Set aside for a moment. Beat together 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water until the syrup spins a thread about five inches long. Then slowly fold into the egg whites, a spoonful at a time, very slowly, beating well with an electric beater as you add. Beat at top speed (very hard if you use a hand beater) until all the syrup is used and the mixture forms peaks when dropped from a spoon. When stiff, slowly add 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Fold into the mixture 1/2 cup diced candied pineapple and 1/2 cup crystallized cherries cut in half. Spread between the layers and over the top and sides of the vanilla almond cake. If desired, the candied fruit may be eliminated. The frosting is delicious without them.


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