Presidential feast: 3 recipes from past U.S. leaders make a festive holiday menu
Mattress makers and appliance sellers may be the only ones who celebrate Presidents Day. Let's change that.
Kids love making as much as they do eating the three dishes on this special menu. President Obama's Chili, Washington's Cornbread and Lincoln's Almond Cake can come together in about 90 minutes (in kid-cooking time). While you wait for the baking and simmering to wrap up, you can regale your young chefs with quirky presidential food trivia like:
• Washington was a farming innovator. He realized tobacco cultivation was exhausting the soil, so he began mixing in compost in 1760. He even kept barnyard animals next to the kitchen garden to make the process more efficient. People thought this was more than a little eccentric.
• Lincoln was almost indifferent to food. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, especially enjoyed making sweets. During one week in 1849, she bought 13 pounds of sugar. Her white almond cake was one of Abe's favorites.
• Obama used Lincoln's Bible at his swearing-in, and his inaugural lunch was inspired by Lincoln's life on the Kentucky-Indiana frontier. The three courses were seafood stew, a brace of American birds (pheasant and duck) with sour cherry chutney, and molasses sweet potatoes. Even the inaugural china used was a replica of that used in the Lincoln White House. Our menu is simpler but more pleasing to kids' palates (and mine.)
The chili recipe first appeared in Parade magazine in 2012 with a header from Michelle Obama: "I borrowed this recipe from my husband -- it's now the President's Chili Recipe. When we lived in Chicago, we loved to invite our family and friends over to our house, make a batch of chili, and enjoy the evening together."
It is important to have an array of toppings that kids can use to customize their bowls. I would add some diced jalapeños to mine. The chili is mild, which makes it ideal for spice-averse kids.
I based our cornbread recipe on one from "What was Cooking in Martha Washington's Presidential Mansions (Cooking Throughout American History)" by Tanya Larkin. It's amusing to think this humble bread was served in anyone's mansion, let alone multiple mansions. The recipe included the cornmeal I ordered from George Washington's Mount Vernon, where the water-powered gristmill was restored. Even if you use regular old cornmeal, check out the video showing the gristmill in action: mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/gristmill/.
Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake recipe comes from "Lincoln's Table" by Donna D. McCreary and was adapted by Janice Cooke Newman. It's baked in a Bundt pan and involves many of the techniques kids love most:
• Separating eggs
• Beating the whites into stiff peaks
• Operating the food processor switches
• Using the spring-loaded sifter
You can find many versions based on a cake by Mrs. Lincoln's favorite Lexington, Kentucky, bakery.
When it's time to eat, break out the good china and practice your best table manners, imagine you're in the State Dining Room, gazing at the Abraham Lincoln portrait hanging over the mantle, painted by George Peter Alexander Healy in 1869.
• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Obama's Chili
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Several cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey or beef
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground oregano
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground basil
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
5-6 tomatoes, chopped
1 can red kidney beans
Sauté onions, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until soft.
Add ground meat and brown.
Combine spices, then add to ground meat.
Add red-wine vinegar.
Add tomatoes and let simmer until cooked down.
Add kidney beans; cook a few more minutes.
Serve over white or brown rice. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream.
President Barack Obama
Skillet cornbread is adapted from a recipe that Martha Washington might have made in the Mount Vernon kitchen.
- Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
¾ cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
1/3 cup sugar (I omitted)
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk (I used buttermilk)
1 egg, well beaten
Butter and honey, to serve
Add oil to an 8-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the unheated oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl: cornmeal, flour, sugar (if using), baking powder and salt. Add milk, egg and butter. Mix together.
Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Cool, cut into wedges, and serve warm with butter and honey.
Makes 8 slices
Adapted from "What was Cooking in Martha Washington's Presidential Mansions? (Cooking Throughout American History)" by Tanya Larkin
A slice of Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake finishes off the Presidents Day menu nicely.
- Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped in a food processor until they resemble coarse flour
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whole milk
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Sift four and baking powder three times. Add to creamed butter and sugar, alternating with milk. Stir in almonds and beat well.
Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter. Stir in vanilla extract.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool. When cool, sift confectioner's sugar over the top.
Makes one Bundt cake or about 12 slices.
From "Lincoln's Table" by Donna D. McCreary and adapted by Janice Cooke Newman