Getting a taste of politics? 2010 being an election year, we found ourselves thinking about politics (how could anyone not, with the deluge of television commercials? There comes a time when you want to reach into the TV set and strangle whoever is promoting their candidate or whatever hot political issue of the week).

While vacationing in San Luis Obispo some time ago, I had the good fortune to come across a copy The Democrats’ Cook Book “Many Happy Returns – or How to cook a G.O.P. Goose”, published in 1960. I was able to buy it for only $5.00, probably because the plastic spiral binding was damaged (I have been hoping to find a way to replace the bindings on similarly damaged cookbooks).

“Many Happy Returns” boasts of an Introduction written by Frank Sinatra. Some of you—those of us old enough to remember—may recall that many movie stars became politically active in the 1960 election, when John F. Kennedy was running for president. This was only slightly in part due to the fact that Kennedy’s sister was married to actor Peter Lawford. Kennedy’s personal charisma no doubt accounted for much of the activism on the part of well-known celebrities.
Bette Davis was the honorary chairman for “Many Happy Returns”, which boasts of recipe contributions from film stars June Havoc, Lauren Bacall, Dinah Shore, Ruth Roman, Fannie Hurst, Rosemary DeCamp, and others. Wives of politicians contributed recipes as well—Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Opal Yarborough (wife of Ralph Yarborough, Senator of Texas, and Mrs. William Douglas, wife of Supreme Court Justice William Douglas—to name a few. (Of course, Eleanor Roosevelt became famous in her own right, especially after the death of FDR—I didn’t mean to imply that she was well known only because she was married to a President of the United States).

I was delighted with my “find” which boasts of signed recipes throughout the book, and text and drawings by Stephen Longstreet. Bette Davis provided a recipe for Red Flannel Hash, written in longhand. Does anybody know what Red Flannel Hash is, anymore? Lauren Bacall offered a recipe for Potage Cressionere which translates to Watercress soup. Watercress soup? Mrs. James Roosevelt donated her recipe for Kedgeree, which is made with white fish, such as halibut, while Eleanor Roosevelt provided a recipe for Huckleberry Pudding.

“Many Happy Returns” reminded me that somewhere in the clutter of thousands of books that fill the shelves and closets of my home, I had a few other “politically correct” cookbooks…so of course, I had to embark on a search.

One of the oldest books of this genre in my collection is titled “Distinguished Hostesses”, compiled by the Woman’s National Republican Club of Chicago in 1931. I’m hard-pressed to find any recognizable names in this cookbook, celebrities or otherwise, although I find many of the recipes intriguing. Bearing in mind that the Great Depression was going on, there are recipes for Caviar Mousse and Breaded Veal Steak, Chestnut stuffing, and Crème Brule. In all fairness, many other recipes seem to reflect the austerity of the times—nut croquettes and macaroni loaf, for instance. Blushing Bunny was made by melting together a pound of soft American cheese with a small can of tomato soup and a bit of butter—this was served on buttered squares of toast. There is also something called English Monkey, which was made with cheese, butter, breadcrumbs, some salt and pepper, egg and milk. The contributor of English Monkey offered that this is “most delectable served with either creamed beef, mushrooms or sweet breads”.

(I wonder if this wouldn’t be something like the tomato pudding my mother used to make and served as a side dish – it was simply canned tomatoes, with bread cubes, some butter and a bit of sugar, salt and pepper. I think the main objective of tomato pudding was to stretch a can of tomatoes. I simply loved it when I was a child. Now when I try to duplicate the recipe—I wonder why!).

One of the most unusual recipes I discovered in “Distinguished Hostesses” is something called “Cincinnati Chicken”—made with pork tenderloins, bread stuffing, sauerkraut and apple croquettes – but no chicken! (Cincinnati was, long ago, the Pork Capitol of the World—and at one time called Porkopolis–, which no doubt accounts for the odd name—but I’m from Cincinnati and never heard of Cincinnati chickens. On the other hand, my sister in law used to make something she called “Mock Turkey” which was a round steak, filled with stuffing and rolled up, then baked).

There are many recipes in “Distinguished Hostesses” for puddings and “ice box” desserts (at a time when ice boxes were really that—boxes with blocks of ice to keep food cold and this reminded me. I often make something called Lemon Rounds, an “ice box cookie” recipe but whenever I identify a cookie as “Ice Box cookies”, I have to explain to anyone eating them what ice box cookies meant. I explain, “They’re the fore-runner of Slice-and-Bake cookies”.

I also discovered a recipe for Butterless, Eggless, Milkless Cake which is another name for War Cake. The author of this recipe claims it was used in Marietta, Ohio 100 years ago—which would make the recipe preceding the Civil War. Another cake recipe contributor offered Mrs. Roosevelt’s Recipe for Spice Cake.

One other unique feature of this old cookbook, for which I paid $2.50 who-knows-how-long-ago, are the ads. They read like poetry. Who could resist something like this:

“Jewels are born deep in the earth
Earth’s richest gifts are gems
A gem’s beauty is enhanced by settings
Settings are creating by C.D. Peacocok
Peacock’s Jewels should adorn Fair Hostesses
Fair Hostesses should wear rare jewels.

In 1958, The Carmel Women’s Democratic Club (of Carmel California) compiled a small cookbook. The recipes aren’t signed but one, “Country Captain” notes that it was one of FDR’s favorites, according to the cook at Warm Springs, where the president liked to go to relax and bathe in the special waters.

In 1970, when Adlai E. Stevenson III was running for U.S. Senator, his wife Nancy put together her personal collection of recipes which is simply titled “Adlai’s Nancy…Her Potpourri”. My copy is signed by the author and a letter folded inside gives us a glimpse into the world of politics and how these books were distributed. The letter states that Nancy Stevenson would like each home headquarters chairwoman to receive a copy of her book as a gift to thank them and perhaps the gift copy would be used as a sample for ordering additional cookbooks. This cookbook was compiled by Nancy’s sister and offers a number of photographs of the author, her husband and their family. Nancy’s specialties include Quiche Lorraine and Crown Roast with Cranberry stuffing. For gift-giving, her peach chutney and barbecued pecans sound delicious.
Not to be outdone, Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield’s wife Antoinette compiled a hard-cover cookbook titled “Food for Fellowship”, published in 1972. Prior to becoming Senator, Mark Hatfield was Governor of Oregon. One especially nice feature of “Food for Fellowship” – which has a strong religious theme throughout – are the party themes; “Family Night Supper, Mother-Daughter Tea, to Welcome the New Minister. Menus are offered along with the recipes, to help give the reader ideas for putting together a party.
There are, of course, all of the Congressional Cookbooks too—but they are in a class of their own and I will write about them another time.

No doubt there are dozens of other politically-motivated cookbooks in circulation—you may have others in your collection…as we all know, even politicians have to eat….even if its just crow!

Happy Cooking – and Happy cookbook collecting!



  1. Good morning Sandy – I work at Arthurdale Heritage in Arthurdale WV. We were the first New Deal resettlement community and a project that was dear to Eleanor Roosevelt. She came here often all through the Depression and her last visit was in 1960. We are a non profit started 25 years ago by people who were lucky enough to grow up here and were disappointed that the central buildings were falling apart and the memory of what had happened here was being lost. We are currently working on a heritage cookbook and I would love to include Mrs. Roosevelt’s recipes. Could you copy them, including publication info, and email them to me? Visit our website to find out more about us – arthurdaleheritage.org. Thanks. Jeanne

    • Hi, Jeanne: I would be delighted and proud to look through my books for some of Mrs. Roosevelt’s recipes. What I wrote about in political cookbooks is just the tip of the iceberg. I also have a copy of Henrietta Nesbitt’s “The Presidential Cookbook” – she was the housekeeper Mrs. Roosevelt hired in 1933 when FDR became the 32nd president – she was someone they were acquainted with in Hyde Park and was well into her 50s when she accepted the job. Also perhaps someone who was kind of bossy and took charge & they were going to eat what she cooked whether they liked it or not. Not long after Truman became president, Mrs. Nesbitt was “retired”.
      I dont think Mrs. Roosevelt, from what I’ve read, was really INTO cooking very much but there was one night a week – perhaps Sundays – when she would cook scrambled eggs in a chafing dish for whoever was there. You really need a copy of this cookbook but I have no idea how available it might be. The entire title is “THE PRESIDENTIAL COOKBOOK OR FEDING THE ROOSEVELTS AND THEIR GUESTS” by Henrietta Nesbitt.
      But that being said, I love the challenge of researching – whether for myself or for someone else, and I will happily see what I can find for you. I’ll want to buy a copy of your cookbook when it’s completed and perhaps I can do a little promoting for you, too.
      Regards, Sandy Smith (sandychatter)

    • Jeanne,
      I have begun searching through my books and copying some recipes which I would like to mail to you, if possible. Can you send me an email address? perhaps one you have at Arthurdale Heritage if you arent comfortable sending me a home email address? (FYI – mine is ssmith00281@verizon.net or ssmith0028@earthlink.net.) Ok, I have a question–do you by any chance have a copy of an oversized cookbook published by Parents Magazine some time ago – it goes upto LBJ–and is titled The Frist Ladies Cookbook. Now, there are other “first ladies” cookbooks–I’m referring to the one published by Parents Magazine (and it has a lot of great photographs). There are several pages devoted to Eleanor Roosevelt. I think the page size is too big for my computer; if you can’t get a copy of the book itself, I will have to take it to Staples to copy–which I dont mind doing, I just need to know if I do. I am scanning pages whereever I can as it will provide you will more information that way. Looking forward to hearing from you! **My exhusband’s parents came from Bluefield WV…I learned a lot of my cooking techniques, especially white gravy and fried chicken or pork chops or cube steak – from my mother in law. I am from Cincinnati, was married for 26 years. Still have contact with a lot of the Smith family members. Regards, Sandra

  2. Great website you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get suggestions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

  3. It’s truly a great and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    • and thank YOU for writing. There are a lot more “political cookbooks” in my collection; I will do an update at some point in time. – Sandy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s