President Taft (from my hometown of Cincinnati!) the biggest and heaviest of all American Presidents, was also partial to turtle soup.
Terrapin soup was one of President Taft’s favorite luncheon recipes, but when it was served at State’s dinners, a special cook was hired for the $5.00 charge to cook just the soup—given what I now know about killing and cooking turtle, I’m willing to bet that the reason a special cook was hired to cook the terrapin wasn’t so much the cooking end of the job as it was –first kill one turtle.
Mrs. Taft was a great one for invading the White House kitchens to peek into the pots and pans and undoubtedly did so even when the special cook was in attendance. Mrs. Taft kept three cooks in the kitchen but seems to have “gone through” them one after another, possibly due to her habit of invading the White House kitchen to taste what was in the pots! **
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s family LOVED soups. Throughout the many years of the Roosevelt administration, soup pots and kettles were kept simmering on the White House stoves. One of the President’s favorite was pepper pot soup, while Cream of Almond was one of Eleanor’s favorite soups. They also favored fish chowder and something called Mongole Soup (made with yellow split peas and tomato juice) which was an inaugural day favorite. Poppy Cannon tells us that Mongole Soup was also a hearty midnight snack for the Roosevelts house guests.
TO MAKE PRESIDENT (FDR) ROOSEVELT’S MONGOLE SOUP you will need
Yellow split peas
Salt & pepper
Soak ½ cup of yellow split peas overnight. In the morning, drain the peas and set over low heat with 2 cups tomato juice. Simmer several hours or until the peas disintegrate. Seasons with 1 tsp grated onion and salt & pepper to taste. Serves 6.
However, a favorite Roosevelt soup story involves turtle! Like so many of his predecessors, the president loved turtle and terrapin soup. Shortly after his inauguration, some terrapin were sent to him as a gift. The creatures roamed around the White House cellars, terrorizing Mrs. Nesbitt, the housekeeper.
When she ruined the first terrapin after it was cooked, the President was furious so that the next time terrapin arrived at the White House, the president hired someone from the Metropolitan Club to prepare it!
(it should be noted there is a RITUAL to killing and cooking turtles. (I will spare you the details…trust me, you don’t want to know!)
“In the end,” writes the History Channel on Google, “turtle soup became the victim of its own overwhelming popularity. It migrated from presidential dinners down to railway dining cars, and finally to the red and white Campbell’s can in the 1920s. by World War II, harried cooks had long tired of dressing their own turtles, and cheaper and tastier canned options to turtle became available. Newfangled convenience products like TV dinners and Spam were the final strikes against the increasingly unfashionable turtle soup and by the 1960s, it had gone the way of the pepper pot, served only in certain regions of America…” (from The rise and Fall of Turtle Soup on Google)
The Roosevelt Family enjoyed Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup, Chicken Soup Amandine, and Sara Delano Roosevelt’s Fish Chowder (Sara was FDR’s mother) as well as Green Gumbo, a luncheon favorite of FDR’s along with Crab Gumbo.
Moving on to the Trumans administration—Mrs. Truman was a very private person and resisted any attempts to divulge favorite recipes. That said, Mrs. Truman made herself popular with all the staff in the White House. She knew what she wanted, she knew how things should be done, and how to give orders in a pleasant way. A household employee who said “this is not how the Roosevelts did this” was quickly replaced.
Poppy Cannon doesn’t name names in the Presidents Cookbook and it has been eons ago, so I think it’s safe to say that the person who made that remark was undoubtedly Mrs. Nesbitt, who was hired by Mrs. Roosevelt and came to the White House with them from Hyde Park. (During Mrs. Nesbitt’s reign, it was undoubtedly her way or the highway).
The Truman ways were not the Roosevelt ways. Mrs. Truman took the household bookkeeping in hand and ran it herself. She ruled out breakfast for the daily sleep-out employees, to cut the huge food bills. Every day she sat at her desk and tried to run the White House like a business.
Mr. Truman was a senator prior to becoming Vice President going into FDRs fourth administration and enjoyed Senate Bean Soup, a recipe that has appeared in numerous cookbooks but I discovered that the recipe in Poppy Cannon’s cookbook is made with CANNED SOUP – so I am a bit nonplussed where I found the canned bean soup recipe—the following is an authentic copy of Senate Bean Soup:
TO MAKE SENATE BEAN SOUP
2 CUPS DRY NAVY BEANS
3 QUARTS WATER
1 MEATY HAM BONE
½ CUP MASHED COOKED POTATOES
3 ONIONS, MINCE
4-5 STALKS CELERY, MINCED
2 CLOVER GARLICS, MINCED
¼ CUP MINCED PARSLEY
SALT & PEPPER
LEMON SLICES* OPTIONAL
SOAK BEANS OVERNIGHT IN WATER. ADD HAM BONE AND SIMMER 1 HOUR OR UNTIL BEANS START TO GET TENDER. ADD MASHED POTATOES AND MIX UNTIL SMOOTH. ADD ONIONS, CELERY GARLIC AND PARSLEY AN DSIMMON 1 HOUR LONGER OR UNTIL BEANS ARE SOFT. REMOVE THE HAM BONE, THEN DICE MEAT AND RETURN MEAT TO SOUPL THIN WITH HOT WATER IF NECESSARY. (SOUP SHOULD BE THICK) SEASON WITH SALT AND PEPPER. GARNISH WITH LEMON SLICES. SERVICES 10-12.
*I made this soup exactly as directed and decided it needed more color; so I added a small can of tomato sauce and a couple carrots, diced or sliced, to the soup. Back where I come from, we don’t add lemon slices; we DO add a tablespoon of Apple Cider vinegar to our individual bowls of bean soup, just before eating. Yum!
The Eisenhowers were partial to soup, too. Oxtail soup, cream of almond and cream of celery were a few favorites, along with Stone Crab Bisque, and cream of Artichoke soup.
It was well known that one of President Eisenhower’s own specialties which he prepared himself, was a vegetable beef soup. President Eisenhower was an amateur chef and enjoyed thumbing through cookbooks and experimenting with recipes. The President prided himself on his homemade soups but this detailed recipe for a plain vegetable soup was more than two pages in length! He began with some practical instructions for preparing chicken broth but ended with a rather unusual suggestion for garnishing the soup:
“The best time to make…soup is a day or so after you have had fried chicken and out of which you have saved the necks, ribs, backs, etc.—uncooked. As a final touch, in the springtime when the nasturtiums are green and tender, cut them up in small pieces; boil them separately and add them to your soup. (I have never seen nasturtiums mentioned in a recipe before!
According to Poppy Cannon in THE PRESIDENT’S COOKBOOK, President Eisenhower enjoyed making an old fashioned beef stew for sixty, with directions calling for 20 pounds of beef in 3 gallons of beef stock–You may not want to make a beef stew for sixty people (does anyone have a soup pot big enough?) but you might enjoy experimenting with President Eisenhower’s beef stew scaled down to feed six—-so to make President Eisenhower’s Beef Stew:
Beef for stew (1-2 pounds)
Butter or other shortening
Canned bouillon (or packaged beef bouillon cubes—1 beef bouillon cube with 1 cup of water equals one cup of beef stock)
Small Irish potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown 2 lbs beef cubes in 2 TBSP shortening, then add 2 cans bouillon and 1 can water. Simmer, covered, until meat is nearly tender. Add bouquet garni* and 12 potatoes, halved, 1 bunch carrots, cut in 1” lengths, 12 small white onions, 2 large tomatoes, cut in eighths, salt & pepper. Remove bouquet garni and drain off liquid. Return gravy to pot and cook over low heat until well thickened.
(Watch for sales on any cut of beef, such as 7-Bone or round bone roast. Cut the meat into cubes—its much easier than buying beef that has already been cut into cubes. Cook the bone-in in a pot of water to make your own beef stock.
*To make a bouquet garni (not Eisenhower’s instructions—these are my own—sls) I consulted the Grand Dame of cookbooks, Irma Rombauer who advises in JOY OF COOKING that a Bouquet Garni can vary in makeup but usually includes a bay leaf, thyme and parsley, basil, sweet marjoram, summer savory, celery or chervil. Tie the fresh or dried herbs in a bouquet made with 4” squares of cheesecloth. Tie the ends together and bind securely. Bouquets of dried herbs can be made in advance and kept in a tight fitting container, preferably one that is light-proof. You never use a bouquet garni more than once and add it only in the last half hour of cooking. Don’t be afraid to experiment and use herbs that your family enjoys.
Another similar bouquet garni is Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook calls for:
3 sprigs parsley
1 sprig celery or small stalk celery
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
The Kennedys were also soup eaters and one of their famous favorites was Hyannisport Fish Chowder which all of the Kennedys were said to enjoy. According to Francois Rysavy, who was the French Chef to the Kennedys, “The President was a ‘soup, sandwich and fruit’ man for lunch. His luncheon was almost bound to be soup.
To make President Kennedy’s Favorite New England Clam Chowder, South of Boston Style:
4 dozen medium hard-shelled clams
5 cups cold water
1 2-inch cube salt pork, diced*
1 large onion, chopped very fine
4 medium potatoes, diced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups milk, hot
1 ½ cups heavy cream, hot
Wash clams thoroughly. Place them in a deep pan with the cold water, covering the clams. Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes or until shells open. Strain the broth thoroughly through cheesecloth and reserve. Remove clams from their shells; clean and chop. Combine salt pork and onion in a saucepan. Cook gently over low heat, about 3 minutes, do not brown. Add broth and potatoes. Cook until potatoes are render. Add clams. Remove from heat and slowly add milk and cream which has been heated. Serve immediately.
One of the recipes frequently mentioned in connection with Mrs. Kennedy was Boula Boula soup which contained (surprise!) turtle. Mrs. Kennedy’s Boula Boula soup was served at the White House on United Nations Day. (However, the days of 300 pound turtles being presented to the White House are a thing of a past. White House Chef Rene Verdon provided a recipe for making Mrs. Kennedy’s Boula Boula soup substituting peas along with 2 cups canned green turtle soup but I don’t think you can find turtle ANY where anymore–Fresh, frozen or otherwise. Most turtles are an endangered species. In my own family, mock turtle soup—at one time (many years ago!) was made with the head of a cow—back in the days when the head of a cow was something you could order from the butcher; at some point in time, ground beef was substituted for the head of a cow.
To make President Kennedy’s favorite onion soup you will need:
3 medium onions, finely sliced
4 tbsp butter
1 TBSP flour
2 ½ pints beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded Swiss cheese
Cook the onions and butter in a heavy pot. When they are browned or translucent, sprinkle with flour. Allow to brown a little longer, then add the beef stock, salt and pepper. Cook 15 minutes. Slice the bread ¼” thick. Butter lightly and then brown in oven. Put the onion soup in casserole or serving dishes.
There are numerous published books written by the employees who worked in the White House; in the 1960s, I began collecting White House BOOKS, specifically memoirs by white house employees—not just those compiled by the White House chefs. One of the first that I found was Henrietta Nesbitt’s “The Presidential Cookbook”, published in 1951. Many of these books have a tendency to overlap with other White House cookbooks (sort of shades of which came first—the chicken or the egg).
That being said, the Martha Washington Cook Book does NOT contain a recipe for her Crab Bisque although Henrietta Nesbitt’s Presidential Cookbook contains a recipe titled Martha Washington’s Crab Soup (1951) repeated by Poppy Cannon, in The Presidents’ Cookbook (1968), repeated again by John R. Hanny in his Secrets from the White House Kitchens in 2001.
Henrietta Nesbitt was invited by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to go with them from Hyde Park to the White House as their housekeeper. Mrs. Nesbitt was at that time was well into her fifties and she would remain housekeeper for the next 13 years for the Roosevelts and one year with the Trumans.
I started searching for books by White House employees after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—there were numerous memoirs by JFK’s friends and employees close to him, as well as those who worked for Mrs. Kennedy (despite by being required by Mrs. Kennedy to sign an agreement NOT to write any memoirs about them.
Then once I really got underway in my search for White House memoirs, I discovered numerous published works by those employed by FDR or those who were personal friends of FDR and/or Eleanor.
Recently, I began to notice re-writes of those early books—presumably the copywrites have expired on those early memoirs. I purchased, from Amazon.com, a reprint of “White House Diary” by Henrietta Nesbitt, originally published by the author in 1948. I had an original edition of White House Diary and lost it somehow, so recently I ordered another copy from Amazon.com for my home library. I also ordered President Jimmy Carter’s “White House Diary” to supplement my original White House library. **
Poppy Cannon’s “the Presidents Cookbook” ends with the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was vice president at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. As vice president, LBJ was sworn in while on Air Force One flying back to Washington DC. No soup recipes are in Cannon’s final segment of presidents.
At the completion of the one term Johnson fulfilled as president, he announced he would not be seeking another term as president; he and Ladybird returned to Texas. Perhaps he felt those shoes of Kennedy’s were too big for him to fill.
My reference material is taken from books in my own library. Some years ago (1990s) I wrote a 4-part article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange on the White House, primarily by White House Employees. When it was complete and had been printed in four issues of the CCE, I then had the idea of compiling an article based on soup recipes favored by presidents and their wives.
THE MARTHA WASHINGTON COOK BOOK (Recipes from the personal cookbook of Thomas Jefferson, by Marie Kimball, originally printed 1940
THE PRESIDENTIAL COOKBOOK, feeding the Roosevelts and their guests, copyright 1951 by Henrietta Nesbitt
THE MOUNT VERNON COOKBOOK compiled by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association copyright 1984
THE PRESIDENTS’ COOKBOOK, by Poppy Cannon, copyright 1968, covers presidents from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson.
SECRETS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHENS, by John R. Hanny copyright 2001
THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK, COPYRIGHT 1976 BY Ceil Dyer
THE WHITE HOUSE CHEF COOKBOOK, copyright 1967 by Rene Verdon, over 500 recipes and menus by the man who was White House chef during the Kennedy years
–Sandra Lee Smith