How the White House’s Thanksgiving menu has evolved over time


Most Americans don’t have oysters on their Thanksgiving table, but, for a while, shellfish have been a key ingredient on the White House holiday menu.

“Oyster stuffing and various oyster items have always been included, especially in the late 19th century. Oysters were very popular,” says Lina Mann, historian at the White House Historical Association. “I think Washington, DC’s location near the Chesapeake Bay, which was a huge hub for oysters, made it sort of a more regional thing, but it died out over the years. ”

In addition to oysters, Thanksgiving Meal at the White House have included other regional foods such as Potomac River rockfish, Maryland east coast turtles, and Massachusetts cranberries.

Because the holidays are often a more private affair, the White House’s Thanksgiving menu isn’t set. Presidential families often spend the day away from the White House, either out of town, in their own private homes, or at the Presidential Retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan spent Thanksgiving at his California ranch. The menu included turkey, cranberries, cornbread dressing, salad, mashed potatoes, monkey bread, green beans with almonds and a pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. .

In 1996, President Bill Clinton enjoyed Thanksgiving with his family and friends at Camp David, where they ate turkey; dressing with bread stuffing; Giblet Gravy; mashed potatoes; Sweet potatoes; green beans; cranberry mold; a platter of pickle relish, celery, tomatoes, green onions, green and black olives and carrots; Macedonia; cranberry salad; and pecan and pumpkin pies.

In 2007, also at Camp David, President George W. Bush and his family feasted on a meal that included turkey, jellied cranberry mussels, whipped sweet potato soufflé, and toffee mousse trifle. pumpkin.

Horace Vose, who was known as the “King of the Poultry,” sent turkeys to the White House every Thanksgiving and Christmas from 1873 until his death in 1913. (Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library via White House Historical Association)

No matter where the Commander-in-Chief vacationers, turkey has been on the menu since the 1870s.

“You have a man named Horace Vose, which is the quote, ‘the king of the Rhode Island fowl’, and he starts sending, in 1873, all those turkeys to the White House,” Mann says. “He does this for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and he does it for 40 years until his death in 1913. So there’s that kind of public precedent sending presidents various birds to their tables.”

But people didn’t always send poultry. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge received an unusual donation from a Mississippi supporter.

“We sent them a raccoon that was supposed to be served on his Thanksgiving table,” Mann says. “But the Coolidge family decided they didn’t want to eat the raccoon. Instead, they ended up making it a pet. They named her Rebecca and eventually Coolidge, for Christmas that year. , gave her a necklace that read, ‘White House Raccoon on it.’

First Lady Grace Coolidge in 1926 with Rebecca, the raccoon who became a pet rather than the White House Thanksgiving dinner.  (Library of Congress)

First Lady Grace Coolidge in 1926 with Rebecca, the raccoon who became a pet rather than the White House Thanksgiving dinner. (Library of Congress)

What presidents eat on Thanksgiving can also depend on what’s going on in the country. In 1917, during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson stayed in Washington and focused on a more economical Thanksgiving.

“So they eat a cream of oyster soup with turkey and veg toppings, a pumpkin pie for the very simple menu,” Mann says. “First Lady Edith Wilson wanted to adhere to various food preservation programs that were spearheading at the time.”

There was also a more austere Thanksgiving during the Great Depression and World War II. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family dined on “clam cocktail, clear soup, roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce, Spanish corn, baby sausages and beans, sweet potato cones, grapefruit salad, pumpkin and cheese pie, coffee and ice cream.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt watches President Franklin D. Roosevelt carve the traditional Thanksgiving turkey during dinner in Warm Springs, Georgia, November 29, 1935 (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum / White House Historical Ass

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt watches President Franklin D. Roosevelt carve the traditional Thanksgiving turkey during dinner in Warm Springs, Georgia, November 29, 1935 (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum / White House Historical Ass

This year, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are spending Thanksgiving on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, a family tradition since 1975. The First Lady recently shared Thanksgiving recipes, including her grandma’s tasty stuffing. -mother with stale Italian bread, with the Food web.

“Food is love – and coming together this Thanksgiving year heals our hearts,” Jill Biden noted. “The family recipes handed down from generation to generation, the fun traditions that endure and the meaningful blessings shared fill me with gratitude.”


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