All the presidents’ meals: The history of inaugural food

President Dwight Eisenhower and wife Mamie Eisenhower have lunch at the capitol in Washington  Jan. 21, 1957, following public inaugural ceremony. From left to right are the Eisenhower, Sen. and Mrs. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and Vice President Mrs. Nixon. (AP Photo)
President Dwight Eisenhower and wife Mamie Eisenhower have lunch at the capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, 1957, following the public inaugural ceremony. From left to right are the Eisenhowers, Sen. and Mrs. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and Vice President Nixon and the second lady. (AP Photo)

Former President Harry Truman autographs the inaugural luncheon program of President John F. Kennedy at the request of the new President in Washington, January 20, 1961. At left is Mrs. John Sparkman, wife of the Alabama senator. (AP Photo)
Former President Harry Truman autographs the inaugural luncheon program of President John F. Kennedy at the request of the new president in Washington, January 20, 1961. At left is Mrs. John Sparkman, wife of the Alabama senator. (AP Photo)

This frontispiece illustrates the raucousness of the crowd in front of the White House at Andrew Jackson's first inaugural reception in 1829. During the inaugural festivities, the rowdy mob broke windows, tore down curtains, and stood upon the furniture in their muddy boots. Servants dragged tubs of punch onto the lawn to draw the unruly mob out of the president's house in order to minimize the destruction.
From the Library of Congress: “This piece illustrates the raucousness of the crowd in front of the White House at Andrew Jackson’s first inaugural reception in 1829. During the inaugural festivities, the rowdy mob broke windows, tore down curtains, and stood upon the furniture in their muddy boots. Servants dragged tubs of punch onto the lawn to draw the unruly mob out of the president’s house in order to minimize the destruction.”  President’s Levee, or All Creation Going to the White House, Washington, [March 4, 1829]. Illustrated in The Playfair Papers, London: Saunders and Otley, 1841. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

First lady Nancy offers a toast to President Ronald Reagan during the inaugural luncheon at the Capitol shortly after he re-enacted his oath-taking on Monday, Jan. 21, 1985. The ceremonies were forced inside due to bitter cold weather in the capital city. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
First lady Nancy offers a toast to President Ronald Reagan during the inaugural luncheon at the Capitol shortly after he re-enacted his oath-taking on Monday, Jan. 21, 1985. The ceremonies were forced inside due to bitter cold weather in the capital city. (AP Photo/John Duricka)

[President Reagan's inaugural luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1981]
President Reagan’s inaugural luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1981. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Invitation to White House Luncheon Buffet, March 4, 1933.
Invitation to White House Luncheon Buffet, March 4, 1933. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

McKinley inaugural supper table in Pension Building, Washington, D.C. [March 4, 1897], Prince, Geo. (George), 1848-, photographer
McKinley inaugural supper table in Pension Building, Washington, D.C. [March 4, 1897], Prince, Geo. (George),  photographer. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

President Clinton looks on as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton toasts House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Ga., during an inaugural luncheon on Capitol Hill Monday Jan. 20, 1997. (AP Photo/Joyce Naltchayan/Pool)
President Clinton watches as first lady Hillary Clinton toasts House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia during an inaugural luncheon on Capitol Hill on Jan. 20, 1997. (AP Photo/Joyce Naltchayan/Pool)

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  U.S. President Barack Obama shares a moment with House Speaker John Boehner as first lady Michelle Obama applauds at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. President Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term today. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama shares a moment with House Speaker John Boehner as first lady Michelle Obama applauds at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration Day at the U.S. Capitol building Jan. 21, 2013, when Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  The place card for U.S. President Barack Obama sits ready for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. U.S. President Barack Obama, will be ceremonially sworn in for his second term today.  (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
The place card for U.S. President Barack Obama sits ready for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration Day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013, in Washington when Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  Place settings and programs sit on a table at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. U.S. President Barack Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term today. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
Place settings and programs sit on a table at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration Day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013, when President Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

(Getty Images/Allison Shelley)
Bill of fare of the Presidential inauguration ball.
Bill of fare of the Presidential inauguration ball, Lincoln’s second. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

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President Dwight Eisenhower and wife Mamie Eisenhower have lunch at the capitol in Washington  Jan. 21, 1957, following public inaugural ceremony. From left to right are the Eisenhower, Sen. and Mrs. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and Vice President Mrs. Nixon. (AP Photo)
Former President Harry Truman autographs the inaugural luncheon program of President John F. Kennedy at the request of the new President in Washington, January 20, 1961. At left is Mrs. John Sparkman, wife of the Alabama senator. (AP Photo)
This frontispiece illustrates the raucousness of the crowd in front of the White House at Andrew Jackson's first inaugural reception in 1829. During the inaugural festivities, the rowdy mob broke windows, tore down curtains, and stood upon the furniture in their muddy boots. Servants dragged tubs of punch onto the lawn to draw the unruly mob out of the president's house in order to minimize the destruction.
First lady Nancy offers a toast to President Ronald Reagan during the inaugural luncheon at the Capitol shortly after he re-enacted his oath-taking on Monday, Jan. 21, 1985. The ceremonies were forced inside due to bitter cold weather in the capital city. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
[President Reagan's inaugural luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1981]
Invitation to White House Luncheon Buffet, March 4, 1933.
McKinley inaugural supper table in Pension Building, Washington, D.C. [March 4, 1897], Prince, Geo. (George), 1848-, photographer
President Clinton looks on as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton toasts House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Ga., during an inaugural luncheon on Capitol Hill Monday Jan. 20, 1997. (AP Photo/Joyce Naltchayan/Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  U.S. President Barack Obama shares a moment with House Speaker John Boehner as first lady Michelle Obama applauds at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. President Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term today. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  The place card for U.S. President Barack Obama sits ready for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. U.S. President Barack Obama, will be ceremonially sworn in for his second term today.  (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  Place settings and programs sit on a table at the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C. U.S. President Barack Obama was ceremonially sworn in for his second term today. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
Bill of fare of the Presidential inauguration ball.

WASHINGTON When Donald Trump sits down to the table in Statuary Hall for lunch on Jan. 20, it’s safe to say his feast will be calm compared with Andrew Jackson’s first inaugural meal.

After Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s seventh president in 1829, about 20,000 people followed him back to the White House to celebrate with their new leader.

“Then, you could just practically walk in with no invitation, and they just mobbed the White House climbing on the furniture to see the president,” said Alison Kelly, a research specialist at the Library of Congress.   

Jackson’s kitchen staff brought barrels of spiked orange punch, a popular celebratory drink in the 1800s, out to the East Room, and chaos ensued.

“Buckets were spilled, glasses were broken,” Kelly said.

President Jackson eventually slipped out through the back door of the White House and ate his inaugural dinner in peace at a boardinghouse.

Ulysses S. Grant’s first meal as president in 1869 wasn’t much better. It turned into a full-fledged food fight.

“After a couple of hours dancing, they announced the buffet, and people just rushed the buffet, grabbing all of the food and shoving each other,” Kelly said.

When it comes to inaugural celebrations, plenty of things have changed since Jackson’s and Grant’s times — security, for starters. But over the years, food has remained a focus.  

The first meal Donald Trump will eat as president of the United States is lunch at the U.S. Capitol, a tradition that dates back to 1897 when the Senate Committee on Arrangements hosted a luncheon for President McKinley. In 1953, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies took over the menu planning and hosting responsibilities for the event.

The food served at the inaugural luncheon is often a reflection of the interests or roots of the incoming president. In 1961, Massachusetts-born John F. Kennedy dined on New England boiled stuffed lobster with drawn butter and deviled crabmeat imperial; Ronald Reagan’s menu in 1981 included a California garden salad.

Barack Obama’s first inaugural luncheon was Lincoln-themed, since it was the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth. Herb-roasted pheasant and duck breast with cherry chutney were a few of the dishes served.

However, not every meal has been as delicious as Kennedy’s, Reagan’s and Obama’s.

Kelly, who recently organized a presidential food installation at the Library of Congress, says Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural luncheon was especially bad.

Roosevelt requested chicken a la king from the first lady’s housekeeper and cook, Henrietta Nesbitt, but the notoriously strict and austere New England cook refused.

“She said she couldn’t keep it hot for 1,800 people, so she switched to cold chicken salad on a lettuce leaf and cake with no frosting,” Kelly said.

To make matters worse, details published in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America say some of the chicken had spoiled and could not be used.

“Her food was very plain, and evidently FDR complained about it constantly,” Kelly added.

With music, gifts and several courses of food, planning the inaugural luncheon is no easy feat. But in 1977, the committee got a break. Jimmy Carter canceled his luncheon, decided to walk the entire parade route (he was the first president to do so) and threw informal “parties” instead of elaborate balls.

“They were very low-cost and relaxed, and he served pretzels and peanuts,” Kelly said.

Of course, not every president celebrates the assumption of office so modestly. Kelly said James Buchanan’s 1857 inaugural meal had 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1,200 quarts of ice cream, eight rounds of beef, 75 hams, 60 saddles of mutton, four saddles of venison and $3,000 worth of wine — “Which was a huge amount at that time,” Kelly added.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has yet to announce the menu for President-elect Trump’s inaugural luncheon, but past menus and recipes including one for the lobster pie served at the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush are available on the committee’s website.

From Jan. 23 to Feb. 4 the Library of Congress will showcase a special inaugural display, complete with Lincoln’s first inaugural address, as well as menus, dance cards, newspapers and film clips. “Presidential Inauguration Treasures” will be on view between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First St., S.E. The display is free and open to the public. 

 

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