Great Moments in Presidential Breakfast History
My fellow Americans, we have long understood the importance of our commander-in-chief having a good breakfast to start off the day. Take, for example, President Abraham Lincoln, who had a typically long day in March 1864. Sensing the president's fatigue after an endless string of appointments, an attaché cancelled his remaining appointments and asked his visitors to return the next morning. Though all were disappointed, one visitor said aloud, "That's all right, for he will then be just up from the breakfast table and will be in good humor." Presidential breakfast history is an interesting mix of personal habits, peculiar tastes, hilarious, anecdotes, and delicious food.
Here is a buffet of some of the more interesting moments of the president's first meal of the day:
President Washington keeps it simple
In 1794, a Brit named Henry Wansey sat down with President Washington for a breakfast of "two small dishes of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread, and butter, but no broiled fish, as is the general custom." On other occasions, President Washington typically ate corn cakes (also called "hoe cakes") drizzled with honey for breakfast.
President Lincoln doubles down on simple breakfast
One contemporary observer wrote of President Lincoln, "[He] was one of the most abstemious of men; the pleasures of the table had few charms for him. His breakfast was an egg and a cup of coffee."
Sometimes, it's OK for politicians to waffle
President Warren Harding was an unwavering fan of waffles. Even before he became president, he was quoted telling a friend: "I have a regular formula for eating waffles... and I recommend it to everyone. You eat the first fourteen waffles without syrup, but with lots of butter. Then you put syrup on the next nine, and the last half-dozen you eat just simply swimming in syrup. Eaten that way waffles never hurt anybody."
"Excuse me, White House butler, there's a hair in my breakfast!"
An early booster of multi-tasking, President Calvin Coolidge frequently ate breakfast while the White House barber gave him a haircut.
Change comes to the White House breakfast table
Though he didn't campaign on this issue, President Herbert Hoover immediately instituted bacon and eggs as the default White House breakfast—a sharp break from the sausage and wheat cakes regularly served during the Coolidge administration.
Who let the dog out?
On February 26, 1934, Winks, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Llewellin setter, surreptitiously ate 19 plates of the ham and eggs breakfast set out for the White House residence staff. Soon afterwards, Winks left the White House to "spend more time with his family," paving the way for F.D.R.'s more famous and familiar Scottish terrier named Fala.
Breakfast for dinner
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt regularly served breakfast for dinner decades before it became trendy. Every Sunday night she would gather an interesting mix of intellectual people at the White House for a meal which always featured scrambled eggs. There is some controversy as to whether or not the First Lady cooked the eggs, or merely stirred them while they were already in the chafing dish. Nonetheless, the residence staff joking referred to these sessions as "Eggs with Brains."
Serious about his cereal
President Harry Truman loved cereal. During the warm months he had cold cereal, and during the cold months he had hot cereal (usually oatmeal) every single day.
With a "diet" like this...
President Dwight Eisenhower's physician orders him to watch his calories. In response, White House head chef François Rysavy regularly served the president broiled steak for breakfast.
White House breakfast gets game
President Lyndon Johnson bragged about the locally sourced breakfast sausage made from deer killed on his central Texas ranch. Johnson frequently gave sausage to friends, elected officials and members of the press. His favorite Sunday breakfast included the deer meat sausage, chilled melon, scrambled eggs, grits, biscuits, and hot coffee.
The First Family breakfast photo op
In September 1974, First Lady Betty Ford told the press that her husband rarely made his own breakfast. President Gerald Ford quickly went into spin control mode and staged a photo opportunity in the White House family kitchen where he toasted his own English muffin and complemented it with some cantaloupe, orange juice, and coffee.
Making grits stick on the White House menu
A congressman throws shade on a White House breakfast
U.S. Representative Otis G. Pike (D-N.Y.) was understandably excited when he received an invitation in July 1977 that read "Breakfast with the President in the State Dining Room." Knowing President Carter's southern heritage, he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with visions of "mounds of pungent sausage and bacon, and ham, mountains of scrambled eggs, piles of grits dappled with butter." To his surprise, he was served coffee, orange juice, and a lonely Danish. He loudly expressed his disappointment, and the lost opportunity for grits, to The New York Times.
The best part of waking up
While recuperating in D.C.'s George Washington University Hospital in April 1981, President Ronald Reagan showed that he was still in charge by signing a bill that cancelled an increase in federal money to support the dairy industry—on his hospital breakfast tray.
The White House breakfast is a mess, but in a good way
In an unprecedented move, President Barack Obama's administration now permits the general public to dine in the White House Mess for breakfast (and lunch), provided that guests make an advance reservation and meet security clearance requirements. The White House Mess is a private dining space in the West Wing basement that for decades been previously reserved for presidential VIPs and their guests.
Adrian Miller is a James Beard award-winner author. His next book, The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families from the Washingtons to the Obamas will be published on President's Day, 2017.