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All the Presidents' Menus: What First Families Eat on Christmas

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People are strangely fascinated by what other people eat, and even more so when that other person is the president. Here are 10 Christmas dinner menus from presidents past and present.

1. GEORGE WASHINGTON // 1790

Christmas at Mount Vernon was no small affair. In addition to Washington's super-tasty eggnog, the first president served onion soup, oysters, broiled herring, Yorkshire pudding, roast suckling pig, turkey with chestnut stuffing, boiled beef with horseradish sauce, Virginia ham, lima beans, acorn squash, baked celery with almonds, hominy pudding, candied sweet potatoes, cantaloupe pickles, spiced cranberries, and mincemeat, apple, and cherry pies. There were more desserts, including blancmange, jellied plums, snowballs (whatever those were), ice cream, and plum pudding, plus an assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese and egg-free alcoholic beverages.

2. GROVER CLEVELAND // 1887

After a hearty breakfast of oranges, boiled rice, and salt mackerel, Grover Cleveland and his family and guests were treated to an elaborate dinner menu featuring oysters on the half shell, game soup, boiled fish, roast goose, applesauce, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, more boiled rice, stewed onions, lobster salad, duck, plum pudding, vanilla ice cream, mince pie, salted almonds, various fruit, candies and cookies, and coffee. The White House Christmas Plum Pudding recipe is a monster of culinary proportions: it begins with a cup of beef suet followed by at least 16 more ingredients, 12 steps of preparation, four hours of boiling, and then a brandy sauce recipe to top it off that calls for "a piece of butter as large as an egg." Though he never found himself stuck in the presidential clawfoot tub, it might be worth noting that President Cleveland was quite large.

3. THEODORE ROOSEVELT // 1907

Whatever else the Roosevelts were planning for their Christmas feast in 1907, they probably didn't expect the shipment that arrived from Helen Longstreet, a well-known Southerner. She hand-fed a pair of possums for months—"mostly persimmons"—for the sole purpose of gifting them to the president and his family. Longstreet, a postmistress in Gainesville, Georgia, wrote on the box, "These o'possums surrendered near the Wren's Nest, Atlanta, both contending smilingly for the honor of furnishing the Christmas dinner for the American Prince and his family." It's hard to imagine anyone would get away with the shipment of animals or that "American Prince" line today without a surprise visit from men with badges, but it's a sweet story, if you're into eating possum.

4. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT // 1941

As the United States celebrated Christmas for the first time as combatants in WWII (and while still climbing out of the Great Depression), the dinner menu at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was pared down a bit to reflect the country's wartime sacrifice. FDR and guest of honor Winston Churchill dined on clear soup, thin toast, turkey and dressing, and beans, and of course a Christmas plum pudding made an appearance as well.

5. HARRY S. TRUMAN // 1947

The Trumans served what was probably the first roll-free White House Christmas dinner: the menu was "minus bread or rolls and butter, in keeping with the national food conservation program," and included only tomato consommé, curled celery, assorted olives, roast turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, asparagus, the now-infamous plum pudding, fruit salad, and coffee.

6. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER // 1960

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Details are scant about the Eisenhowers' holiday menus, but one fact is known: in 1960, the family received a 42-pound turkey and a gallon of oysters for the affair, courtesy of a Mr. Arthur Briscoe. To put that bird into perspective, the average 5-year-old child weighs around 40 pounds.

7. RICHARD NIXON // 1973

Things were not looking great for Nixon's presidency in 1973, what with that whole Watergate thing. The Nixons had a very small, private dinner in 1973 with just a few family and friends, some turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. Eight months later, Nixon became the first (and only) president to resign the office.

8. BILL CLINTON // 1993

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Since the Clintons were already in the practice of hosting Christmas dinner for both their families, they put out quite a spread to include everyone's favorites: turkey and ham, bread stuffing and cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli, ambrosia, a cranberry mold, giblet gravy, a relish tray with green onions, watermelon pickles and olives, and pumpkin, pecan, apple, and cherry pies. And on top of all of that, champagne, wine, eggnog, syllabub, and sweet potato punch (from a recipe clipped from an Arkansas newspaper).

9. GEORGE W. BUSH // 2007

The Bushes enjoyed a relatively low-key Christmas lunch at Camp David in 2007. On the menu? Turkey, dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, Parker House rolls, pumpkin and pecan pies, and red velvet cake.

10. BARACK OBAMA // 2011

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In 2011, the Obamas celebrated in Hawaii with steak, potatoes, green beans and pie. His menu in 2010 was slightly more traditional, though just as simple: turkey, string beans, dressing, and mac and cheese.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

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When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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