What’s #1 at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

State dinners. Celebratory banquets. Working lunches. Private family meals. What the presidents, their families and staff have eaten at the White House for the more than 200 years it’s existed reveals a lot about American food culture and trends. From elegant to commonplace, meals at the White House reflect where presidents grew up, lived and traveled. In honor of our first president’s 285th birthday, pull up a chair for dinner with George and Martha.

From Dolley to Martha to you.

For more than 50 years, Martha Washington recorded and organized recipes in a cookbook. She gave it to a granddaughter, and after many years in the family, it became part of the permanent collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In 1940, historian Mary Kimball studied the cookbook and published a version updated for more modern cooking.

One of the recipes Martha Washington recorded is a light, flavorful vegetable and chicken soup that she attributes to Dolley Madison, the wife of the fourth U.S. president, James Madison. If you’re new to okra, Southern Chicken Okra Soup is a great way to try it in combination with other healthy ingredients such as tomatoes, corn and lima or butter beans. You can find both the corn and okra (already sliced) in the frozen food section of your local grocery.

Did Dolley Madison ever serve her okra soup at the many banquets and social events she held in Washington, D.C.? That part of the story is unknown, but why not? It’s suitable for a fancy feast or a quiet weeknight dinner and is delicious anytime.

Who liked what?

History is full of presidential fun facts, including favorite foods. Take the famous foursome of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Who ate an apple almost every day? Who loved onions? Who ate an entire chicken in one sitting? And who helped popularize macaroni and cheese in America?

Here are some hints. Washington was a man of many layers. Jefferson lived in Paris for five years and returned with many new favorite foods. Lincoln, of course, was a country boy. And Teddy? He was noted for his excellent appetite. Look under the sketch above for the answers.

Decisions, decisions.

The big decisions presidents make get the most attention, but they — like everyone — ultimately make the decision of what they’re going to eat. Day after day, these small but important executive decisions can add up to healthier living and more delicious meals.

Photo credit of President Gerald R. Ford: https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/