White House Cookbook

Photo: Randy Graham, Valley Vegetarian

A copy of the “White House Cook Book – New and Enlarged Edition” was left to Robin when her mom, Hattie, passed away in March 2000. It is a third printing of the original printed in 1887 and as copyrighted by the author, F.L. Gillette.

This edition is updated by Hugo Ziemann, who is listed as co-author in our copy of the book. The subtitle is a bit long but worth mentioning. It is “A comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home containing Cooking, Toilet and Household Recipes, Menus, Dinner-Giving, Table Etiquette, Care of the Sick, Health Suggestions, Facts Worth Knowing, Etc.” Wait a minute. Toilet and household recipes? Really? I’ll comment on this section of the book at the end.

I love the cover. Note the road leading up to the White House. The original cookbook was obviously written and printed before the advent of the horseless carriage. Visitors drove horse driven buggies or road their horses to the North portico of the White House and walked right in. This was especially true of the Lincoln presidency.

The engraving on the cover looks much like the White House that President and Mrs. Lincoln lived in two decades earlier. During the Lincoln administration, 1861 – 1865, the first floor was open to the public. The Lincoln family lived on the second floor. There were no obvious security guards in those days. There were no security gates or checkpoints. There were no driveways leading under the White House for the convenience of staff and visiting dignitaries.

public domain photo

Photo of the 1860s White House looking toward the North Portico entrance

This entrance to the White House is described in an Internet article written about the Lincoln Presidency:

The north front presents the appearance of a building two stories high, and is ornamented with a lofty portico, which was added to the main building during the presidency of General Jackson. This portico has four columns of the Ionic order in front, supporting the massive covering of the stone platform in frost of the main entrance. Three other columns of the same order form a projection, which covers a carriageway; and from this carriageway the visitor steps upon the platform above referred to. In front of this portico is a neatly ornamented yard, of semicircular form, with carriageways and foot pavements leading to gates at either corner, which afford ingress from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Another Internet article offers the following on the origin of “The White House Cookbook”:

The very first White House Cook Book was published in 1887 by a lady named Fanny Lemia Gillette. She had been compiling what would become one of the most important cookbooks to date for almost 40 years. Inside are recipes for cosmetics to cleaners, how-to’s on hospitality to child rearing. Everything the lady of the house from the Victorian era ought to know. It’s great tips on almost every topic made this cookbook a favorite for brides-to-be. Besides having some engravings of a few of the first ladies it lacks any of the facts about the White House itself. Later editions featured Hugo Ziemann, the White House Steward as a co-author who included facts and illustrations of the famous house. Most of the editions include a picture the current first lady at the time of printing was, on the front piece of the book.

Photo: Randy Graham, Valley Vegetarian

White House Cookbook dedication page – note initials penciled in after “By the Author”

Our copy of the cookbook has a photo of first lady Ida Saxton McKinley which implies a print date of somewhere between 1897 and 1901. The title implies, at first glance, that the book is full of recipes served by the White House’s kitchen.  Reading the dedication above leaves one to believe this is a collection of recipes that honor first ladies, past and present, but that were not necessarily prepared by or for the wives of our presidents. I could definitely see it advertised with a banner that said something like, “Brides – Now, you too can cook like a first lady.”

Speaking of cooking, here is a vegetarian recipe titled “Eggs in Cases” as found on page 216 of the “White House Cookbook” :

Make little paper cases of buttered writing paper; put a small piece of butter in each, and a little chopped parsley or onion, pepper and salt. Place the cases upon a gridiron over a moderate fire of bright coals, and when the butter melts, break a fresh egg into each case. Strew in upon them a few seasoned breadcrumbs, and when nearly done, glaze the tops with a hot shovel. Serve in the paper cases.

Perhaps this dish was what was served to President Lincoln for breakfast. An article Titled “Abraham Lincoln’s Last Day” has this to say:

8:00 A.M.  Abraham Lincoln ate breakfast. Normally he had one egg and one cup of coffee. This morning Mary Todd Lincoln, 46, sat at the opposite end of the table with sons, Robert, 21, and Tad, 12, at the sides…Mary said she had tickets to Grover’s Theatre, but she’d prefer to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre…After breakfast the president excused himself to go back to work in his office which was located in the southeast corner of the White House.

Maybe “Eggs in Cases” was the last breakfast Lincoln ever ate. This is speculation but, hey, it could have happened! Here’s a link to a more modern version of “Eggs in Cases” in case you no longer cook with “writing paper.”

Note on Toilet Recipes (page 549): Don’t know why a cookbook has a chapter on Toilet Recipes but if you get a chance to look through the book, this chapter is an interesting read. I’m thinking of writing a separate article on it alone! Here is an example of a toilet recipe for “Dye for White or Light Eyebrows.”

Boil an ounce of walnut bark in a pint of water for an hour. Add a lump of alum the size of a filbert, and when cold, apply with a camel’s hair brush. 


About Valley Vegetarian

The fresh chef providing consistently good vegetarian comfort food recipes.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.