Island Cooking

Food Fit for a President

• by Chef Jenn Farmer •

For some unknown reason my son and I have a fascination with American history, specifically, the presidents.  We both have always enjoyed history, so that is no surprise, but I think our multiple state museum spree has had a lot to do with fueling our interest.  Looking back I realize whenever we were driving I tried to fill the time with fun facts about the area we were in.  I guess it is a natural progression, since we have been spending a lot of time in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, states rich with patriots and where the past is very visible in the present.  I also notice a sense of pride about the roles played by some of these early trailblazers that is unique to New England.  It truly is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Although no presidents of the United States have been born in Nantucket (not yet anyway) Plenty of very influential people have graced her shores.  From before the birth of the nation, Nantucket was home to the Wampanoag tribe which had a complex government structure and influential chiefs.  Native American tribes from other areas would come to Nantucket as a retreat to fish or harvest dead whales from the shore. It was especially popular in the days before Europeans began to settle Cape Cod in the late 16-early 1700s.  So, both tourism and politics both go way back in Nantucket.

Presidents who have visited the island are Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush.  This list may seem short, but I have lived plenty of places where no presidents visited or stayed.  Plus the current V.P. Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry, both frequently visit Nantucket.   Plus, who could forget the infamous visit we had from Mitt Romney and the coffee ice cream incident.  Oh goodie, food scandals in politics, what could be better?  But forgive me, I am getting off subject.

My son started asking questions about presidents, like, “Who was the youngest president?”  “The oldest?”  “The tallest?”  Then of course my favorite “What were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s favorite foods?”  Oh yes, the question I, too, wanted to know—in fact, I wanted to know all sorts of things about what every president ate.  Of course, the time period and what was available to each president changed, but I wanted to know about other things.  I wanted to know if during war times, did they too cut back and ration?  Were any presidents foodies? or even food snobs?  Were any simple eaters who disliked change and still ate like they did as a child?  Did becoming president expose them to new foods and change their tastes?  Luckily for me the many museums we visited over the summer answered a great deal of these questions.  Additionally, I also found a website  It lists all sorts of menus, recipes and favorite foods of all the U.S. Presidents.

The following recipes are inspired by the favorite foods of early U.S. Presidents, mostly from New England, in keeping with our local cuisine.   The following menu might have been accompanied by a nice roasted venison shoulder or some lamb chops, and some buttered or pickled beets, and minted peas to round out the meal.

Fried Clams

A favorite with most New Englanders, and President Franklin Pierce was noted as enjoying fried clams.

  • 2 pounds littleneck clams, shucked and drained
  • One half to two thirds cup evaporated milk
  • One half to one cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Fresh oil for frying the clams.

Soak the clams in the evaporated milk.  Heat the oil in a deep pan or fryolator.  In small batches coat the clams carefully in the flour mixture, then fry until golden brown on each sides. Serve hot with tartar sauce, a lemon wedge, or cocktail sauce

Green Corn Pudding – AKA Revolutionary Pie

Green corn just refers to young or juvenile corn, not the color of the corn. A favorite with many presidents, it was served often during the early days of the White House.

  • 2 and a half cups corn kernels, and scraped “milk” from kernels
  • 3 eggs separated
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • One half teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the egg yolks until very thick, and then stir in the corn, butter, sugar, salt, and then very slowly the milk.  In a separate bowl whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold in corn mixture.  Carefully pour the mixture into a buttered into an 8×8 inch baking pan.  Bake for 30-45 minutes.  Serve while it is warm. Serves 6-8.

Boston Style Baked Beans

  • 1 pound dry navy beans, sort out any debris or bad beans
  • 6 cups fresh water
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 4 ounces salt pork, cut into half inch pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • One third cup molasses
  • One quarter cup dark brown sugar
  • One teaspoon dried mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans in 6 cups water overnight (if you use a Dutch oven, you can just set it on the heat the next day).  The following day add a pinch of baking soda to the water, and the bay leaf, and then bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Using a large bowl and a colander, drain the liquid off the beans-DO NOT THROW out the liquid.  Pour the drained beans, salt pork, brown sugar, onion, molasses, mustard, and just enough of the reserved liquid to cover the beans.  Cover the pot and bake in the oven for about an hour.  Check the beans, adding more reserved liquid if they seem dry, but don’t stir.  Cover and cook one more hour.  Check the beans to see if they are tender, but not falling apart or mushy.  If they are still firm, add more liquid and keep cooking until they are done.  When they are finally tender, turn up the temperature of the oven by 50 degrees, and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes, to create a crust and make the liquid syrupy.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Rich Black Walnut Cake

  • One half cup butter
  • One half cup shortening
  • Two thirds cup white sugar
  • Three quarters cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 fresh Nantucket eggs
  • One and one eighth cup whole milk (I love goat’s milk in this recipe)
  • Two teaspoons vanilla
  • One teaspoon black walnut extract
  • One cup chopped black walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.  Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a slightly larger bowl cream together the sugar, shortening and butter until lemony yellow, and light and fluffy in appearance.  Add one egg, beat well, and then add the next eggs, beating well after each addition.  Fold in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, then add the extracts, and beat until well incorporated.  Fold in the nuts last, then carefully divide the batter between the two pans, and bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when pressed and a toothpick into the center of the cake comes out clean, not sticky.    Let the cake cool before slicing it.  Recipe makes two, very rich, 9 inch cakes.

Articles by Date from 2012