Sweets are something that most people love and indulge in (especially if it’s from E.O.D). The same is true at the White House, where Presidents and their families have enjoyed simple and luxurious sweets on many occasions. On this Presidents’ Day, we stop to take a look back at what desserts were served in the White House and give a peek inside. Ronald Reagan loved his wife Nancy’s Coconut Macaroons – and we’ve got the recipe for you below!
Can you believe that the permanent position of White House Executive Pastry Chef wasn’t until 1979? Before that, White House sweets came from many sources. Chefs and cooks played an important part in preparing desserts for White House dinners and receptions, but presidents also turned to outside help for more elaborate confections and pastries. James Buchanan, a bachelor president, entertained with zeal. He hired Charles Gautier, a French caterer and chocolatier, to prepare his 1857 inaugural banquet, and later turned to local caterer Madame Demonet & Sons for his sweets and pastry needs. “Whenever it is desired to make a good impression upon some foreign royalty or distinguished citizen at the White House,” the Washington Post reported in 1893, Demonet was the firm for the job.
While the source of White House sweets has changed over time, the presence of delightful confections has remained constant from the earliest days of White House history. President Thomas Jefferson served ice cream, one of his favorite desserts, at a White House Independence Day celebration in 1806. His household administrator, Etienne Lemaire, hired an extra servant to turn the ice cream maker’s crank for the occasion. Ice cream appeared on many of Jefferson’s menus, often served, as one of his guests remarked, “in covers of warm pastry… as if the ice had just been taken from the oven.” In fact, President Jefferson enjoyed ice cream so much that he had an ice house excavated on the White House Grounds, in part to ensure that the chilled treat could be made during the summer months!
Lady Bird Johnson, a well known conservationist, also chose a flower-themed dessert for her daughters’ engagement parties. White House Executive Chef Henry Haller’s “flowerpot sundaes” were served in clay flowerpots, and featured layers of sponge cake, ice cream, and meringue, topped with a fresh flower.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1945 inauguration took place in the midst of World War II and adhered to wartime butter and sugar rations. White House cook Henrietta Nesbitt consequently served—perhaps to the dismay of President Roosevelt’s guests—practical, unfrosted cakes!
The White House state dinner took on a special elegance and importance to White House entertaining during the John F. Kennedy administration. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy preferred to serve sophisticated French cuisine, including such desserts as petits fours, chocolate mousse, crème brulée, bombe glacée, and Saint-Honoré cake, which have a cream puff base and velvety cream filling.
White House holidays and celebrations have been accompanied by fantastic sweets and pastries, but presidents do not always need an excuse to indulge in their favorite desserts. President Theodore Roosevelt also had an impressive appetite and a weakness for sweets. Among his favorites were Sagamore Hill Sand Tarts, named for his Oyster Bay, New York, estate.
President Ronald Reagan preferred a simpler treat: jelly beans. The Herman Goelitz Candy Company, makers of Jelly Belly, furnished the White House with jelly beans throughout Reagan’s presidency, especially his favorite flavor: licorice. He also enjoyed his wife Nancy’s coconut Macaroons (her recipe is below!).
Chocolate chip cookies were preferred by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Chocolate is non-partisan.
Thus, whether they preferred jelly beans or tarts, fruitcake or chocolate mousse, presidents have had no shortage of ways to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Nancy Reagan’s Coconut Macaroons
2 Egg whites
3/4 cup Granulated sugar
1 dash Salt
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 cup All-purpose flour
1 pack Shredded coconut; (7-oz)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil. In medium bowl, beat egg whites, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add flour and blend well. Fold in coconut. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet. Remove and store tightly.