Matter of Taste: All the Presidents' menus as Americans go to the polls

From boiled calf heads to leather britches, the men who've called the White House home have had funny tastes in food

Matter of Taste: All the Presidents' menus as Americans go to the polls

A portrait of Ronald Reagan, made of his beloved Jelly Belly jelly beans [Flickr/Ryan Dickey]

As Americans go to the polls, what happens when their presidents go to their bowls? While it’s safe to assume that any serving president living in the White House can avail of on-site domestic staff to whip up whatever it is they want to snack on at any hour of the day, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the men who’ve sat down behind the desk in the Oval Office have anything approaching good taste. In honour of today’s historic presidential election, which will either see Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton install themselves in the White House for the next four years, here are some of the strangest things that US presidents from the past were known to have called comfort food.

John Quincy Adams – 1825 to 1829

The sixth President of the US is considered a shining light in the move to modernise the country and was one of the leading voices against slavery. His favourite thing to eat for dinner? Plain, dry crackers with a glass of water to wash them down.

Andrew Jackson – 1829 to 1937

The seventh president and considered the founding father of the Democratic Party, Jackson’s legacy has been guaranteed by featuring on the $20 – though he will soon be relegated to the reverse side by the slave leader Harriet Tubman. Among Jackson’s favourite foods were leather britches – a traditional Appalachian recipe that sees runner beans dried out over a period of weeks, then boiled in a mixture of water and lard.

Zachary Taylor – 1848 – 1850

The 12th president had a perfectly normal diet, even by modern tastes, but bears entry on the list due to the fact that he is the only POTUS believed to have been killed by a meal he consumed. On July 4th, 1850, Taylor, while attending a fundraiser at the Washington Monument, gobbled down some candied cherries and iced milk as respite from the burning heat. Five days later and he’d died, most likely from a case of cholera morbus, due to Washington DC’s open sewers. Though rumours ran rampant for years that he’d been poisoned by pro-slavery southerners with an axe to grind.

James Buchanan – 1857 to 1861

The United States 15th President was a seasoned man of the world by the time he assumed office, having served as the Minister to Russia under Andrew Jackson and as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. But among the most eye-raising meals he liked to consume is calf’s head dressed as terrapin. The meal, a cheat’s version when the small edible turtles cannot be found, sees a cleaned calf’s head boiled in water until tender, with the fleshy cheek then cut into small cubes. These are then smothered in a white sauce, flavoured with egg yolks and Madeira wine.

William H Taft – 1909 to 1913

Born into modest beginnings, the jovial Taft was the 27th US President, following after the far more popular Theodore Roosevelt. A story goes that in January 1909, when still president-elect, Taft was on a tour of the country when a banquet was thrown in his honour in Atlanta, Georgia. At his request, the main court was ‘possum and taters’ – an eight-kilo opossum roasted to a crisp and served on top of a piled of buttered sweet potatoes. Taft reportedly wolfed down the meal so quickly, a doctor had to warn him to take more sensible bites. Atlanta businessmen were so pleased with the banquet that they tried to launch the Billy Possum, a plush toy in the shape of the roasted mammal that they hoped would become the new Teddy Bear.

Richard Nixon – 1969 to 1974

America’s 37th President resigned in disgrace after his involvement in the Watergate scandal, having rather foolhardily told the country some weeks before, “I am not a crook.” When you learn that among his most favourite meals was cottage cheese mixed with ketchup, it’s fair to say that he should also have been declaring “I am not a cook.”

Ronald Reagan – 1981 to 1989

The Gipper, the 40th President to take his seat in the Oval Office, is arguably best known for his love of Jelly Belly jelly beans. So much so that several tonnes of them were served at his inauguration in 1981 and he had a special cup-holder installed on Air Force One to stop them scattering during turbulence. But it’s his fondness for hamburger soup that leaves most people scratching their heads – bowls of minced beef, mixed with carrots and tomatoes, topped with beef stock and grits.

George W Bush – 2001 to 2009

America’s 43rd President in not fondly remembered for anything, having a legacy that saw him lead the country through the turmoil of 9/11 by heading headfirst into military action in the Middle East, still ongoing all these years later. His personal chef says his favourite meal to eat while living in the White House was the Bush family’s ‘Homemade Cheeseburger Pizza’, which was a Margherita pizza, topped with brown minced beef, with lettuce, cheese and pickles tossed on top. It actually sounds like the most appealing thing to come out of his presidency.

Newstalk will have live results coverage of the election starting at 10pm tonight on air with a special election show and live updates and analysis all night on Newstalk.com. You can also follow along on Twitter @NewstalkFM.

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