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These books reveal the drinking habits, culinary fascinations, and influence of some of America’s most powerful historical figures.

Abbey White
February 16, 2018
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Much has been cataloged about American history, from its founding and its international relations to its economics and its social movements. But there is one often overlooked area where you can learn about all of these things: its culinary history. The food history of America’s most powerful figures and the people who filled their stomachs reveals another aspect of American culture. Here are seven books that illuminate readers on the surprising, silly and sometimes forgotten history of food’s role in shaping America’s government and its leaders.

1. Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking

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It’s no secret that presidents, like the rest of America, like to drink. But did you know that President Roosevelt made gin in a bathtub? This detailed history and cocktail recipe book gives you an inside look at the alcoholic preferences of the men who led the nation. Discover which Founding Fathers had backyard distilleries, which president’s rather expensive vintage tastes led to bankruptcy, and who from the Oval Office preferred whiskey to whisky before trying your hand at concocting a Rum Swizzle or Missouri Mule.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, amazon.com.

2. Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times

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Lincoln remains, both through his life and his death, one of America’s most influential presidents. He was also a frequent cook. In author Rae Katherine Eighmey’s book, Lincoln’s own culinary concepts are developed into modern recipes for the home cook to try. As you cook, follow Eighmey’s personal research into the kind of pocket-sized gingerbread recipes Lincoln could have used in a time when cookie cutters were highly expensive and read about her search for Lincoln's grocery bills in Springfield ledgers.

Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times, $11 at amazon.com.

3. The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine

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The Founding Fathers did more than help shape a nation. As farmers and international travelers, they also helped shape its cuisine. Among the 300 pages of this book, you’ll discover not only how America’s early leaders were involved in sustainable farming and ranching, exotic imported foods, brewing, distilling, and wine appreciation, but shared their passion for local food and drinks with friends and fellow politicians. The book also comes with recipes for how to make Thomas Jefferson's ice cream and a beer by George Washington.

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine, $19 on amazon.com.

4. The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy

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Featuring more than 300 never-before-seen illustrations, author Barry H. Landau gives readers an inside look into the art and politics of White House dining, and how it has lent itself to American diplomacy. From the nation’s first presidential administration under George Washington to the more recent presidency of George W. Bush, explore how meals have grown from a provincial affair to an era of sumptuous state banquets, and finally to the White House dinners we know today. See how dining habits evolved as both economics and social issues rose and fell, and uncover what political interests were served along with presidential meals.

The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy, $30 at amazon.com.

5. Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History

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Author’s Mia Partlow and Michael Hoerger scoured over 500,000 declassified memos, debriefings and transcripts to identify some of the weird, quirkiest and most shocking roles food played in U.S. history. Whether it’s an assassination via milkshake, subliminal popcorn cravings or the connection between Black Panther Fred Hampton, stolen ice cream bars, and local Chicago children, this book illustrates that even the most mundane of culinary creations can play an extraordinary role in influencing our politics and government.

Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History, $5 at amazon.com.  

6. In the Kennedy Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections of a Great American Family

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The Kennedys have long been considered American royalty—or as close to it as you can get. The family, which occupied the White House for several years and American politics for decades have become their own kind of political celebrity, their lives shrouded in both reverence and mystery. Now, Neil Connolly, former private chef to Kennedy matriarch Rose Kennedy, is clearing some of that smoke and fog with this collection of 125 recipes from the family's Hyannisport compound. Each is accompanied by a nostalgic anecdote about the family, as well as never-before-seen snapshots giving you an intimate look into the lives on one of U.S. politics’ most famous families.

In the Kennedy Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections of a Great American Family, $44 at amazon.com. 

7. The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

When discussing America’s presidential culinary history, we often remember the men who ran the White House. But what about the Americans who ran their kitchens? In this eye-opening journey, learn from James Beard award-winning author Adrian Miller on how African Americans, historically resigned to service work, turned that work as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers into respected and impactful professions in the White House and beyond. Featuring anecdotes and recipes, you can try your hand at Samuel Fraunces's “onions done in the Brazilian way” and read about Franklin Roosevelt’s last day in 1945, struck down just before his lunchtime cheese souffle was taken from the oven, directly from his chef Daisy McAfee Bonner.

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas, $21 at amazon.com.