What’s for Lunch, Mr. President?

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After being sworn in next week as our 44th president, Barack Obama will head inside to the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall to join family members, guests and congressional leaders for his inauguration luncheon.

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Harry Truman introduced the tradition, and it’s since been embraced by every president except Jimmy Carter.

On the Obama menu: seafood stew, followed by duck breast with cherry chutney, herb-roasted pheasant with wild-rice stuffing, molasses sweet potatoes, a mélange of vegetables and apple-cinnamon sponge cake. California wines will accompany the meal.

“The luncheons are important not only because they are the president’s first meal as Commander-in-Chief, but also because they are genuinely happy events where the nation—not politics—comes first,” says Elizabeth B. Goldsmith, PhD, a professor of human sciences at Florida State University and former policy adviser to the White House on women’s and girls’ economic education.

“Before Truman moved lunch to the Capitol, inauguration luncheons took place in lots of different places,” she says. “Sometimes they were held in hotels. On the other hand, President William McKinley grabbed a corned-beef sandwich and a cup of coffee in one of the Senate’s committee rooms.”

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In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and 1,200 guests convened in the White House for a simple buffet lunch of tomato soup, salad, beef, ham, tongue, cake, ice cream and coffee. He had requested chicken à la king for his final inaugural lunch, but he was told there was no way to keep it hot. He settled for chicken salad and rolls, unfrosted pound cake and coffee, Dr. Goldsmith notes.

“As one might expect, President and Mrs. Kennedy held an elegant affair,” she says. “The 1961 inauguration luncheon menu in the Capitol’s historic Supreme Court Chamber included delicacies such as cream of tomato soup with crushed popcorn and New England boiled stuffed lobster, and concluded with patisserie bateau blanche [a white mousse pastry], mints and coffee.”

In 1965, President Johnson’s inaugural menu offered pink grapefruit supreme, a relish tray, Texas heart of filet mignon, tomato surprise, string beans in butter, avocado and romaine salad, rolls and butter, and ��The President’s Delight” as the featured dessert. (On a personal note, I’m always wary of recipes with the words “supreme” and “surprise” in their titles. What’s the chef hiding? But I digress…)

“Over the years, lunches have grown more elaborate,” Dr. Goldsmith says. “For instance, President Bill Clinton’s 1997 luncheon included champagne toasts, as well as an impressive menu.”

President George W. Bush began his first term in 2001 by joining 230 guests for a gourmet repast featuring the Senate’s best china and music from the U.S. Army Brass quintet, she says. The luncheon menu included lobster pie, grenadine of beef supreme, chartreuse of vegetables in a puff pastry ring, puree of small celery and parsnip roots, biscuits, toffee pudding with ice cream, demitasse café and tea, and trays of chocolate-dipped ginger, candied fruit rinds, fresh strawberries, macaroons and truffles.

“In 2005, the Bush luncheon had a Native American theme that included quail, china with a woodland design, and a tribute to Teddy Roosevelt and Lewis and Clark,” Dr. Goldsmith says.

“One thing never changes,” she adds. “In good economic times and bad, during war or peace, the mood at the inauguration luncheon is always celebratory.”

We’re not sure whether the menu is organic, but we hope the new president will insist on locally grown, sustainable foods.

Photo of Dr. Goldsmith courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat

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