President McKinley Loved Red Flannel Hash – But What The Heck Is It?

One of the lesser-known drawbacks of being elected POTUS (or, tbh, attaining any real level of celebrity) is realizing that history will judge you harshly for your food choices. "Weird" food preferences of former presidents are a subject that many publications revisit year after year, particularly around President's Day. Among the ones that seem unexpected to us in the 21st century are Chester A. Arthur's fondness for turtle steak (which was actually quite the delicacy back when he held office in the late 19th century) and the passion for squirrel meat shared by both James Garfield and William Henry Harrison. (Both men died in office after serving less than a year ... hmm, do we smell acorn-spiracy here?). Dwight D. Eisenhower's prune whip and Richard Nixon's ketchup-topped cottage cheese, too, have not stood the test of time.

Other dishes may sound odd on account of their antiquated names: Andrew Jackson's favorite "leather britches" was merely a dish of green beans cooked with bacon, while the "hen's nest" and "yard of flannel" served at the Madison White House were, respectively, a custard dessert and a ginger-flavored eggnog-type drink. In this category, too, we find William McKinley's "red flannel hash," which kind of sounds like a starvation stew made of worn-out winter undies — in fact, one apocryphal story has it that the dish was created by an angry Victorian housewife who threw her spouse's pajamas into the breakfast potatoes — but the red in the hash is actually supplied by boiled beets.

Red flannel hash wasn't McKinley's only favorite

We don't really know whether McKinley was a true devotee of red flannel hash as he did not spend his time in the Oval Office penning odes to its transcendent glory or anything like that. We do know, however, that this dish of cooked potatoes and beets fried in butter was a popular dish during the Victorian era and was said to be especially associated with the Midwest. (Prior to his presidency, McKinley served as governor of Ohio.) It did seem to appear fairly often on the McKinley's table at breakfast time, although it was likely accompanied by eggs as the First Couple were said to be very fond of these. Another favorite of theirs was a baked egg casserole that came to be known as the McKinley omelet.

For dinner, the McKinleys would dine upon chops, steaks, or fish. (And possibly squirrel? While the record does not confirm this, McKinley, like Arthur and Harrison, did leave office early under rather unfortunate — and fatal — circumstances.) When the couple really wanted to be fancy, though, they would have lobster served as a warm (or semi-warm) salad atop a plate of greens. While the shellfish salad might have been accompanied by a glass of wine, we do not know whether the presidential pair favored red or white.