This Was The Only Meal Abraham Lincoln Actually Liked Eating

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When history classes teach us about Abraham Lincoln, they usually cover the basics: He was a lawyer, statesman, 16th president of the United States, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, led the Union through the Civil War, and was assassinated at the Ford Theatre in D.C. in 1865. And while that's a pretty good overview of one of the most important people in U.S. history, we don't ever really get to learn much about what Lincoln was like outside of his national duties. Such as, what he liked to eat.

Funny enough, despite being the president and having a cook specifically hired to appeal to his dietary preferences, Lincoln wasn't much of an eater, reports Mr. Lincoln's White House. According to Suzy Evans, a lawyer, literary agent, author, and PhD-holding historian, Lincoln often simply forgot to eat. Evans writes of Lincoln's eating habits on her blog, "Not prone to eating breakfast every day, it has been said that he had an egg and biscuit only occasionally. Lunch was often only an apple with a glass of milk, and dinner could be entirely forgotten unless a tray of food was forced on him."

However, when the president did eat — or, maybe better worded, when he was reminded to eat — there was one meal Abraham Lincoln loved above all others.

Abraham Lincoln loved food that reminded him of his childhood

A Midwest man, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, spent his childhood in Indiana, and settled in Illinois before taking up residence in the White House (per WFPL). Because of this, the food he liked best were the items that reminded him most of his hometown favorites. According to historian Suzy Evans' blog post, Lincoln "never lost a boyhood taste for Kentucky Corn Cakes, Gooseberry Cobbler, Rail Splitters, Gingerbread Cookies, and Corn Dodgers."

From his list of favorites, you get the picture that Lincoln's appetite wasn't huge and was very specific. Most of these items tend to be desserts or snacks — appetizers at best. However, if there was one entree he couldn't get enough of, it was chicken fricassee. According to "A Treasury of White House Cooking" by Francois Rysavy (as seen on Amazon), Lincoln "liked the chicken cut up in small pieces, fried with seasonings of nutmeg and mace, and served with a gravy made of the chicken drippings." So, even when he indulged in something more substantial than nibbles, Lincoln preferred to fill himself on hearty, simple home-cooked meals. 

The war often distracted Lincoln from dinner

The attitude Abraham Lincoln took toward food seems less absent-minded than abstemious in general. "He was a remarkably temperate man," once said Lincoln's friend and fellow state representative Joe Gillespie, as shared by O'Shaughnessy's, adding that he "eschewed every indulgence, not so much as it seemed to me from principle, as from a want of appetites." In truth, Lincoln's preference for simpler foods was likely reflective of frontier conditions at the time.

Presiding over a country literally torn in half by a civil war would also probably affect one's appetite. In an account provided to Lincoln Cottage by Rae Katherine Eighmey, author of "Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View Of Lincoln's Life and Times," it's said that Mary Todd Lincoln even asked the White House chef whether they could prepare some "old-fashioned chicken fricassee" in an attempt to divert the president from his work so he could sit down for a good meal that he enjoyed.

This was part of a general strategy she employed that also included inviting various guests for supper so that Abraham Lincoln would have to emerge from his office to play the host. The fricassee gambit failed and, as Eighmey suggests, the increasingly gaunt look Abraham Lincoln developed during the course of the war could have been exacerbated by his indifferent eating habits.

Making your own presidential chicken fricassee

If you want to try Lincoln's favorite dish, blogs like Wildflour's Cottage Kitchen and The Intelligencer provide pretty solid recipes to make at home. The one in the Intelligencer bills itself as the Lincoln recipe, and says to make this chicken in a creamy sauce, you'll need flour, seasonings like salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, nutmeg, and mace, some butter, mushrooms, and chicken thighs among other ingredients.

After putting the chicken in a plastic bag with the seasonings and flour (and shaking to coat it completely), you'll want to melt butter in a skillet and brown the chicken on all sides and then sauté the vegetables. The remaining flour and some milk will then create the sauce that goes on top. 

So, while we may never get to eat food prepared by a real White House chef any time soon, that doesn't mean we can't still eat like a president.