This US President Was Famous For Eating Turtle Steak

Can you recite the names of all 46 presidents in order? Ok, can you even name them at all? If you're like many of us (meaning, you weren't even entirely sure that 46 was the right number), you may be able to list about 10 to 15 POTUSes, tops. While most of us remember the ones who've held office in our own lifetimes, when we get back past that point, we only remember the big names who rated a mention in our high school history classes.

Sure, everyone knows George Washington, Father of Our Country and the man whose face adorns the bill most likely to be found in our sadly-depleted wallets. There's also Honest Abe, the president on the penny. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt round out the Mount Rushmore gang, and wasn't there another Roosevelt who told us not to fear fear itself or something? And of course, no one could forget the tragic JFK, who sparked a million conspiracy theories that are still talked about more than half a century after his death. Still, that leaves a couple of dozen presidents who are now as anonymous as the runners-up in last year's reality shows. 

Into this latter category falls Chester A. Arthur, a man who occupied the White House during those tumultuous 1880s when lots of stuff undoubtedly happened, such as, umm, the Tariff Act of 1883 (no, we don't remember it, either), and the consumption of turtle steak — yes, made from actual turtles (via Good).

Chester A. Arthur was our nation's First Foodie

Chester A. Arthur (in case you were wondering, Britannica says the "A" stood for Alan) wasn't technically the first foodie our nation has ever known, nor even the first one to hold its highest office. Thomas Jefferson had one of his slaves trained in French cooking and pastry-making in exchange for his freedom (via Good). This man, James Hemings, could be credited with introducing la cuisine française to our fledgling nation

Other early 19thcentury presidents also had some pretty fancy tastes: according to The Awl, Andrew Jackson enjoyed French wines, while John Tyler preferred champagne with his "grateful pudding" (a type of bread pudding that appears in 1747's "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy"). Martin Van Buren liked boar's head, while Zachary Taylor was into Cajun cooking over 100 years before Emeril Lagasse made it trendy.

Chester A. Arthur was a man of his time, that being the Victorian era, and his tastes reflect this. Like any prosperous man in that day and age, he liked to set quite the sumptuous table, and he was lucky enough to live during a time when the word "diet" really wasn't a part of anyone's vocabulary. While in office, this First Foodie (or gourmand, as they were known back in the day) dined on some of the finest foodstuffs his chefs could get their hands on.

What Chester A. Arthur ate in a day

Chester A. Arthur started out his day with just a light breakfast, specifically coffee with a bread roll, per The Awl. He also enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal (good for the digestion), but oddly enough, he would eat this porridge at lunchtime along with a piece of fish (weird). At dinnertime, however, he'd really bust a gut, feasting on roast beef or mutton with potatoes and fruit and washed down with claret or beer.

On special occasions — and when you're president, every day is a special occasion — Arthur's table would feature additional delicacies. One of these was something called macaroni pie, which is more or less mac and cheese, according to food historian Joyce White. And another was Nesselrode pie, a 19th-century dessert which seems to have involved pureed chestnuts and dried fruits beaten into custard and topped with whipped cream (via The New York Times). 

He was also a big fan of seafood, including salmon, oysters, eels, and, yes, turtles. As NPR reports, there was quite the craze for turtle soup back in the 19th century, while The Awl reveals it appeared on White House menus as early as the John Adams administration. Arthur, however, was less of a soup guy, since he preferred his turtle meat in the form of steaks.

Why you can't eat like Chester A. Arthur

While records don't seem to show the exact type of turtle Arthur was eating, NPR says it was likely the diamondback terrapin, a species nearly driven to extinction due to being the 19thcentury's biggest food fad (kind of like a fast food chicken sandwich for rich people). Oddly enough, the only thing that saved this species from being wiped out entirely was Prohibition since you simply couldn't make turtle soup without sherry.

While we've been free to booze it up since Prohibition's repeal in 1933, you still can't eat turtles — most sea turtle species are still very endangered and thus harvesting them for food is prohibited under the federal Endangered Species Act (via Slate). What about non-sea turtles, though? Can you eat those? Well, maybe, but it won't be easy to catch one. Saveur went deep into the swamps of southwestern Virginia only to find out that turtle hunting requires a great deal of work and a whole lot of luck, although they did report on a North Carolina restaurant (the now-closed Crook's Corner) that put turtle soup on the menu each year as a Mardi Gras specialty. If you really, really want to eat turtle, though, your best bet is to travel to the Cayman Islands. Turtle is a beloved island specialty, per Saveur, and the island houses a large turtle breeding center so they can supply this in-demand meat without further depleting the ranks of wild turtles.