13 First Ladies’ Favorite Recipes of All Time
Just in time for the holidays, we gathered delicious recipes from our First Ladies of the United States. The varied dishes are as effortless, approachable, and elegant as the powerful women who enjoyed them.
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The varied tastes of First Ladies
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First Ladies are not only formidable leaders but master entertainers. Inspired by the updated version of Creating the Sweet World of White House Desserts from Roland Mesnier, former White House pastry chef, we rounded up some of the most beloved recipes created and enjoyed by Nancy, Hillary, Michelle, and more. Find out 44 facts you never knew about America’s First Ladies.
Nancy Reagan’s Tequila Mousse
Nancy Reagan had this flavorful dessert served at a White House dinner honoring the President and First Lady of Mexico. Tequila works well with acidic flavors, and it’s important to use a high-quality brand of this popular spirit when making this fun dish. Don’t miss seeing Nancy Reagan and other First Ladies in their gorgeous inaugural gowns.
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup plus tablespoon Heavy Pastry Syrup (recipe below)
- ½ cup Tequila
- 1¾ cups heavy cream, whipped in a cold bowl to firm peaks
- Place the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and stir for several minutes to lighten.
- Place the Heavy Pastry Syrup in a saucepan, on a medium burner and bring just to a boil.
- With the mixer running, slowly and carefully drizzle the hot syrup onto the egg yolks.
- Turn the mixture on high speed and whisk until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Stir the Tequila into the processed egg yolk mixture. Stir just a little as you do not want to deflate this fluffy mixture.
- Fold in the whipped heavy cream.
- Place the bowl in the freezer for a few hours or until the mousse has thickened and then serve.
Heavy Pastry Syrup Recipe
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- Stir sugar into water
- Place in saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil to dissolve sugar
- Stir in corn syrup
- Let cool and store in refrigerator
Michelle Obama’s White Bean Salad
In 2009, as she was settling into the White House, Michelle Obama—who referred to herself as the “mom in chief,” planted her own vegetable garden, which underscored her commitment to children’s healthy nutrition. The recipe below is from her own cookbook, American Grown. Did you know the Obamas and other First Families have to pay for groceries and these other things?
- 1 cup dried small white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern, or 1 15-ounce can
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
- 1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas
- 1/2 bunch fresh chives, chopped
- 5 mild radishes, such as Lady Slipper radishes, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- If you’re using dried beans, first rinse them, picking out any stones, and place in a bowl. Cover with cold water and soak for 8 hours, or overnight, then drain the beans and place in a pot. Add the garlic and bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour
- In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and shallot. Whisk to combine
- When the beans are done, drain them well and place in a medium bowl. Discard the bay leaf and garlic clove. Add one-third of the vinaigrette to the warm beans and toss; then let stand for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. If using canned beans, rinse and drain them, then toss with the vinaigrette
- In a small pot of boiling water, cook the snow peas or sugar snap peas for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, place them in a bowl of ice water. Drain, pat dry, and slice thin
- In a large salad bowl, place the cooled beans, snow peas, chives, radishes, and basil. Pour the remaining dressing over and toss lightly. Serve immediately.
Barbara Bush’s Mushroom Quiche
A mother of six, Barbara Bush was a stellar home chef and had a healthy appetite for everything from Tex-Mex cuisine to steaks. Her recipes can be found in a collection titled The Bush Family Cookbook.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1¼ pounds mushrooms, sliced
- 3 green onions, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1¾ teaspoons oregano
- 1¾ teaspoons basil
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard
- 4 eggs
- ¾ cup whole milk or half-and-half
- 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Saute mushrooms, onions, garlic, and shallots together.
- Stir in seasonings and cook 2 minutes until liquid is evaporated.
- Let cool 5 minutes. In a medium bowl combine eggs with milk or half-and-half and beat well.
- Stir in mushroom mixture and pour into pie crust.
- Bake about 35 to 45 minutes until filling is puffed, set and starting to brown.
Hillary Clinton’s Strawberries and Devonshire Cream
For the State Dinner with Tony Blair, the former BritishPM, White House chef—Roland Mesnier—created this classic English dessert. Mesnier offers a special trick for keeping strawberries perky. “Strawberries can give off a lot of water so to avoid this I cooked them in sugar to draw out the water and added pectin to thicken the mixture.” If you’re invited to the White House, make sure you leave behind these banned items that won’t be allowed in the White House.
- 2 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, washed and stemmed
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1tablespoon apple pectin
- A couple of drops of red food coloring( optional)
- Devonshire Cream, lightly whipped
- Wash, dry, and hull strawberries but leave them whole.
- Place the strawberries in a pot large enough for all of them to lay side by side.
- Sprinkle the sugar over the berries and pour in water.
- On low heat bring the liquid to a simmer and cook the berries until they are soft. Shake the pan often so the strawberries do not burn. Be careful not to break the berries.
- Carefully remove three-quarters of the liquid.
- Sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixed with the apple pectin. Gently stir in red food coloring.
- Bring to a boil and cook five to eight minutes. Let the strawberries cool in the syrup.
- For service, fold strawberries into lightly whipped Devonshire Cream.
- Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Scrambled Eggs
Eleanor Roosevelt’s White House kitchen wasn’t known for its gourmet food. In fact, famous guest Ernest Hemingway reported that the food served to him at the White House was the worst he’d ever had. Some historians reason that being a first lady during the Great Depression made Eleanor more penny conscious than epicurean driven, while others posited that ardent activist Eleanor cared more about equity and equality than entertaining. One meal that Eleanor did master—and proudly so—was scrambled eggs. Here’s our secret recipe for the best ever scrambled eggs.
Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies
In 2000, Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookie recipe went up against Tipper Gore’s Ginger Snap cookies in a political recipe cookoff. Laura Bush won (as did her husband George W. Bush). With a grand total of three sticks of butter, these aren’t for the faint of heart (or anyone watching their calories). Here is her winning recipe!
Lady Bird Johnson’s Barbecue Sauce
LBJ and Lady Bird were proud of their Texas’ roots and loved down-home cooking so much, the French chef they inherited from the Kennedy administration actually resigned—complaining about having to make too much BBQ! Try your hand at these presidential trivia questions everyone gets wrong.
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup vinegar
- ¼ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- Salt to taste
- Red pepper to taste
- Tabasco sauce to taste
- 1 clove garlic, minced
Melt butter in saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Brush liberally on meat before barbecuing.
White House Vanilla Cake
Served to Jimmy Carter on his birthday and the Reagans on their wedding anniversary, this classic vanilla cake was beloved by many First Ladies.
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Zest of 2 lemons (optional)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup milk, room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Thoroughly brush the insides of two 8- or 9-inch (2-inch high) cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.
- Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until very smooth.
- With the mixer on medium speed, slowly add in the sugar.
- Continuing to mix on medium speed slowly add in the eggs.
- Stir in the vanilla and zest, if using.
- On low speed, slowly add flour mixture and milk, alternating between the two. Start and end with the flour mixture.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
- Bake for about 35 minutes, until the tops are firm to the touch.
- Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes.
- Invert the cakes onto cooling racks and let cool thoroughly before frosting. (We recommend this rich buttercream frosting.)
Rosalyn Carter Cheese Grits
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The Georgia native loved bringing a little taste of the South up to the White House. This recipe is adapted from The White House Family Cookbook. Carter is now as well-known as working alongside her husband, Jimmy Carter, on their many Habitat for Humanity Carter Work Projects as she was for being First Lady. Learn about the Habitat for Humanity build President Carter called his favorite.
- 1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
- 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped
- 4 cups chicken bouillon
- 1 cup enriched white hominy grits
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- Sprinkle of cayenne
- 4 egg yolks
- ¼ to ½ cup cold milk
- 4 egg whites, at room temperature
- Preheat over to 350F
- Grease inside of a 2-quart casserole dish.
- In a small frying pan, fry chopped bacon and onions until lightly brown. Set aside.
- Bring bouillon to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan; add grits gradually, stirring with a wire whisk
- Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring vigorously, until mixture thickens
- Cover and cook for until all liquid is absorbed—about 15 minutes,
- Remove from heat and add Worcestershire sauce, butter, and 1½ cups of cheese, stirring until well blended.
- In a small bowl, blend egg yolks with ¼ cup milk.
- Pour mixture into grits and mix thoroughly; add more milk if necessary, thinning to consistency of cream of wheat.
- In a clean, dry bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.
- Fold into grits.
- Fold in bacon and onions.
- Pour into prepared baking dish.
- Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cups of cheese and a dash of cayenne.
- Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until fluffy and brown.