In days gone by, African Americans were regarded as having a natural aptitude for cooking. A select few found themselves at the White House, preparing food for the President and his family. I hesitate to write that those few were lucky. Some were slaves, and even after the Emancipation the pay wasn’t all that great. Moreover, for many years the White House’s kitchen facilities were sub-optimal, and even infested with vermin at times. Workplace rivalries were common, as Southern cooks were pitted against classically-trained European chefs. The usual compromise was that French chefs took charge of big state dinners, while “down home” cooks fixed the simple comfort food the Presidents and their families loved.
After a slow start, this book becomes more interesting as author Adrian Miller shares anecdotes about the presidents, their dietary preferences, and their relationships with the kitchen staff. Unfortunately, little material about the individual personalities of the employees has survived, and newspaper accounts of the White House kitchen often relied on the “Mammy” stereotype to characterize the female workers.
Still, this book is a generous tribute to the unsung men and women who have kept the Presidents well-fed through the years. Recipes for Presidential favorites past and present such as Zephyr Wright’s Popovers and Minted Green Pea Soup are included. Recommended for those who enjoy behind-the-scenes peeks at life in the White House. Find it in our catalog here.