The 1915 White House Cookbook

I just now realized the irony of skimming the pages of a large cookbook that contains recipes for elegant state dinners while eating my morning meal of a microwaved frozen breakfast burrito.  Our distant ancestors could never have imagined the variety of handy convenience foods we take for granted today.WhiteHouse-01

Oddly enough, it was a conversation about burritos and chili stew between an acquaintance and me at the public library that caused me to pull out my personal copy of the 1915 edition of the White House Cookbook, from the bookshelf. I wanted to find out if there was an entry for either of these dishes.  I could find no mention of them, but I did notice a collection of other international recipes for lunches and soups.

Several soups caused me to pause and think about how our culture has changed over the past 100 years.  For example, there’s a recipe for Squirrel Soup.

“Wash and quarter three or four good sized squirrels; put them on, with a small tablespoon of salt, directly after breakfast, in a gallon of cold water.  Cover the pot and set it on the back part of the stove to simmer gently, not boil. Add vegetables just as you do in case of other meat soups in the summer season, but especially good, you will find corn, Irish potatoes, tomatoes, and lima beans.  Strain the soup through a course colander when the meat has boiled to shreds, so as to get rid of the squirrels’ troublesome little bones.  Then return to the pot, and boiling a while longer, thicken with a piece of butter rubbed in flour.  Celery and parsley leaves chopped up are considered an improvement by many. Toast two slices of bread, cut them into dice one-half inch square, fry them in butter, put them into the bottom of your tureen, and then pour the soup boiling hot upon them. Very Good.”

Another recipe, that of “Mock Turtle Soup, of Calf’s Head”, left me feeling a bit whoozy and spoiled my appetite further. I quickly flipped to the section titled, “Soups Without Meat”.


The White House Cookbook, is not officially connected to the Executive Branch of government.  Gillette compiled her book through interviews of White House staff, former First Ladies, and other research.  The first edition was printed in 1887. It was so popular that it has been revised and published several times throughout the past century.

Even though most of the book is comprised of recipes, there are pages devoted to hospitality and manners. The meal plans, menus, and table layout drawings are of particular interest.  The reader could spend hours perusing information about how to run a large kitchen, household and staff management, table etiquette, and State Dinners. The last several pages include cleaning and “health suggestions”.

The 1915 edition of the White House Cookbook is a revision of the original text by prolific cookbook writer Fanny Lemira Gillette.  A few of her most popular books are:  Practical Housekeeping, The Presidential Cook Book, and The American Cook Book A Selection of Choice Recipes, Original and Selected During a Period of Forty Years’ Practical Housekeeping.


I acquired this copy in 1998 as an impulse purchase.  Even though it has not increased in value, I kept this book because it had cost me $45. I also anticipated that it would soon become antique and not merely vintage.

The 1915 White House Cookbook is a fascinating reference book.  The course paper pages are yellowed and slightly brittle, so care must be taken when the book is used. The various photographs of White House rooms and the portraits of the First Ladies are worthy of study and contemplation.

Buyers can find copies of this and other editions of the White House Cookbook online and at vintage booksellers.  Contemporary editions are widely available.

{ White House Cookbook; 619 pages; fifth edition, printed in 1915 by The Saalfield Publishing Company; original author, F.L. (Fanny) Gillette; no ISBN }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quip by former First Lady, Edith Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt: “One cannot bring up boys to be eagles and then expect them to be sparrows.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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