I was a child during WWII and can remember listening to President Roosevelt’s reassuring radio broadcasts. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had a long fascination with the Roosevelt administration and the family. I’ve read many books about the Roosevelts and the War by historians but I recently read three books written by employees.
The first was White House Diary by Henrietta Nesbitt, the housekeeper who came to the White House from Hyde Park. She had been a long time friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.
I enjoyed reading Mrs. Nesbitt’s descriptions of menus, endless teas and luncheons and receptions. It was nothing to have thirty for lunch followed by teas in the afternoon with several thousand attending and then a dinner with another thirty in the evening. There were always house guests in the White House and Mrs. Nesbitt had very definite views about the kings and queens, prime ministers and political men (always men) who visited.
It’s been fun to read about Winston Churchill shuffling around in a one piece jump suit, downing copious amounts of whiskey and talking strategy with the President or Queen Elizabeth’s (the present queens mother) maid asking for hot water bottles to be placed in the queens bed despite Washington temperatures in the 90s and no air-conditioning.
Mrs. Nesbitt’s menus tend toward celery curls and stuffed olives or soup served with saltines. Gelatin salads appeared often and chicken salad seems to be the standard lunch fair for large group. It was the Depression and Mrs. Roosevelt wanted to have what the people of the country were eating.
I liked the White House eggnog recipe. It was served on New Year’s Eve. Twelve eggs beaten with one pound of sugar. Three quarts heavy cream, one half pint rum, a quart of bourbon, brandy and nutmeg to taste. I imagine it wouldn’t take much of that to put one under the table.
Crown Princess Martha, in exile from Norway, came for a long stay after Norway fell to the Nazis. She brought a recipe that became a favorite of President Roosevelt and “earned a place of honor” in Mrs. Nesbitt’s files.
Pig’s Feet in Sour Sauce
Pick out four nice, clean, white pigs’ feet, simmer in salted water until nearly done. Add one-half cup vinegar, two large bay leaves, one medium onion cut in quarters, eight peppercorns, six cloves and cook until tender. Chill overnight, skim fat off the top and bring the sauce to a boil thickening with arrowroot, add perhaps a dash of vinegar and some sugar, and serve with mashed potatoes.
This is one I don’t think I’ll try.
A book by William Rigdon, Sailor in the White House: My 11 Years of Service to Three Presidents was an interesting account of traveling with FDR, HST and Eisenhower.
Alonzo Fields wrote My 21 Years in the White House. He was chief butler and started under President Hoover. He describes the Hoovers always dressing for dinner, even if it was only the two of them. They had seven course meals, formally served, with the butlers standing unobtrusively by while they ate. It was a surprise to him when the Roosevelts moved in, had simple meals and dismissed the servants while they ate.
The three books together entertained me enormously. A bit of history to ponder. I can’t help wondering what White House life is like these days.