If you’re like most Americans, you’ll celebrate Independence Day with food, friends, and family. If you’re looking for something to eat or drink, why not take a tip from presidential families?
On festive days, it seems most people eat their biggest meals later in the day, for lunch or dinner. Yet the Fourth of July is still a special day and I’m a foodie, so I like all the foods to be fantastic. So when your day is going to be filled with alcohol-laden drinks and sugary fruit pies, why not start the day with one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite breakfasts? Traditionally, the Reagans ate breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and consumed your basic, run-of-the-mill “bran cereal, skim milk, fresh fruit, and decaffeinated coffee,” according to FoodTimeline.com (source of the president-related quotes in this article). But on special occasions and holidays, they ate Monkey Bread and licked their fingers afterwards. Okay, probably they didn’t lick their fingers, but you can.
If you want to eschew eggs and Raisin Bran, splurge and try one of these recipes for Monkey Bread. Here’s your quick, easy version (no shame, people), from scratch, and if you have a slew of kids or just like things to look cute, this recipe is for individual monkey breads.
For something to drink, I’m not a fan of mimosas. As a friend of mine said recently, “Just give me champagne and don’t put [bleeping] orange juice in it.” I agree. Mimosas are like the bacon trend: Overrated and not worth the hype. Now, if you like your breakfast on the more savory, Southern side, word is Jimmy Carter loved grits and served them often in his White House. “Even before they had settled into the White House, reports in the press began to highlight the Carters’ Southern style of life. The public was forewarned that the White House would soon serve grits to guests.” In that regard, try these Goat Cheese Grits with Red Eye Gravy, Country Ham, and a Fried Egg. Sounds delicious and worth a try—even if he is a Democrat.
If you’re going to have a bigger dinner, you could always make a sandwich for lunch, but not just any will do. Look up your home state, or your favorite state, and try a sandwich inspired by it. This photographer’s project, Stately Sandwiches, is similar and gorgeous-looking. (Doesn’t my home state of Minnesota’s Fried Walleye Sandwich just sound divine? You betcha.)
Everyone knows Bill Clinton had a love-hate relationship with food. (That might be the only thing I have in common with him.) Despite efforts to encourage a healthy diet, he “prefers the stuff with fat in it: jalapeño cheeseburgers, chicken enchiladas, barbecue, cinnamon rolls and pies.”
To that end, here are some burger recipes. One of my favorite recipes is from the king of burgers, Bobby Flay. Not only does he seem to have a new burger show on the Food Network every year—proving there are still more angles on burgers to be explored—but a new burger restaurant, too. My favorite is his Blue Cheese Burger. Incidentally, my favorite burger of all time from a restaurant is Spike Mendelsohn’s, ironically titled the President Obama Burger. While it’s topped with bacon and blue cheese (hey, we’re not dieting today), it’s the red marmalade I could eat with just a spoon. Even if it’s named after my least-favorite president.
Hard apple cider pairs perfectly alongside a burger. It’s refreshing, most people enjoy the taste, and it happened to be the way John Adams started his mornings. (That’s hardcore before there was hardcore!) Pick your own, and if you need a place to start, here is a good list to help you choose.
If you have a sweet tooth, Adams supposedly loved Apple Pan Dowdy so much he ate it on Independence Day to celebrate. Here’s a modern take on the original recipe he reportedly enjoyed. Even though apples aren’t technically in season, it’d be great to take along to a neighborhood BBQ, what with the historical significance and all.
Franklin D. Roosevelt liked hot dogs so much, the “King and Queen of England were served hot dogs at FDR’s Summer White House on June 11, 1939.” In honor of his chutzpah, or maybe just his simple palate, try these Yum dogs, sure to please kids and friends alike.
It seems only apropos to have BBQ on the Fourth of July, doesn’t it? A Texas man at heart, George W. Bush loved him some BBQ. Tom Perini, a Texas chef and restaurant owner, flew into Washington DC to cater the annual congressional picnic. On September 11, 2001. The event didn’t go as planned, for obvious reasons, but Bush loved Perini’s food so much, he catered the same event the next year. Here’s his recipe for one of Bush’s favorite dishes, Texas Oven-Roasted Beef Brisket.
Depending on where you live, peaches might be in season. Woodrow Wilson loved peach cobbler. I’ve been whipping this recipe up and serving it to friends for years. For some Independence Day-themed color, throw in some raspberries or blueberries. If you’re in the mood and you have some helping hands, put them to good use making Thomas Jefferson’s homemade ice cream. It will pair perfectly with your cobbler.
But don’t worry about whipping up a feast to rival the fare at Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. Enjoy your family, celebrate your country. That’s the point of the food in the first place.
Jefferson’s favorite wine was produced by his Italian friend, Philip Mazzei, at a vineyard they planted in Virginia. The vineyard and Jefferson’s wine still thrive today. You can find where and how to get it here, so you can at least stock up for next year. If you’ve got a stocked bar at home and a knack for concocting things, there’s no end of drinks our presidents loved. Here’s a few to get you started, and here’s a full list.
President William McKinley reportedly drank something called McKinley’s Delight (3 oz. rye whiskey, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, 2 dashes cherry brandy, 1 dash absinthe). Franklin D. Roosevelt drank cocktails, mostly; he mixed gin-based martinis and loved the Bermuda Rum Swizzle (2 oz. dark rum, 1 oz. lime juice, 1 oz. orange juice, 1 generous dash of sweet syrup). Ulysses S. Grant, president and civil war hero, liked to drink Roman punch. “Many of the state dinners consisted of twenty-nine courses with a break after the entrée for Roman punch to fortify the guests.” Old-school though it may be, the recipe still sounds delicious.
Of course, President Reagan liked California wines. Occasionally, he made something called an “Orange Blossom Special” made with vodka. It’s 1 oz. vodka, 1 oz. of either grenadine or sweet vermouth, 2 oz. fresh orange juice. Served on the rocks.
At this point, you probably need some snacks. If you’ve got kids, now’s a great time for one of George H.W. Bush’s favorite snacks, popcorn, which “longtime friends insist [is his] true love.” Popcorn from scratch is not only cheaper than the microwave stuff, but it’s healthier and it tastes better. Plus, the kids won’t know the difference. You can throw in a little presidential trivia about No. 41: Who said, “Read my lips, no new taxes?” The kids will thank you later.
Whatever you eat and whatever you drink, do so responsibly, and be grateful you live in a country that celebrates freedom like few people have enjoyed.