Dwight David Eisenhower & Mamie Geneva Dowd Eisenhower

Serves: 5



Once the inaugural festivities had passed and Harry Truman turned over the reins of government to President Eisenhower, the Eisenhowers quickly settled into a routine with the new First Lady taking managerial control of the President’s house. The President and First Lady brought with them their own personal servants plus Mrs. Eisenhower’s social secretary, Mary Jane McCaffree.

Mamie Eisenhower concentrated on the second-floor family quarters where she could create the pleasant surroundings that made the General and her family comfortable. Her new home was in fine condition after the Trumans’ renovations and she was happy, but she soon realized that managing the White House was double duty. Not only did she have to run the private quarters, which included her family and personal guests, but also the state establishment for official entertaining. The new First Lady and Mrs. Mabel Walker, the housekeeper, discussed all details of the house and Mrs. Eisenhower prepared all the menus personally. This included everything from dinners for two to the complicated state dinners for one hundred or more.

At all the state dinners, Ike and Mamie sat next to one another in high-backed carved chairs at an E-shaped table in the state dining room. A typical menu could be quite elaborate, as was the protocol. Both she and Ike were used to these functions. During the war, they dined with virtually every king, queen, and prime minister of every Allied country in Europe.

A typical menu for a state function consisted of a first course of blue point oysters on the half shell, a second course of consommé with balls of beef marrow au sherry, and a third course of lobster thermador. The elaborate meal often stretched on with a fourth course of roast breast of Long Island duckling, applesauce, wild rice, French style string beans, and buttered beets with a special a l’orange sauce. The guests sipped a fine Burgundy with this course. The fifth course, an orange salad with roquefort cheese and wafers, was usually served with champagne. The sixth course, Spanish cream with caramel sauce, petit fours, nuts, and candies was accompanied by a demitasse.

When Ike and his wife dined alone or with close friends, they preferred TV trays so they could watch television or play bridge. Sometimes they all ended up singing while Mamie played the electric organ. Ike often cooked and painted to help relieve stress and he soon became an accomplished chef. As far as his art is concerned, Ike directed a member of his staff to do the drawing and Ike would paint inside the lines, hence a new industry was created—paint-by-numbers.

In addition to her role as wife and mother, Mamie Eisenhower was always at the beck and call of the public, whether for a tea, a reception or visits to a hospital. It is estimated she shook 16,000 hands during the first social season in 1953. In just a short six months she must have broken a few records.

After the President’s heart attack, the First Family’s social calendar was scaled back to ensure that Ike had plenty of rest. All large receptions were virtually eliminated and, whenever possible, state dinners became luncheons.

During the first three years of the Eisenhower administration, Mrs. Eisenhower employed Françoise Rysarvy, one of the most famous chefs and pastry men of his time. Few chefs conquer both the art of the culinary and the bakery, and Chef Rysarvy was very much in demand. But after only three years, he grew bored with the pomp and circumstance of the White House and returned to Hollywood to feed the (to him) more interesting appetites of the stars.

During their years in the White House, the Eisenhowers enjoyed the pleasure of owning their own home for the first time. In 1950, before Ike was elected president, they purchased a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Early on, they remodeled the 200-year-old farm house and it became a retreat for the whole Eisenhower family.

General Montgomery, who served under Eisenhower during World War II, once visited Ike at the farm. Monty was known for his ego and always thought he should have been supreme commander during the war instead of Ike. With this in mind, Monty was not kind to Ike in his memoirs. Ike proved that payback can be great fun if you are the President of the United States. Ike never greeted Monty officially at the airport, never supplied him with an official escort to the farm, but went golfing instead. The general was not put up at the main house but at a tiny guest house in the rear of the farm. General Montgomery never paid the Eisenhowers a visit again, much to the President’s pleasure.

Although Ike was a West Pointer, a five-star general, and President of the United States for two terms, he seemed to be a very down-to-earth man. He was often exasperated by the antics of the “glory hoppers,” during the war and later in his political life. He once told a group of reporters, “I hope I never get pontifical or stuffed shirty with you fellas.”

In the late 1930s, Ike served on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. Eisenhower had a lot of respect for the General but was amused by his grandiosity.

“He acts like an aristocrat,” Ike once said, “but I’m just plain folks. I come from very ordinary people.”

Winston Churchill was overheard telling him, “The reason I like you so much is because you ain’t no glory hopper.”

The Eisenhower administrations were political and social successes. When his presidency finally came to an end, the Eisenhowers retired to their much-loved farm. There they tended to their grandchildren and friends, and jealously guarded their privacy from any interference from the press. Free to spend their time in whatever way they wanted, they enjoyed a well-deserved retirement.

This Dwight David Eisenhower & Mamie Geneva Dowd Eisenhower recipe is from the Secrets from the White House Kitchens Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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