Looking back at decades of Thanksgiving menus at the White House is fascinating—and, frankly, a little gross.
What ends up on the chief executive’s table on that most American of holidays seems to be a reflection of both the era (molded cranberry sauce for Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s) and of a president's taste (Nancy Reagan’s famous monkey bread in the 1980s).
Theodore Roosevelt’s family dined on turtles, in addition to turkey, in 1903. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1937 menu included curled celery with toast fingers and olives. And in 1909, William Howard Taft and his dining companions dug into a 26-pound Georgia possum. (They had a 30-pound bird, too.)
Turkey, of course, is a mainstay, but not much else remains consistent from one president’s Thanksgiving menu to the next. There are some culinary echoes. Lots of presidents have enjoyed pumpkin pie. The Obamas and the McKinleys have both served oyster stuffing, more than a century apart.
One thing that hasn’t changed since the 1970s, at least: The silverware. The White House uses Gorham-made sterling flatware in a pattern called King Charles. The design, recast from original 1894 dies, is characterized by florid, Rococo-esque swirls. It's based on the 18th-century “Kings” pattern found in early American silver collections.
Eating utensils aren’t just for dining. They’re as much a cultural beacon as they are a functional form of technology. Forks and spoons and knives have, for centuries, been treated as status symbols. Sara Goldsmith, in a detailed cultural history of the fork for Slate in 2012, gave the example of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a judge who wrote extensively about the significance of the dining table. In the 18th century, Brillat-Savarin noted how outsized that cultural place had become, writing that “more orderliness in the meals, more cleanliness and elegance, and those various refinements of service which, having increased steadily until our own time, threaten now to overstep all limits and lead us to the point of ridicule.”