For a man who is remembered as being unusually tall, Abraham Lincoln probably consumed the least amount of food of all U.S. Presidents. The people who knew him best, such as his wife, his Presidential secretaries (both male,) and his traveling companions on the law circuit depicted him as being easy to please in the food department—if one could coax him to eat at all.
Abraham Lincoln consistently rank’s as America’s second greatest president in surveys of political and historical scholars. The recent film “Lincoln” by Stephen Spielberg based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” portrays a complicated man with a complex mind. But by all accounts his taste in food was simple. When Lincoln occupied the White House he often ate as little as one egg for breakfast and preferred to nibble on apples, nuts, and cheese for lunch and dinner.
Honest Abe spent his salad days eating plain food in the frontier tradition. Staples of his youth include wild game and corn dodgers—a less refined version of Washington’s beloved hoe cakes, but usually served without benefit of butter and honey. As a young man in New Salem, Illinois, his regular diet is reported to have consisted of milk, mush, cornbread, bacon, and eggs.
Although some lavish spreads fed the guests at state balls and banquets during the Lincoln administration, Abe ate as frugally in the White House as he did when he was a lad. His presidential secretary, John Hay reported having to remind him to eat. When prompted, Lincoln ate absent-mindedly while perusing documents or remaining deep in thought. Water was his beverage of choice, but he liked to start his day with a cup of steaming coffee. I share that ritual with the first president from my home state.
Lincoln also loved apples and cheese, which connects him in a surprising way with our 3rd-ranked president. Watch for more about that in the next post in my February series on America’s Top-10 Presidents’ Favorite Foods.