In 2017, my wife’s grandmother pulled a dusty cookbook from her bookshelf and handed it to me with a sparkly-eyed grin. When I opened up The 1989 South Dakota Centennial Cookbook, I was in awe. Real politicians from South Dakota and beyond had offered up their homespun recipes for this publication, and almost all of them, from the state senators’ all the way to President Ronald Reagan’s, were absolutely disgusting.

That cookbook sparked the idea for Cookin’ with Congress, my endless mission to recreate unreal recipes from real politicians at the expense of my tastebuds. In honor of Presidents’ Day, here are four of my favorite terrifying recipes from past presidents, which I recreated and taste-tested at home so that you never have to make them yourself.

Woodrow Wilson’s ‘Healthy Breakfast’

Could Woodrow Wilson's "Healthy Breakfast" be the Grimace Shake of the 1910s?
Could Woodrow Wilson’s “Healthy Breakfast” be the Grimace Shake of the 1910s?

Start the day off with a healthy breakfast, as the saying goes. Your definition of health, however, may differ from President Woodrow Wilson’s. He was known to drink a simple concoction of Concord grape juice and raw eggs in the morning. Thought to be a recommendation of his old Navy doctor in order to bulk Wilson up, his healthy breakfast recipe is as simple as it is polarizing: half a glass of Concord grape juice, two raw eggs, and a spoon to stir. Wilson reportedly said it tasted like “an unborn thing.”

After tasting the creamy purple beverage, I can confirm it is definitely … embryonic; I struggled with getting it down even though I have a strong stomach. The idea of raw eggs didn’t bother me as much as the texture, which was 70 percent smoothie, 30 percent ooze. Blended with an electric whisk, Woodrow’s weight-packing meal could have been palatable. With a bar spoon? Better left for the iron stomachs of fitness influencers and Rocky Balboa.


Theodore Roosevelt’s Cream of Cucumber Salad

Theodore Roosevelt's Cream of Cucumber Salad was the first of many gelatin-based salads served at the White House.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Cream of Cucumber Salad was the first of many gelatin-based salads served at the White House.

A hearty breakfast calls for a light, slippery lunch courtesy of one of the toughest presidents the country has ever seen. While known for downplaying assassination attempts and carrying a big stick, Theodore Roosevelt had a softer side when it came to his palate. Many of his family’s recipes featured homegrown ingredients from his garden, including this, the first gelatin-based salad I can find that was consumed in the White House.

Teddy’s Cream of Cucumber salad calls for peeled cucumbers, pimentos, milk, lemon, tarragon vinegar, whipped cream, and a side of French dressing. While the finished product looks like a shiny Watergate Salad, it tastes like someone dropped sugar-free marshmallow fluff onto a plate of crudité. The French dressing and bed of lettuce it is served upon give it the feeling of a modern salad, but the clotty consistency and milk-forward flavor are reminders of just how far from modern it is.


Richard Nixon’s Ham Mousse

Ham and whipped cream is a criminal combination.
Ham and whipped cream is a criminal combination.

A Nixon household favorite prior to his presidency, this fluffy beige dream features the classic combination of ground ham and whipped cream. Nixon was known for having a spartan diet, enjoying meals of hamburgers and cottage cheese topped with ketchup. However, his late-day snacks would often include items like this chilled ham mousse, a gelatinous, meaty cousin to Roosevelt’s Cream of Cucumber Salad.

Both recipes called for gelatin and whipped cream, but the end results couldn’t be more different in the flavor department. Alongside ground ham and whipped cream, tomato juice and beef consommé fill out the mouthwatering cast with homemade mayonnaise in a supporting role on the side.

Since beginning this project, I have recreated more than 100 different dishes from politicians. Only twice have I not been able to swallow a second bite for posterity. This ham mousse is one of those occasions. Imagine they’ve invented a new Cool Whip flavor and that flavor is Boiled Ham Loaf. I’ve included the recipe below. Bon appétit.

George H.W. Bush’s Wine Jelly

There's a definite savory note to Bush Senior's wine jelly.
There’s a definite savory note to Bush Senior’s wine jelly.

After a full day of raw eggs, cucumber milk, and ham-flavored whipped cream, you deserve dessert. Wine jelly in the U.S. goes back at least as far as Thomas Jefferson. As President in 1790, he served it to Alexander Hamilton and James Madison at the famous Dinner Table Bargain, which resulted in the assumption of state debts by the federal government and the relocation of the country’s capital.

Jefferson’s wine jelly came atop a green salad and was made with gelatin, Madeira, milk, lemon juice and sugar. Bush Senior’s is made with gelatin, cream sherry, orange juice, lemon juice and sugar, and is served with whipped cream in the center and a pitcher of cream on the side (or decorated with chocolate leaves). The unflavored gelatin gives off a slight cow-hoof aroma when you first pour boiling water upon it. This isn’t abnormal when dealing with unflavored, powdered gelatin, though it is off-putting when you’re making dessert.

From there, it’s a simple pour-mix-chill process. With the various dairy products poured onto every bite, you almost forget that what you’re eating tastes like congealed soup stock. Perhaps cream sherry was higher quality in 1989? Perhaps Madeira is the better option? Perhaps it’s time to stop eating like the President for today.


Richard Nixon’s Ham Mousse


  • ½ cup cooked ham (finely ground)
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup beef consommé
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  • 2 cups cream, whipped
  • Salt to taste
  • Mayonnaise
  • A few of drops of lemon juice
  • A little heavy cream
  • Finely chopped chives


  1. Mix ham, tomato juice, consommé, and paprika in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil.
  2. Dissolve gelatin in cold water. Pour the boiling ham mixture over the gelatin and gently mix.
  3. Place in refrigerator, mixing every 10 minutes or so for one hour or until it congeals to a syrupy consistency.
  4. Once it has congealed, carefully fold in the whipped cream until the mixture is well-combined. Add a teaspoon of salt and pour into a large ring mold or other container.
  5. Let set in the refrigerator overnight, or until firm. Before serving, mix together a dollop of mayonnaise, a few drops of lemon juice, a spoonful of heavy cream, and chopped chives.
  6. Unmold ham mousse onto a serving platter, stare in disbelief, and serve with mayonnaise sauce on the side.

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