Meatloaf by candlelight? Not for this President.

Like most boys from Missouri, Harry Truman developed simple tastes in food as he was growing up—especially things like his mother’s fried chicken and that great American budget-friendly staple, meatloaf.

According to the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, the 33rd President also liked corn bread with Missouri sorghum, all kinds of fowl, and Ozark pudding, which included chopped apples and nuts. (The Boss, that’s Mrs. Truman, had a special recipe for this.) Truman preferred chocolate cake to white cake, but the exception was angel food cake (and why not!).

Several accounts from that period agree that Truman really hated onions and could not be fooled into eating them. He could detect the smallest amount of onions in a dish and would just push that dish aside.

Once in the White House, however, meals became a more formal and ritualized experience for Truman.

In November 1949, Mrs. Truman was back in Independence, leaving the President alone in the “Great White Jail,” as he called the White House.  And alone for meals.

When mealtime came, a White House butler announced dinner, and Truman would head to the dining room and be helped into his chair by another butler. In his diary for November 1, Truman provides an account of how butlers waited on him hand and foot while he ate alone by candelight.

Early in the 1960s, with Mrs. Truman at his side laughing, the former President read the diary entry  for the cameras,  barely containing his amusement about the fancy dining and fancy service that comes with the job of being President.

All in all, Harry Truman had some healthy eating habits, as he proudly recorded in a longhand note January 3, 1952:
“I eat no bread but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets.  Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast; liver & bacon or sweet breads or ham or fish and spinach and another nonfattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert.  For dinner I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of nonfattening vegetables and an ice, orange, pineapple or raspberry for dinner.  So—I maintain my waist line and can wear suits bought in 1935!”

Apparently, however, Truman must have had some other favorites because Bess’s recipes for them—”Bess Truman’s Bing Cherry Mold” and “Truman Family Pound Cake”—appear in a forthcoming book, Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives, being published in conjunction with the new exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?”

A hand-written page from a diary kept by the President while in office and now in the holdings of the Truman Library.
Second page of the diary. (From the Truman Presidential Library)

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