Why We Celebrate” looks at holidays, occasions, and traditions from all over the world, and explains their origins, the meaning behind them, and the reasons we observe them. We Americans love our cookies, and our presidents are no exception. In honor of President’s Day, we present cookie recipes favored by four of our commanders in chief.

Thomas Jefferson had a thing for coconut macaroons. Abraham Lincoln liked gingerbread men. Grover Cleveland preferred snickerdoodles. And for Jimmy Carter, it’s a tie between his daughter’s peanut butter cookies and his wife’s oatmeal raisin cookies.

Just as each United States president has brought his own style of governing to the Oval Office, he has brought his own sweet tooth to the White House. Presidential cookie favorites often give us fascinating glimpses into where and how the leader was raised, and reflect the times in which he served, according to Anne Byrn, the New York Times bestselling author of The Cake Mix Doctor, A New Take on Cake, and American Cookie: The Snaps, Drops, Jumbles, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations.

“Cookie recipes are something we associate with holidays and family memories,” Byrn explains. “Cookie recipes are something we hold onto. Cookies are incredibly nostalgic.”

Bake at Home Ad

In honor of President’s Day, we’re highlighting four favorite cookie recipes of our commanders in chief, and the stories behind them. If you elect to celebrate this patriotic day by making any of the recipes below from scratch, we salute you. And if you’d like to save some time so you can concentrate on the tasty add-ins, you can always order some bake at home dough.

Or maybe you’d like to hand out some yummy individually wrapped cookies, as President Biden is known to do. Either way, we hope you have a delicious day.

We cannot tell a lie: These cookies are yummy

The recipe for George Washington’s beloved Shrewsbury Cakes dates back to The Compleat Cook, an English cookbook first published in 1658. At the time the recipe was first printed, sugar was a luxury, so honey and dried fruit served as sweeteners.

First lady Martha Washington enjoyed serving these treats — named for Shrewsbury, a small town in Shropshire, England — to her guests at Mount Vernon.

Shrewsbury Cakes

Servings:36 cakes

Ingredients

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 cup dried fruit (cherries, apricots, or currants), chopped

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Cream butter with sugar, then add vanilla, salt, egg, and milk. Blend well.
  • Add flour. Mix in dried fruit.
  • Chill dough for about an hour.
  • Use a small cookie scoop to form small rounds.
  • Place the rounds on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes.

Notes

Source: Presidential Cookies: Cookie Recipes of the Presidents of the United States by Bev Young
Photo credit: Emerald-wiki, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In some cases, cookies were named for our presidents as a way to honor them. Byrn — who hails from Tennessee just like our seventh president, Andrew Jackson — researched the cookie known as the Jackson Jumble for her book American Cookie.

Although Byrn discovered that records were not kept of the kinds of cookies served at the Hermitage (Jackson’s home near Nashville) or the White House at the time, she says that jumbles were popular treats in the 1820s and ’30s.

“A jumble was an early sugar cookie,” she explains. “At the time, it was common to experiment with sugar cookies and to turn them into a sort of tea cake. … The introduction of baking soda completely changed baking. It was the new technology; you could turn a thin crispy cookie into more of a cake with baking soda.”

Jackson Jumbles

Servings:50 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (room temperature)
  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup wheat germ
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup heavy cream or sour cream

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Mix flour, wheat flour, and wheat germ (to make an approximation of 1830s fine flour).
  • Cream butter and sugar in a food processor or with a pastry blender or large fork. Beat eggs until creamy and light.
  • Dissolve baking soda in a little water or milk.
  • Stir cream and eggs alternately with flour mixture into butter-sugar mixture to make a stiff batter. (You may need to add a little more milk or water.)
  • Stir in the baking soda.
  • Drop dough by the tablespoon onto greased baking sheets in staggered rows. (If the batter is very stiff, you may need to press down the tops of the batter with the spoon.)
  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly browned on the edges.

Notes

Source: The American History Cookbook by Mark H. Zanger

Researching presidential cookie choices involves taking a deep dive into U.S. history as a whole, Byrn acknowledges. Such is the case with these cookies frequently served by the White House of our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Named Mrs. Nesbitt’s Honey Drop Cookies for the thrifty woman first lady Eleanor Roosevelt hired to be in charge of the White House kitchen, these cookies were small enough that they could serve a large crowd during the Great Depression. Henrietta Nesbitt’s recipe includes candied orange peel, a popular baking ingredient in the early 20th century.

Mrs. Nesbitt’s Honey Drops

Servings:12 dozen

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup chopped candied orange peel
  • cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 325° F.
  • Cream butter and shortening.
  • Add sugar and honey and beat until batter is smooth.
  • Beat in egg.
  • Add vanilla, walnuts, and orange peel.
  • Sift flour with baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, and beat it into the batter until dough is slightly sticky.
  • Take a teaspoon of dough and roll it into a small ball. Repeat until dough is all used up.
  • Bake for about 18 minutes.

Large and in charge

Starting in 1992, the magazine Family Circle staged a bake-off every four years between the two potential first ladies. In 2000, that contest featured Laura Bush and Tipper Gore.

Just as in the election, Bush defeated Gore, who put up a recipe for ginger snaps against her opponent’s Cowboy Cookies.

“[The Cowboy Cookie] is really just an oatmeal cookie loaded with chocolate chips and all sorts of other goodies,” Byrn points out. “But it is typical of the time.”

She also notes the Cowboy Cookie is a good example of a quintessential American cookie. “Our early cookie traditions mostly came from Europe, but as Americans moved West and spaces got bigger, so did the cookies.”

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookie recipe is no exception.

Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies

Servings:3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups sweetened flake coconut
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) chopped pecans

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.
  • In an 8-quart bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in sugars to combine, about 2 minutes.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla.
  • Stir in flour mixture until just combined. add chocolate chips, oats, coconut, and pecans.
  • For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
  • Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. Remove cookies from rack to cool.
Author

Tricia Drevets has over 15 years of experience as a freelance writer, specializing in topics of interest to small business owners. She also frequently writes about parenting, senior care, and healthy living. When she’s not at her keyboard, you might find her digging in her garden or hiking the trails of Southern Oregon with her golden retriever.

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