The Original White House Cook Book


We’re going to start and end this week with research books. On Monday, Winnie gave us a wonderful look at a book containing information and recipes from San Francisco in the late 1800s. Now I want to share a really cool book I discovered a couple of years ago. I mentioned it during our fun week of recipes back in September, but I didn’t get into what a truly great research resource this is.


A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home,

Mrs. P.L. Gillette & Steward of the White House Mr. Hugo Ziemann, 1887 Edition


To the

Wives of Our Presidents,

Those Noble Women who have

Graced the White House,

And whose Names and Memories

Are dear to all Americans,

This Volume

 Is affectionately dedicated


whitehouse-cookbookThe Original White House Cook Book has a wealth of information that isn’t restricted to a single locale, a single setting in our history. There are complete menus showing family dinners or how a fancy dinner was put together in the late nineteenth century in America; dyeing or coloring cloth–and eyebrows; how to repair a hole in a silk gown; even table etiquette.

Here’s an example. General Grant’s Birthday Dinner started with clams, went to Consomme Imperatrice Bisque de Crabes (crab bisque), then to a variety of hors d’oeuvres, followed by trout, mushrooms, filet of beef… and then they got to the entrees! They served chicken and veal with green beans and asparagus, followed by sorbet to cleanse the pallet. Next came squab and salad, then fruits and pastries. The meal ended with glace, or glazed fruit, petit fours and coffee.

I feel stuffed just reading about it.

The book includes the seating arrangements for a dinner when the President was in attendance, how glassware should arranged on the tables, even what to put in the ladies’ corsages and the men’s boutonnieres.

Toward the back of the volume is a section dedicated to caring for those who visit the White House; how colds are caught; how to clean black lace; and how to render muslin clothing less likely to catch fire. In the author’s words: “Remember this and save the lives of your children.”

You can even learn how to make Rose Water or Bay Rum, Cold Cream or Hair Invigorator. Or my particular favorite, how to remove freckles. And no, I haven’t tried it yet – but I might.

This is a fun book with a wealth of helpful information. For example, if your heroine is a mail-order bride who grew up working in a wealthy household, you can find what kinds of skills she might have learned in this book.

THE ORIGINAL WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK 1887 Edition, Mrs. P.L. Gillette & Steward of the White House Mr. Hugo Ziemann [I located it on and; has a different edition available]

Have you discovered a research book that you feel is exceptional? Share it, please.

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35 thoughts on “The Original White House Cook Book”

  1. Sounds like a WONDERFUL book Tracy. Wish it was mine. A few of my research gems include a couple mini-edition reprints of old Sears catalogs, one from the 1880s and one from the 1920s. Probably bought them used many years ago. Would love to find more.
    Another standby that can be bought used online is “A Treasury of American Indian Herbs” by Virginia Scully. If you’re writing about Indians or Settlers using plants for medicine, this book is priceless. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the info in my stories. Thanks for a great blog.

  2. Good Morning, Tracy!
    That’s a cool book! I have a few research books I use, but there are three I really enjoy. The first is Deadly Doses, which is a guide to just about every poison you can imagine. I’ve never used any of the info, but I like to read about the poisons. (I guess that’s sort of disturbing!)

    Two that I have used a lot (because I write romantic suspense) are: Malicious Intent, which is a writer’s guide to how criminals think and Body Trauma, a writer’s guide to wounds and injuries. They’ve come in handy!

    Great post!

  3. Hi Tracy,

    That was fascinating! Boy, they loved to tuck in back in the 1800’s! The food, all the different courses, and the 6 forks and 4 goblets,(for example) how they kept it all straight!

    One book I use for research is “Great Tales From English History” since I like historicals.

  4. You may have caught me on a bad day but does ANYONE else think, the president is sitting around eating Consomme Imperatrice Bisque de Crabes (crab bisque) for his birthday party while I’m paying over a dollar a gallon in taxes on my gasoline.

    They live like royalty on our nickles and dimes. It’s not right. And it’s only getting worse and I’m tired of it. They can grill a hamburger like the rest of us!

  5. Um….okay….back from the brink.

    I just finished writing a book that took a LOT of research into the Grand Canyon. I think I posted a blog about it here.

    I used four books for research CONSTANTLY.

    The main one, The Man Who Walked Through Time. It’s a simple, step by step, diary of the first man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon. His impressions were not scientific, of course there was knowledge of geology and he’d done a lot of studying before he went, but it was a hiker’s impression. Very USEFUL in my story.
    Then I had a book of trails. So I could chart his course.
    Then I had a book of pictures (plus I used youtube and Google images constantly.
    And I had a book about pioneers who lived in and near the canyon. So I got an idea of where they’d been, what era they were there in, how my characters might have crossed paths with them.

    There was other research, too, much, much much of it online, but those four books were just constant cross referencing for me.

    The first person account
    The trail guide
    The pictures
    The pioneers

  6. Hi Jo! Folks, meet my critique partner, who write FABULOUS romantic suspense. I’m so glad you dropped by this morning.

    I’ve heard a lot about Deadly Doses, but not Malicious Intent. That’s one that would be helpful to any writer. I’ll have to check it out.

  7. I have to agree on the Crab Bisque, Mary–but we can take that discussion off-line. 😉

    I don’t know where I’d be without GoogleMaps, especially the satellite view. I’ve followed rivers and creeks, making sure what I want to put my characters through would be realistic for the locale.

  8. Morning Tracy!

    I’d like a book on curing my common cold right now. Otherwise, I’ve borrowed a book from Sandy Blair about herbal plants and where they grow througout the US. I’ve given it back, so alas, I cannot share the title at this time!

  9. Tracy,

    I would like to have that book. I have several research books that I use that is Native American. I love researching and learning new things

    Great Post

    Walk in harmony,

  10. Hi Tracy, What a fun book to peruse! I took the White House tour several years ago. It was awesome!

    My latest research doesn’t involve a book. My heroine’s an actress/singer in 1876 Denver, and she’s deciding whether to audition for a certain role. LOL! This country music girl just ordered a CD of “The Bohemian Girl,” an opera composed in 1840-something. Has anyone heard of it? One of the songs is performed by “Celtic Woman.”

  11. Hi Tracy,

    I came across this White House cookbook a few years back, I greatly enjoy going through and reading the recipes. I collect cookbooks and it made a great addition.
    (BTW, your Jo Davis, is she the Jo Davis of the
    fabulous firefighters? If she is, I have two words for her: Sean Tanner!)

  12. Suz, I’m sorry you still don’t feel well. Try this: beat up the white of one egg, add the juice of one lemon and sweeten with sugar to taste. OR “And old time and good way to relieve a cold is to go to bed, and stay there, drinking nothing, not even water, for twenty-four hours…Or, go to bed; put your feet in hot mustard and water; put a bran or oatmeal poultice on the chest; …” Do you want any more of the 1887 cures? lol

  13. Hi Melinda! Thanks for stopping by.

    Vicki, I don’t know that opera, but could probably come up with another one or two for you from that period. Good luck with the story!

  14. Pat,

    Isn’t it an interesting book? I have to really think about it to turn their measurements into something I recognize, but they look so yummy.

    Yes, she is “THE” Jo Davis of The Firefighters of Station Five fame (I do so love those boys!). I’ll ask Jo to stop by again if she can–she’s over at today, discussing the boys and other fun things.

  15. HI Tracy, what an interesting book that is. I also can’t even imagine eating so much. Maybe they were small servings, though LOL.

    I love learning new things, but don’t have an especially favorite book. I found some neat children’s books at Leonis Adobe not long ago, on cowboys, trail rides, ranching, and mining, that are accurate and fun. Great post. Have a wonderful weekend. oxoxoxoxxo

  16. Wow! I had no idea there were such things as this. Tracy, this is a wealth of knowledge. I love history. Interestingly, I hated it in school, but when I get to choose the area of my interest, I love it. 🙂

  17. Hey Suz!
    Sorry you don’t feel good. I suggest a hot toddy–lemon juice and whiskey! (forget the egg whites!) Doesn’t work? Throw out the lemon juice, down the whiskey and repeat! Viola, no more cold! Or you’re out cold, so you don’t care. 🙂

  18. Hi Pat Cochran! (waving)

    Tracy told me to stop back by and say hello! I’m writing Sean Tanner’s story as we speak… Be sure and have your tissues ready! 🙂

  19. Hi Mary! I may just have to get that book! I don’t have a lot of research books of my own – I tend to borrow them from the library when I need them – but once source of information I’ve found useful is census reports. Online, I found an 1861 census from Morgan County, Georgia, that gave a real snapshot of the place and time. There were four or five families with over fifty slaves – the large planters in the area, who grew cotton – and a large number of families who had none. They were the small farmers growing their own food and a variety of cash crops. A lot of information in one concise document. I used the information as background for McShannon’s Chance, and again to create my version of the community in more detail for my WIP, McShannon’s Heart.

  20. Great post Tracy – this sounds like a book that is right up my alley!
    As for my own favs, I have several of the ‘Everyday Life’ series, a book called “Victorian West: Class & Culture in Kansas Cattle Towns”, and then several on Railroad and Stagecoach history that I refer to often

  21. I buy old books just because I like them. I have a book written for Englishmen leaving to work in India the end of the 19th century. I have an 1860’s book on how to be a wife and mother, run a household and take care of daily chores. I found a book written about 1906 with children’s games and dances. Has some interesting pictures. I have a lot of old cookbooks, too. I love old books for the window into a time not our own that they give us.

  22. What a treasure of information this book must be. I bet it makes for fascinating reading. I’m not a writer so I don’t have research books, but I do collect some old cookbooks, usually the old ones that are put together for fundraisers from churches, organizations or schools.

  23. LOL, no thanks, Tracy. I took Nyquil this morning, yes I know it was morning, but that’s my nighttime and spent most of the day in bed, when not getting up to drink more liquids. Will repeat tonight. Looks like you had a great time on here today.

  24. Hi:
    My name is Lisa.
    I love cooking and while brousing in a thrift shop with my mom I came across an original 1887 white house cook book. It is in good condition. I am almost afraid to handle it. It is ooolllddddd and delicate, no torn pages, you can tell by the pages it is a first rare edition. What would this one be worth? It is definitely not a copy. (650)630-2089.

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