|The White House Cook Book|
In the center of the Gibson House kitchen stands a table with a few objects on it, including a cookbook currently turned open to a page detailing various recipes for jumble, a ring-shaped cookie or cake. This cookbook is the 1905 edition of the White House Cook Book by Mrs. F. L. Gillette and Hugo Ziemann.
The title page describes the cookbook as “A comprehensive cyclopedia of information for the home, containing cooking, toilet and household recipes, menus, dinner-giving, table etiquette, care of the sick, health suggestions, facts worth knowing, etc.” Wondering what “toilet recipes” entail? As it turns out, homemakers could mix together natural ingredients for almost any personal care or beauty aid they might have needed: “hair invigorator, lip-salve, and instantaneous hair dye” are but a few of the toilet recipes in the book.
Fanny Lemira Camp Gillette, the author of the original White House Cook Book, first published in 1887, was from Wisconsin and never lived in the White House—and likely never visited Washington, D.C. She was ingenious, however, because her White House cookbook, which was less than loosely based on White House practices, became America’s best-selling recipe collection.
According to culinary historian Susan Williams, the major growth in the publishing industry that took place in the late nineteenth century “produced a multitude of cookbooks and household manuals to guide the American housewife ‘scientifically’ through the complex tasks of food preparation for family and guests.” In tandem, the effects of the Industrial Revolution created a new American middle class whose women found a surplus of time to spend on fine dining recipes. They looked to the pinnacle of high society for guidance and picked up F. L. Gillette’s White House manual in greater and greater numbers.
The success of the cookbook piqued the interest of the former White House steward to Benjamin Harrison, Hugo Ziemann, at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1905 he collaborated with Mrs. F. L. Gillette on an updated edition of her book. Ziemann produced several pages of real White House recipes and dining tidbits, legitimizing the title of the book and keeping it in print for another few decades. This version is the one that the Gibson House cook acquired.
Fanny Lemira Camp Gillette died in 1926 at the age of ninety-eight, having amassed a respectable sum from her book sales. Interestingly, her son, King Camp Gillette, gained even greater fame and fortune from his own enterprising efforts, mostly notably, his invention of the Gillette Disposable Razor Blade.
By Maddie Webster, museum guide and intern
Josh and Brent, “Eat (Sort Of) Like a President,” Beekman 1802. February 15, 2013. https://beekman1802.com/recipes/eat-sort-of-like-a-president/.
“Ushers and Stewards Since 1800,” White House Historical Association. 2009. https://www.whitehousehistory.org/ushers-and-stewards-since-1800.
Williams, Susan. Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985.