Not the Only Lemon Lover: A Couple of Recipes from Ulysses S. Grant

 President GrantInspired by Phil Greenwalt’s post concerning lemons and Stonewall Jackson, I dug around the Internet looking for what I remembered as Mrs. Grant’s Lemon Pie. As an emerging Civil War historian, I am used to being wrong, so I was not surprised to find out that Mrs. Grant’s pie was really Mr. Grant’s Lemon Rice Pudding.

When Grant entered the White House as President, he brought a cook with him. This fellow was a quartermaster from the Army, and although perfectly adequate for that job, apparently he was not such a good fit for the demands of First Chef. Basically, he was of the opinion that if a small turkey was fine for a small dinner, then a larger turkey would be fine for larger dinners.


Emily Edson Brigg

Emily Edson Brigg

Mrs. Julia Grant soon replaced him with an Italian chef, Valentino Melah, who had aspecial talent for opulent banquets. Weekly, this former hotel steward served banquets of twenty-five courses. They got excellent reviews. According to Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper correspondent:

 In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the ‘first course,’ which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it. The ambrosial soup is followed by a French croquet of meat. Four admirably trained servants remove the plates between each course, and their motions are as perfect as clockwork…The third ‘course’ of the dinner is composed of a fillet of beef, flanked on each side by potatoes the size of a walnut, with plenty of mushrooms to keep them company. The next course is dainty in the extreme. It is made up entirely of luscious leg of partridges, and baptized by a French name entirely beyond my comprehension. It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert…The dessert is inaugurated by the destruction of a rice pudding, it is a pudding as would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follows confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate, and with these warm, soothing drinks the presidential entertainment comes to an end, and the host and his guests repair to the Red Room.

 My! Oh! My! And I don’t even know what an “oul” is!

State dinner at the White House, ca 1870. The shorter man, facing left, is believed to be Melah

State dinner at the White House, ca 1870. The shorter man, facing left, is believed to be Melah

The following is a recipe for such a rice pudding. Grant was said to be a maniac for it. Yes, you read that correctly–a maniac. Who knew?

Rice Pudding Melah

 3/4 C long-grain rice

1 1/2 quarts milk

3 T butter

5 eggs

1/2  cup sugar

2 T grated lemon peel

1/2 C slivered almonds

Simmer rice and milk slowly until the rice is soft. Stir in butter and lemon peel, remove from the stove and cool. Beat the eggs and sugar well and fold them into the rice mixture. Pour the mixture into a large baking pan, top with slivered almonds, and bake at 325º until the custard sets, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

This may be served either warm or cold, with a topping of Lemon Sauce

1/2 C sugar

1 T cornstarch

1/8 t salt

1 C boiling water

1 T butter

1 T grated lemon peel

3 T fresh lemon juice

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt, stir in water gradually. Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Blend in remaining ingredients. Pour atop the rice pudding. 8 servings

Grant's Rice Pudding with Lemon Sauce, garnished with Candied Violets!

Grant’s Rice Pudding with Lemon Sauce, garnished with Candied Violets!


Sounds good to me, especially on such cold days as our eastern readers are having. Yum!

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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1 Response to Not the Only Lemon Lover: A Couple of Recipes from Ulysses S. Grant

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