President James Garfield’s Favorite Meal Will Surprise You

Historians love to point out odd little tidbits about the men and women who helped shaped our world over the years. Sharing with students and curiosity seekers alike the sordid details of a former world leader’s marriage or dishing about the medical maladies of an author from yesteryear is a great way to make past figures seem more human.

Hobbies and habits are also important in this regard. Being privy to the likes and dislikes of figures from our past not only gives us more of a complete picture of their character, but it also sheds some light on how different life might have been during different times. And nothing will show the differences between today and yesterday like eating habits. While some cuisine is timeless, there are plenty of things that were enjoyed years ago that probably haven’t been on too many dinner tables in generations. Indeed, getting to know what different U.S. Presidents liked to dine on really gives today’s world a proper perspective on how much we’ve changed in this regard. 

Let’s go back a century and a half ago to Washington, D.C., and get the scoop on what former U.S. President James Garfield liked to eat.

How to make squirrel soup

President James Garfield was a picky eater. Historians have noted that he really only loved to consume three things: milk, bread, and squirrel soup, the latter being his absolute favorite. According to The Daily Beast, Garfield so loved his squirrel soup that he commissioned one White House officer to get these rodents from the White House grounds, granting him special permission to shoot them.

What does squirrel soup consist of? The official White House Cookbook of 1887 calls for the squirrels to be cleaned and quartered, then set to simmer for several hours in a closed pot of water. Potatoes, lima beans, and corn are then added, and the bones should be strained out with a colander just before it is served. The cookbook calls for the steaming soup to be poured over toasted bread (which has also been fried in butter) and garnished with celery and parsley.

Sadly, President James Garfield wasn’t able to enjoy his beloved squirrel soup in the White House for very long. On July 2, 1881, Garfield was at a train station in Baltimore, Maryland, when he was approached by assassin Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was delusional, angry at Garfield for being denied a government position. He had been stalking the president for weeks, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to kill him (via History). Garfield did not die instantly, but his condition gradually worsened until his death on September 19, 1881, at a Jersey shore cottage.

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