President William Henry Harrison’s Favorite Meal Will Surprise You

William Henry Harrison was president of the United States for just one month before he died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, making him the first president to die in office. Despite his brief term, his successful bid that unseated the incumbent, Martin Van Buren, was a preview of what was to come in terms of presidential campaigns. Harrison’s election was, in part, the result of running a campaign anchored by his image as a strong, down-to-earth, self-made man. As reported by The Curious Tastebud, the campaign had a catchy slogan still known by many to this day: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” invoking Harrison’s nickname that stemmed from his leadership in the Battle of Tippecanoe against the Native American confederacy led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh. 

Additionally, despite coming from a wealthy, prominent family and being educated at prestigious schools in the classics and medicine, Harrison was embraced by the Whig party because of his rugged, man-of-the-people personality. This image preference continues to this day, seen in the successful campaigns of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and Donald Trump in 2016. The notorious modern marker of a presidential candidate’s likability as “someone you could have a beer with,” discussed by The Lily in 2019, may well have originated with Harrison, whose campaign became so well known for setting up rustic log cabin structures and providing copious amounts of food and drink to voters that he was known, per The History Chef, as “the Hard Cider Candidate.”

Tippecanoe and burgoo, too

Harrison’s favorite dish to serve alongside the free-flowing hard cider was burgoo, a stew traditionally made from squirrel and vegetables. “The Presidents’ Cookbook,” quoted by The Food Timeline, notes that burgoo was “the perfect election dish, as was easily expandable to the size of the crowd.” Per The History Chef, quoting historian Poppy Cannon, co-author of “The Presidents’ Cookbook,” the Harrison campaign fed 30,000 people voters in Wheeling, West Virginia with “360 hams, 20 calves, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 8,000 pounds of bread and 4,500 pounds of Burgoo.” Squirrel meat was a popular and traditional source of protein in the United States in the mid-19th century. 

According to The Curious Tastebud, burgoo is thought to have originated in Kentucky and is comparable to Louisiana’s gumbo or Virginia’s Brunswick stew, all of which call for meat and vegetables to be chopped up, thrown into a pot, and cooked together. In addition to the traditional squirrel, old burgoo recipes also feature turkey, bear, and pigeon. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse has a modern recipe that calls for chicken, beef, and lamb. Ailsa Von Dobeneck of The Curious Tastebud made her own burgoo using a 1907 recipe from the Boston Cooking School Magazine, substituting four strips of thick cut bacon for the “three or four young squirrels” originally called for, along with chicken and crab meat, noting that she lives in Washington, D.C. where the squirrels “do not taste good, nor are they nutritious.”

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