This punch recipe comes from Henrietta Nesbitt’s The Presidential Cookbook: Feeding the Roosevelts and Their Guests. Mrs. Nesbitt served as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s housekeeper in the White House for 13 years. She writes in her chapter on teas and punches that two hundred guests would be considered a small tea party for Eleanor Roosevelt – many White House teas would include over a thousand guests. “When the guest list reaches the thousand mark…the only solution is fruit punch, and plenty of it.”
Unfortunately, many of those thousands of guests might have come away from the White House unsatisfied. Henrietta Nesbitt had a reputation for serving incredibly unappetizing food. Part of this was Eleanor Roosevelt’s doing; as the First Lady during the hard times of the Great Depression and World War II, she wanted the White House to lead the way in eating economical and nutritious food.
While Eleanor seemed to be happy with Mrs. Nesbitt’s austere menus, Franklin Roosevelt famously was not. He complained about her food, and even once brought in his mother’s cook to prepare meals for him. Frequent guests to the White House would often eat before they came to avoid the White House food. Still, supported loyally by Eleanor, Henrietta Nesbitt continued to oversee the cooking at the White House during Franklin Roosevelt’s entire presidency.
After everything I’d heard about Henrietta Nesbitt’s food, I was curious to try some of her recipes. Flipping through her cookbook, most of the recipes look pretty normal to me, although they are a bit plain. Maybe Franklin Roosevelt just preferred fancier food.
I decided to try cider punch, one of Mrs. Nesbitt’s go-to drinks for those enormous tea parties. Since I was making mine for only two people, I reduced the amounts significantly. I think I ended up using about half a cup of orange juice, an eighth of a cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of ginger ale, and one bottle of cider. This still made enough for about 3-4 people, or more if they’re using small cups. The recipe doesn’t specify if the cider should be alcoholic, non-alcoholic, or sparkling; I used hard cider since I already had some on hand.
This was excellent, although in keeping with most of Mrs. Nesbitt’s other recipes it is very simple. For a punch, though, I think there’s no need to be any more elaborate than this. It was citrus-y and refreshing, and is just as good for one person to enjoy on a hot day as it would be for one thousand people at a White House reception.
Eschner, K. (2017, Oct. 11). How Eleanor Roosevelt and Henrietta Nesbitt transformed the White House kitchen. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-eleanor-roosevelt-and-henrietta-nesbitt-transformed-white-house-kitchen-180965159/
Nesbitt, H. (1951). The Presidential cookbook; feeding the Roosevelts and their guests. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951d010360592&view=1up&seq=169
Shapiro, L. (2010, Nov. 15). The first kitchen: Eleanor Roosevelt’s austerity drive. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/11/22/the-first-kitchen