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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS: FAVORITE FOOD

John Quincy Adams: A practical eater?

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john_f_kennedy_portraitThis month, I resume my series about American Presidents' favorite food by looking at what our 6th President John Quincy Adams ate.

JQA is an appropriate selection, me thinks, considering it was in June 1775 when 11-year-old Johnny witnessed a pivotal event in American history—the Battle of Bunker Hill. The bloody match-up between American and British forces would affect young John Quincy in profound ways. He was not only expected to take on the responsibilities as man of the house while his father was away in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress, but Johnny would learn at an early age the importance of patriotism and servitude.

Research is widely available on the entire Adams family, particularly at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Letters that John Quincy's mother Abigail wrote to his father while he spent most of his time away from home. Not to mention John Adams' responses to her, as well as the prolific journal entries of John Quincy himself, throughout his entire life.

Ironically, however, mentions of food in these writings are scant, giving the food researcher little to work with when crafting a piece on what the former Secretary of State and Amistad advocate ate on a regular basis.

This is not to say John Quincy did not talk about eating. On the contrary. Even looking at the indices of his journal entries, it is clear social dining was a regular occurrence for the statesman.

Sifting through various pages, one would see he talked about dining with a host of dignitaries when he served as an ambassador in Europe. He also dined with Charles Dickens and James Monroe on separate occasions, the latter, probably freqently. He also recalls dining with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin while he was a boy in France. He spoke often of long walks he would take before and after dining. He talked about enjoying breakfast at the Adelphi Hotel while he was in London. But rare was the occasion he mentioned a single food item.

John Quincy Adams: Food History

Except for once that I found and it was in a reference to a visit John Quincy made to the "Foundlings." Presumably Foundling Hospital for abandoned children while in London.

On Aug. 6, 1797, shortly after his marriage to Louisa Catherine Adams, John Quincy wrote in his journal Louisa was "unwell and unable to attend church." In the rest of this entry, he speaks of going to the Foundlings with "the rest of the ladies," where he was accompanied by Mr. Hewlett, who presided over Louisa Catherine's and John Quincy's wedding ceremony, and "a governor" to the buildings. He says:

"Saw the boys and girls at dinner in separate halls. About seventy of each sex. Their dinner consisted of baked beef and string beans, apparently excellent and in abundance. They are well clothed and appear very healthy. The institution provides for [360] children. We saw the kitchens likewise which were very neat, and where they cook with very little fuel..."

In The Adams Chronicles (1975, Little, Brown), author Jack Shepard says, in John Quincy's post-presidental years (circa 1830), the former President enjoyed his return to Massachusetts and, like father, like son, enjoyed gardening.

A journal entry in August 1830, shows John Quincy had planned to plant peaches and lime seeds.

"Like his father, he was proud of his vegetables, his fruit trees, his New England berries. Behind the garden, he had constructed a chicken house, and he attempted that summer to get his black Norman hens to produce eggs," Shepard says.

The author also says John Quincy would nap until five o'clock teatime and on certain summer evenings would enjoy a New England clambake or chowder dinner.

John Qunicy Adams: Boyhood eating

Perusing the letters written by Abigail Adams to her husband while she was raising her children in Braintree, Mass., she spoke in general terms about fruits and vegetables and the need for grains.

She also spoke of molasses and bread. Next month, for our fourth of July issue, I will talk about John Adams and foods that are mentioned in his correspondence back to Abigail, as well as other dishes that appear in my other research.

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