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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS: FAVORITE FOOD

The favorite foods of Jimmy Carter

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Photo: Official White House portrait of President Jimmy Carter.

When discovering the favorite food of Jimmy Carter, the 39th American President, we don't have to look very far. A native of Plains, Georgia, James Earl Carter is regarded for staying true to Southern traditions and simplicity. In a book he authored in his post-Presidency, he would talk of enjoying the typical Georgian dinners and suppers as a child. But, in the area of food, he is most known as a peanut farmer.

Peanuts (and Pecans)

When Carter ran on the 1976 Presidential ticket, images of the peanut were a significant part of his campaign—a calculated move for the Southern governor, who appealed to American voters as a working-class citizen. The peanut business was rooted in Carter's childhood, with his father Earl supporting the family as a peanut warehouser.

While serving in the Navy as a young adult, President Carter would learn Earl was ill with cancer. When his father passed away, soon afterward, Jimmy, his wife Rosalynn and their children returned to Plains so Jimmy could take over the family business.

But the peanut was not the only nut favored in the Carter household. Miss Lillian Carter, Jimmy's mother, had her own source of income: growing and harvesting pecans. In A Remarkable Mother (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008), the biography President Carter wrote about Miss Lillian, the admiring son recalls her passion for this pasttime.

"In addition to nursing, Mama had pecans as a source of income. Based on a long-standing agreement between her and Daddy, all the pecan trees on our farm belonged to her, and during a couple of weeks late in November, she arranged to remove her name from the nurses’ call list so she could supervise the harvest."

Miss Lillian, Carter wrote, "was thoroughly familiar with pecan culture and the characteristics of the different varieties, and she consulted closely with the county agent on how to control the various diseases and insects."

The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate talks of the long bamboo poles he and the other farm boys would use to collect the pecans. Whatever the poles could not reach, Jimmy and even Miss Lillian would climb the trees to collect.

Bananas and fried-chicken dinners

As a boy, Jimmy Carter was considered to be thinner than the average boy. Although he recounts family dinners where he was obviously fed very well, he worried he might be too thin to be accepted into the Naval Academy. In "American Experience: Jimmy Carter," the PBS-produced documentary, we learn a piece of trivia: the young Jimmy went on a banana diet to help him gain weight.

Meals in the young Carter's home were abundant. In "A Remarkable Mother," he recalls his grandmother Ida spending the entire day from dawn until dusk, washing, cleaning, gardening helping the grandchildren with their homework and cooking meals throughout the day.

Ida would pick seasonal vegetables from her large garden while the children were at school. Then cook big dinners at noon, Carter says, "including pies, cakes, fruit puffs for a constant supply of dessert."

On Sundays, Grandmother Ida would prepare most of the dinners before going to church and "maybe cooking the biscuits and fried chicken after the services were over," Carter says.

Earl Carter built a house at a nearby fishing pond, where the Carters would retreat and hold gatherings for families and friends. Jimmy recalls barbecued pork and Brunswick stew as a usual fare on those occasions. While the adults enjoyed homemade moonshine, young Jimmy, his siblings and friends would drink sweet iced-tea and lemonade.

Preparing a meal to honor President Jimmy Carter's would be a delight, with Southern comfort-meals that could be a favorite for children and adults. Peanuts, peanut butter, bananas or pecans could also be the basis for tasty thematic desserts.

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