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Do You Know What Your Favorite Historical Figure Liked To Eat?

food, do you know what your favorite historical figure liked to eat?

Famous foodies

If we are what we eat, then some of the most famous figures from history may not be who we thought they were. Who would have thought that one of England’s most famous novelists, Jane Austen, loved nothing better than a cheese toastie – or that Ernest “Papa” Hemingway made the best hamburgers around? From Honest Abe’s appetite for apples to Mark Twain’s odes to oysters, here are some of the often surprising favorite foods of historic figures.

a person sitting on a table

Julius Caesar: asparagus

Asparagus has long been viewed as an aphrodisiac, though it isn’t known if that’s why Roman general Julius Caesar was partial to a spear or three. He liked it so much, in fact, that his disappointment at it being prepared wrongly is on record. He was apparently served it with myrrh resin, rather than his preferred way: with a drizzle of olive oil. The first Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, was also a fan, maintaining an “Asparagus Fleet” of boats to bring a constant supply to his table.

Andy Warhol posing for the camera in front of a cake

Andy Warhol: cake

The prince of pop art created a set of drawings entitled “Love is a Pink Cake” and apparently it wasn’t just a metaphor. He really loved cake. In fact, he loved anything sweet and once said: “all I ever really want is sugar.” If he was making his own cake, however, it was to a “recipe” that wouldn’t exactly impress at a birthday party or wedding breakfast. According to art critic and curator Bob Nickas, Warhol’s idea of making a cake was to slap a chocolate bar between two slices of bread.

Frank Sinatra sitting at a table with plates of food

Frank Sinatra: stuffed artichokes

Ol’ Blue Eyes had a deep love of Italian cuisine, from clam spaghetti to veal Milanese, often knocked back with a gin martini. According to the owners of Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, one of the singer and actor’s all-time favorite places to eat and still run by the Scognamillo family in New York, stuffed artichokes were always a winner. The restaurant makes them with black olives, herbs, capers, chili and Parmesan, with just a little garlic because Sinatra often found it overpowering.

Gene Kelly sitting at a table with a bowl of food

Gene Kelly: coq au vin

The legendary screen star, best known for musicals including Singing in the Rain, was seemingly a talented chef as well as a dancer, singer and actor. Among recipe cards left behind by the Hollywood icon was his favorite coq au vin, a complex recipe that notes that it’s the “extra steps” that make it “so good”. These include browning the chicken and veg, flambéing with brandy and finishing the stew off in around half the sauce, which “intensifies” the flavor. Not exactly a “throw it all in the pot and see what happens” style of cook, then.

a man sitting at a table with food

Henry VIII: fruit preserves

Henry VIII is perhaps the king most associated with gluttony and descriptions of banquets held at Hampton Court Palace seem to confirm that image. Tables groaned under platters of roasted game, meat pies, venison and swan, though the king was apparently especially fond of fruits, both fresh and in jellies. He alone was given a fork to eat with – they were then mostly used to serve and carve – and he would use it to devour sweet preserves, according to the Historic Royal Palaces.

a man with a plate of food

Alfred Hitchcock: quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine, whose name refers to the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, is more commonly served at buffets and in cafés as a lunch option. But Alfred Hitchcock apparently devoured the rather decadent pie for breakfast. Hitchcock himself said he was “frightened of eggs”, so it’s assumed his wife, screenwriter and (according to the director) “fine” cook Alma Reville, cracked them and baked them into the wheat crust along with ham, onions, salt, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and milk.

a man holding a plate of food

George Washington: ice cream

The first president served from 1789 until retiring in 1797 and records from the Washingtons’ Mount Vernon plantation shed light on some of their culinary choices, as well as their penchant for ice cream. George and First Lady Martha hosted regular ice cream and lemonade parties, with their kitchen inventory showing the purchase of several ice cream pots, a “Cream Machine for Ice” and utensils for making and serving ice cream. They also often served “iced creams” at dinner parties, too, along with jellies, fruits and apple pie.

Ernest Hemingway sitting at a table with food

Ernest Hemingway: hamburgers

The author known as “Papa” was perhaps better known for drinking than eating. But it seems his favorite sustenance was the perfect American-style hamburger. So much so that he had perfected a recipe, with the method and ingredients of his beef patties left behind following his death in 1961. The recipe states there’s no reason for “gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless” burgers, suggesting “goodies” of capers, relish, onions, garlic, sage and other seasonings be mixed with the lean beef, and the burgers served “crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy”.

a person posing for the camera

Mary Shelley: kale

Dr Frankenstein’s creature is often depicted as green in cartoon strips and movies, so it seems apt that one of author Mary Shelley’s favorite foods was, apparently, kale. The leafy, forest-green greens might be considered a superfood today but it was hugely popular in the 1800s, too. Shelley, whose seminal Gothic novel Frankenstein was published in 1818, dabbled with a vegetarian diet along with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and even sent kale as part of a care package to her aunt, Everina.

a person holding a plate of food

Napoleon Bonaparte: chicken Marengo

French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite dish was named after the 1800 Battle of Marengo with Austrian forces. Napoleon, victorious and apparently ravenous, asked his chef to prepare a meal. The cook managed to source a chicken, tomatoes, herbs, olive oil, crawfish and eggs, which became the basis for this dish, sautéed and stewed over fire. The eggs and crawfish formed the garnish and it became not only his favorite but also a French classic.

Winston Churchill sitting at a table with a cake

Winston Churchill: roast beef and Yorkshire pudding

Churchill liked to eat. A lot. According to notes by his personal cook, Georgina Landemare, which were published in Churchill’s Cookbook by Imperial War Museums, he feasted on lobster, shellfish and Stilton, supplementing wartime rations with produce from the Chartwell estate and gifts from friends. Among his most-requested dishes were consommé (he disliked creamy soups) and traditional English fare, with roast beef with Yorkshire pudding a particular favorite.

a close up of food

Marcel Proust: madeleines

French novelist Marcel Proust, known for his epic 1913-published series In Search of Lost Time, famously used madeleines – small, delicate, shell-shaped sponge cakes – as a metaphor for how smells, tastes and sounds can transport you back to your childhood or evoke a powerful memory. He wrote how the madeleine “recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it” yet, once dipped in tea and touching his palate, provoked an “exquisite pleasure” and “all-powerful joy”. The sensation is now known as a “madeleine de Proust”.

Mark Twain wearing a suit and tie

Mark Twain: oysters

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn author waxed lyrical about his favorite food. Writing in San Francisco in 1864, on the cusp of fame, Mark Twain said he was compelled “to move upon the supper works and destroy oysters done up in all kinds of seductive styles”. He was staying at the city’s Occidental Hotel, which he called “Heaven on the half shell”. Later, when traveling, Twain wrote a list of around 60 foods he missed, with five entries dedicated to oysters – in soup, fried, stewed, on the half shell, and roasted.

Sammy Davis Jr. holding a plate of food

Sammy Davis Jr.: spaghetti and meatballs

The Rat Pack legend, who starred in the original Ocean’s 11 with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in 1960, favored spaghetti and meatballs over any other dish. And, as he told the Evening Independent newspaper in 1966, his perchance for the Italian-American dish had nothing to do with Ol’ Blue Eyes. His love of the pasta dish came from his time on the road with his father, when they would play roadhouses for a small salary, room and board – and “spaghetti was the cheapest thing to fill an actor”.

a man with food in it

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: liver dumplings and sauerkraut

The 18th-century Austrian composer loved to eat, and his favorite standby dish apparently consisted of liver dumplings fried in butter and served with a generous side helping of sauerkraut (fermented cabbage). He regularly discussed his love of this and other dishes, including lavish meals eaten at balls and banquets, in his personal letters, in which he also declared his love of billiards – and displayed a tendency towards toilet humor.

a person wearing a hat

Queen Victoria: potatoes

British Monarch from 1837 until her death in 1901, Queen Victoria didn’t hold back when it came to food. She loved sweet things of all kinds, including sponge cakes. But it was potatoes that really piqued her appetite, according to The Private Life of the Queen by a Member of the Royal Household, an anonymous account published in 1901. The observer states: “Her Majesty confesses to a great weakness for potatoes, which are cooked for her in every conceivable way.”

a close up of Virginia Woolf in front of a bowl of food

Virginia Woolf: boeuf en daube

The English writer (1882-1941) adored classic French cuisine and included what’s widely considered one of her favorite dishes in her 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse. The cook, Marthe, spends three days making boeuf en daube, a stew of beef, onions, bay leaves and wine that’s described as “a triumph” and having “an exquisite scent”. Woolf’s love of food more generally is also well-known and demonstrated in the famous line from A Room of One’s Own: “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.

a man holding a plate of food

Ludwig van Beethoven: soup

The composer, who was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 and died in Vienna, Austria in 1827, is quoted as saying: “Anyone who tells a lie has not a pure heart, and cannot make a good soup.” So he must have been quite particular about the soup he slurped, and his favorite was apparently bread soup with raw eggs. He was also partial to mac ’n’ cheese (although back then it wasn’t a cheap dish) and insisted upon precisely 60 coffee beans to make his morning pick-me-up.

a man posing in front of an apple

Abraham Lincoln: apples

It seems Abraham Lincoln, president from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, had a taste for the simple yet sweet things in life. A crisp, tart apple was apparently his all-time favorite food. The most iconic of presidents was also partial to them baked into that most iconic of American desserts, apple pie, usually served with rum sauce. Usually, though, he would crunch through an apple with a glass of milk for lunch – and apparently ate the lot, core and all.

a man holding a sandwich

Francois Rene de Chateaubriand: chateaubriand steak

This is a rare case in which a historical figure’s favorite food has become far more famous than the historical figure themselves. Yes, the chateaubriand steak was named for Napoleonic author and aristocrat Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, whose chef is said to have invented the style of preparation in the 19th century. The cook apparently wrapped a large, boneless cut of beef with lesser-quality steaks, tying the bundle with string before roasting or grilling and discarding the outer layers.

Benito Mussolini holding a flower

Benito Mussolini: raw garlic

According to the 2014 book Dictators’ Dinners: A Bad Taste Guide to Entertaining Tyrants, Benito Mussolini favored a simple salad with roughly chopped garlic, oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Dismissing French food as worthless, the Italian dictator – who led the country’s fascist part from the 1920s and allied with Hitler during the Second World War – preferred home cooking and liked to eat at home with his family.

a person sitting at a table with a plate of food

Jane Austen: cheese toastie

The Pride and Prejudice author was particularly partial to “Toasted Cheese”, according to a “household book” written by Austen’s close friend, Martha Lloyd. Martha’s recipe, with grated cheese, an egg, mustard and “a little butter” grilled on toast, features notes kept between 1798 and 1830 while living with the author, her sister and mother. It was released by Bodleian Library Publishing as Martha Lloyd’s Household Book. Jane also mentioned her love of cheese toasties in a letter to her sister, recounting how a friend has ordered “toasted cheese for supper entirely of my account”.

Franklin D. Roosevelt wearing a hat

Franklin D. Roosevelt: grilled cheese

Like Jane Austen, Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved grilled cheese. His fondness of the oozy sandwich is so well-documented that restaurants and diners now serve it named in his honor. FDR, US president from 1933 to 1945 and credited with pulling the country out of the Great Depression with his groundbreaking New Deal, preferred foods that “he could dig into”, according to White House housekeeper Henrietta Nesbitt, with the oozy toasted sandwiches top, closely followed by hot dogs and scrambled eggs.

Thomas Jefferson posing for a photo

Thomas Jefferson: French fries

The third US president, who was in office from 1801-1809, had a huge influence on culinary tastes and has been credited with introducing some of the nation’s favorite foods, bringing ingredients and recipes from his time as Minister to France. It’s even widely believed that he helped to popularize French fries. Jefferson’s enslaved chef, Hemings, prepared chipped potatoes “in the French manner”: probably small, flat rounds of potato rather than long skinny fries, deep-fried from raw.

John F. Kennedy standing next to a bowl of food

John F. Kennedy: clam chowder

JFK is often seen as the first foodie president in office since Jefferson, and the Kennedys certainly shared the Founding Father’s taste for fine French cuisine. First Lady Jackie hired renowned chef René Verdon to run the White House kitchens. Though he was often employed with whipping up refined dinner-party dishes, Verdon recalled in his 1967 cookbook how the president “dearly loved” Boston clam chowder prepared in the creamy style befitting his Massachusetts roots. He regularly ate the soup for lunch, often with a sandwich and fruit on the side.

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