Some of you might remember that last Presidents’ Day we started a tradition of creating a dinner from our 1887 “White House Cook Book” to celebrate a holiday that seemingly has no other traditions other than deep discounts on electronics and auto sales. If we’re gonna be honest (and one really shouldn’t lie on Presidents’ Day) last year’s dinner was so uninspired that we wouldn’t have served it to a Vice President. Or even a congressmen.

But, since this nation was founded on perseverance (and a whole lot of lackluster cooking,) we decided to keep up the tradition this year. Except instead of a dinner, we thought we’d try a “Presidential Luncheon.” We had slightly better results, with the notable exception of one disastrous dessert recipe. More on that later…

First, for our main course we chose this:


Doesn’t that sound fun?

“What did you have for lunch today?”

“A chicken Roly-Poly.”

“How was it?”


So this is basically  chicken meat rolled up in a very bland dough. It certainly sounds more fun than it is. In fact, we’re going to say Roly-Poly as often as possible in this post to make it seem fun. If you decide to make this Roly-Poly yourself, it’s important to note that the meat should be precooked. Not that the recipe indicates that. Not that the White House Cookbook ever really indicates much of anything helpful. That’s why you have us as your Roly-Poly guinea pigs. (How cute an image is that?!?)

Here’s our mis en place. That’s french for something.


We could already tell by looking at these bland ingredients that pronouncing them in french wasn’t going to make this Roly-Poly taste any more interesting than the recipe foretold. So we added a few things:


Orange zest, chopped parsley and frozen peas from our garden. Looks a little more tempting now, right?


We usually try to mix doughs, and sometimes batters by hand. It’s one of the best ways to learn when the mixture is “right.” You can feel temperature, texture, lumpiness, etc that you can’t determine with a wooden spoon.


When trying to roll out dough in a rectangular form, it’s usually ok to fold over edges while rolling to keep them “square-er.” (That’s french for “more square.”) Once we got it into shape, we sprinkled it with all our ingredients:




Can you believe that in less than three weeks we’ll be planting peas?!?!? Can-Not-Roly-Freakin’-Poly-Wait.




Rolling up anything can be nerve-wracking. But this is a pretty stiff dough. Indestructible.



Ok. this might not turn out horrible.

IMG_6805 IMG_6808

We didn’t have a Victorian Steamer to cook our Roly-Poly in. And none of our stove-top veggie or seafood steamers were large enough to accommodate it. So we improvised by setting a roasting pan full of water on the bottom of the oven and preheating it for a really long time at 350F. Lesson learned: stand back when opening the door of an oven filled with steaming water.


Without any kind of wash on this dough (which is really just a recipe for thick paste) it didn’t brown too well in the oven. We should’ve seen that coming. If you decide to attempt a Roly-Poly yourself, use an egg wash on the crust before steaming.


Ok. So for our side dish we decided on this:


Saratoga chips are basically just potato chips. But nobody knew that in 1887 when the White House Cook Book was published. Because they were brand-spankin’ new. They were “invented” in nearby Saratoga, NY by an ornery cook at “Moon’s Lake House” restaurant named George Crum. (He sounds ornery, right?) When a patron sent their potatoes back to the kitchen for being “too thick,” George sliced up some new potatoes as thinly as possible and burnt the hell out of them before sending them back to the customer. Who loved them. As has every other human being who’s ever tried them in all of history since then. No bad deed goes unrewarded.

We decided to make Saratoga Chips to accompany our Roly-Poly because, well, after last year’s White House Cook Book debacle, we wanted to hedge our bets that we wouldn’t go to bed completely starving.

We used some of the last remaining potatoes in the root cellar:


They don’t look horrible, right?


And because no one on this planet actually has the knife skills to make potato chips, we pulled out our Mandoline. That’s french for Mandolin. Which is like a lute. Or a ukelele. Except that it cuts potatoes.

Okay. None of that was true. It’s a vegetable (and occasionally, fingertip) guillotine.


If you have a Mandoline like this, you know that it usually takes a good 10 minutes to remember how it gets put together. But once it is, it’s the MVP of your kitchen. Just try doing this by hand:


We did take the time to do as the “recipe” suggested and shook them in a towel to get rid of excess moisture.


Brent’s grandparents gave him this “Fry-Baby.” Which is a teeny-tiny deep-fryer.  The son of the “Fry-Daddy.” (Is there a “Fry-Grand-Pappy?”) But it’s the only deep fryer we have, and we hate deep-frying on the stove top. So we were forced to make, like, four Saratoga chips at a time.


We sprinkled the chips with coarse salt immediately as they came out of the “Fry-Baby.” They really came out fantastic. As well they should. Have you ever meet a bad potato chip?


We’re gonna post another pic of chips. Because, well, you can’t post just one:


Okay. So here’s where our Presidential luncheon went South. And we had to secede from our initial plans. This was the original dessert we tried making:


We kinda got an idea that it might not work out so well when we realized that this custard recipe contained no egg yolks. We shoulda aborted right then. But we were on a high from the Saratoga Chips. Anything seemed possible in this Roly-Poly world.

It didn’t work. At all. We’ll spare you the process pics. Because the result was horrific. The custard cups deflated and separated completely in the oven. They tasted fine, but, well, here…have a look yourself:


Plan B: a pie.

Pies are always our Plan B.

It’s tough to really mess up a pie.

We picked the most interesting one from the Cook Book. A Lemon Raisin Pie:


We fancied up this recipe a bit too. Because raisins in a crust didn’t sound outstanding. And although the Saratoga Chips were tasty, let’s be honest…potato chips aren’t exactly a breakthrough luncheon idea.


We used half dried gooseberries from our garden and half raisins. We also used a cup of Ice Wine instead of water. We let them soak together for a bit first to get to know each other. We also added a half-teaspoon of cardamom, because we thought it would compliment the wine. And wine is notoriously insecure.


Next time we make this (and it’s the first recipe in the White House Cook Book that we’ve even come close to thinking about taking out on a second date) we’ll let the fruit and liquid soak overnight. The filling was a little too watery going into the crust, which results in a slightly glue-y bottom crust.

Doncha love when a pie crust comes together well?


The pattern on the top has meaning to us. But it’s our little secret. You should totally develop your own pie crust symbolism. It’ll drive your neighbors crazy trying to figure it out. Like a crop circle.


Not bad for not having any thickener. Letting the fruit soak overnight would make it hold together even better.


So here’s our 2nd Annual 1887 White House Cook Book meal.

It wasn’t terrible.

In a Roly-Poly kind of way:


Which President would you invite to a Presidential luncheon at your house?

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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I’m a bit behind here, but I do love your recipe commentary. Pretty funny! I would be
roly-poly if I ate what you eat. Yummy!


I would have Bill Clinton over as he seems so personable and intelligent and I could stare at those blue eyes all day. I think he has really done a lot of good since he got out of office plus he loves to eat so he would love my cooking.

Susan Loube

Sorry – I was obviously thinking why go to the trouble of drying gooseberries when you could freeze them. But the question still stands – how do you prep them before drying? Thanks

Susan Loube

I grew up eating raisin pies (especially the sticky sweet ones made with seeded muscat raisins), but I am intrigued by the addition of gooseberries. How do you freeze your berries?
Washed, and/or topped and tailed, or neither? They are quick to pick, but fussy to process and it would be so nice to have some in the freezer to use whenever I wanted to. Thanks

Dr. Brent

Hi, Susan. We just freeze them whole. If the little stems are still on, we don’t worry. They’ll cook down if using in a pie


I’ll try the pie! I think the 1 TBS of flour was supposed to be the thickener?? So I’ll try it with cornstarch or tapioca. Hmm. What to use in place of dried gooseberries?

Linda Turner

It’s great that you’re trying some of those recipes! They always intrigued me-I would read the book like a novel, marveling at how much skill and experience you would need to make them. (Actually, I wondered how most of them would produce anything edible-as you have discovered…) Maybe the ‘author’ just kept mixing up lists of ingredients and put them into a recipe format…
From an historic premise, though, it does make one realize that we have many safeguards against failure as modern cooks. We have ovens with thermostats-how would a ‘first lady’ determine when her beehive oven was ‘hot’ or just ‘moderately hot’ ? Measuring spoons and cups make consistency much more predictable…by the way, when determining ‘butter the size of an egg’, is that egg from a Banty or a Rhode Island Red?
Happy Cooking, Josh! 🙂


Loved this post, I think it was such a great idea for PD to use recipes out of the Whitehouse Cookbook, interesting and fun!!!

Jo-Ann Langlois

Just read the recipe for the pie…I’ve been making this pie for years. That same recipe came from my VERY OLD Betty Crocker cookbook. It is one of the best pies ever!


A great read! I’m constantly trying out new recipes on my family…..we are brave that way as well….and sometimes we are amazed at how horrible some can be and wonder if they even tried the recipe before putting it in their cookbook. But, it is fun trying to find that one great recipe to add to the others we’ve collected over the years.

Ronald McTaggart , Warnerville N.Y.

When doing your chips leave the skin on . It gives it A nice homemade look ,and the flavor is sooo much better. !!!

Kate's Daughter

Well, your pie looks lovely, but the rhubarb one sounds great too! (Yep, I know. Not in season). The raisin gooseberry pie looks a bit like a butter tart on steroids. I like the sounds of the roly poly… Thanks for a great article!

Susan Odom

What a nice menu! I do a lot of historic cooking and enjoyed reading your blog. Next time you might want to try this cook book, ‘Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion’ published in 1887 her recipes are always a bit fussy, but usually have great results! There are different kinds of roly-poly’s. I had one once made with apple butter and cooked in a cloth in water like a proper pudding. Oh that was lovely! You might also like the ‘Centennial Buckeye Cook Book’ published in 1876 there is a entire section on recipe submitted by First Ladies! What fun!

Adele Alonso

I know I won’t make any of these recipes (hate raisins in anything, but a box). But I will still read your commentaries – they are hilarious. Thanks.

Linda Law

I think I have the revised edition of your Cookbook from my grandmother. It’s called Whitehouse cookbook, revised for both small and large families! I have never been brave enough to cook from it.

Amy Smith Wexler

I have 4 cookbooks from the 1800’s and I have had many failures as well as successes. Modification is the key, so is google when your looking for meaning in words like add a gill or destring the suet. I would love to try that pie…XOXOXO


There is a fry grand-pappy! My dad and his neighbor each have one, and they fry stuff together. I can’t wait to be retired.

Marlene Gretzinger

Loved you two on Amz. Race and love you even more while reading about you cooking “tour de force (that’s French for feats! I looked it up!) Love and hugs to PokaSpot.

MelissaKlein Johnson

you guys are a trip and I love the idea of Roly Poly but I would use a pork loin and split it and stuff it, the chips I know are too die for done that by accident,keep at it love the recipes and you also. I have the All American Cookbook 1946 gift from x mother in-law.

Paula Evans

I’d just like to know are we supposed to “drink” every time we read the word roly poly or better yet, we’re you tempted to do so every time you said the word? 🙂 Glad to see you having so much fun in the kitchen!

Airian Eastman

I just have to say- despite how it may have looked or tasted you make cooking more fun to read about then any other blog I’ve read- “Thats french for something!” Love it!

Suzanne Koba

Those chips look so very good. I love well done potato chips. I have this cookbook but when I discovered that the recipes were a challenge I put it away. Thank you for testing them out for me. Looking forward to the 2014 presidential meal.

Bev Nan Murphy

Josh: You and your slightly acerbic (slightly?) roly poly recipes make my tummy hurt, from LOLing, not from indulging.

Heading for the local supermarket before yet another winter hurricane hits us
to stock up on Cape Cod chips, Chicken Caesar Rollups (note the roly thing) and doubt there’s a raisin pie within a 300 mile radius; but loss of power, we make do; perhaps a bag of Nonni’s Almond Biscotti? You are my today”s inspiration for lunch tomorrow when nothing will be working, including me.
More recipes please, just love to read ’em. xo

Susan Elwood

I commend you on your persistence ! Being a veggie I will say the Roly-Poly thingy looks edible, the pie yummy, the chips look really good. … I think I will try the chips, just got a mandolin so that will be fun.