you can’t have your cookie and eat it too

~ This is the first in a series of posts about Presidential Food.

“If we work together, then everyone can eat our cookies,” said Michelle to Cindy.

For the past four presidential elections, Family Circle magazine has asked its readers to vote for their favorite potential first lady cookie recipe in order to predict who will go to the White House. So far, the poll has been right every time.

Laura Bush won the last two bake-offs with her Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk and Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy cookies, and before that, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chocolate Chip recipe was the overwhelming favorite (see all recipes here).

So what’s on the platter for 2008?

We’ve got Cindy McCain’s Oatmeal Butterscotch battling against Michelle Obama’s Shortbread. But alas, even a simple Cookie Bake-off has been tainted by the rigors of this rough and tough election.

Shortly after Cindy’s recipe first appeared back in June, astute readers complained that it was identical to one on the Hershey’s website. Angry cries of plagiarism echoed in kitchens across America, casting doubt on Cindy’s integrity (she said she got the recipe from a friend).

At first I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Family Circle had asked for a favorite recipe, not an original one. The average person gets recipes all the time from friends and family, never really knowing the exact source. So, in theory, perhaps Cindy did get her recipe from a friend, who maybe got it from Hershey’s or anywhere else. This happens all the time.

When it comes to recipes, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But that was before I read about the fiasco in April, when several recipes labeled as supposed “family favorites” appeared on the McCain campaign website. These turned out to have been ganked from the Food Network by a McCain intern, and were removed after numerous complaints.

Yes, it’s only a silly magazine poll, just a pleasant diversion designed to increase Family Circle’s readership. I doubt many people actually believe Cindy spends her Sunday afternoons baking cookies for her family. Still, I can’t help but wonder why she or her staff didn’t bother to double check sources for her cookie recipe in the wake of the previous debacle. It’s like they’re thinking, “those dumb housewives who read the magazine won’t know the difference.” Way to go! Insult the very people you’re trying to impress.

While Cindy got her hand caught in the cookie jar, Hillary Clinton has burned a batch or two. You may remember the flack she received right after Bill was elected governor of Arkansas, when she said she’d rather have a career than “stay at home and bake cookies.” She conveniently changed her tune in the 1992 presidential election, touting her chocolate chip recipe and passing out cookies to the super delegates in hopes of getting the housewife vote. Still, after this year’s historic campaign, she’s left no doubt that she’s one tough cookie.


I find it interesting how “political” cookies have become recently, how “vital” they are for a first lady’s resume. They can be used to put down homemakers and stay-at-home mothers, implying that such people have no brains for “real” careers — and yet a batch of cookies is quickly whipped up to garner votes. And who’s to say just because someone doesn’t bake cookies they don’t have family values or are the epitome of wholesomeness?

As for Michelle, she claims she got her recipe from Malia and Sasha’s godmother, freely admitting that she isn’t one to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s shortbread jazzed up with Amaretto, orange and lemon zest, and samples appeared on all the pillows of Democratic Conventioneers staying at the Denver Marriott City Center back in August. A nice touch, and a personalized recipe that was properly credited. Not so much to ask.

Voting is over for now, and Family Circle will announce the winner on November 1st. The online tally presently shows Cindy McCain in the lead (yikes)! These votes will be combined with mail-ins solicited by the print magazine.

Meanwhile, why not check out Presidential Cookies* by Bev Young (Presidential Publications, 2005)? It contains favorite cookie recipes from all our presidents and first ladies, with fascinating anecdotes about dining in the White House. I’m anxious to test Martha Washington’s jumbals, Mary Todd Lincoln’s gingerbread men, Nancy Reagan’s Vienna bars, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s honey drops.

No competition or spin. Just some tasty history appropriate for the whole family.

*For tempting photos and comments on all the presidential cookie recipes, visit this blog.

Come November, which way will the cookie crumble?

Egads, bring on the shortbread!!



“Recipegate” was first reported by The Huffington Post, which has published several pieces on the subject.

Cookie Contest photos from the website, which includes Family Circle magazine.

Hillary cartoon from Creators Syndicate.

12 thoughts on “you can’t have your cookie and eat it too

  1. That would be a cool book to add to an elementary library – presidential lessons right along with cooking (and cookies!). Your posts are a bright ray of sunshine in my day. 🙂


  2. Thanks so much for reading! If a book for kids about presidents’ food doesn’t yet exist, I would consider doing one myself. It’s fascinating information.


  3. Interesting post. I don’t know how I feel about the whole cookie thing. One the one hand, it’s kind of cool that we can find out what kind of cookies they like, but on the other hand, do they have to bake them? Or have an original recipe (as long as the source is properly cited, what does it matter – lots of people like the recipes on packages of chocolate chips, or oatmeal, or Hershey’s Kisses).
    I’ll have to look for the book. I think it would be interesting to try the cookies from back when people really did make cookies before they got to the White House (and then asked the chefs to make them).


  4. The blog I linked to will show you all the cookies in the book. The blogger decided to bake every recipe and then post about it — though it looks like she didn’t realize posting all the recipes along with her comments was a copyright violation.
    As for the cookie bake-off, they didn’t ask for anything original or required that the spouses actually baked them — just for a favorite. I think the objections to Cindy’s recipe was a direct result of her previous actions — of claiming that they were “family favorites” when they were clearly randomly selected by an intern. When her cookie recipe was submitted, everyone came with preconceived doubts.


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