On Pancakes

President Coolidge’s pancake breakfasts were a trademark of his five and a half years in the White House.  As a frequent visitor of the kitchen, he expected much from the housekeeper, Miss Riley. Her papers, kept by the Vermont Historical Society, are well worth renewed interest and study. The President, long the conscientious manager of household expenses, approached the White House no differently. He understood that the best results did not come from costly purchases or elaborate meals. Yet, as long-time Washington journalist Frances Parkinson Keyes notes, “the general atmosphere of state receptions was never more brilliant than when the Coolidges were in the White House” (Capital Kaleidoscope, p.132-3).

He never forgot he was just the man who lived temporarily on the third floor. Regarding himself no better than any of his fellow White House tenants, he once went to the housekeeper’s office to have a word with Miss Riley about the pancakes. Holding the dainty cake carefully between his thumb and index finger he wanted to know, “Why can’t I have big ones like they have down downstairs?” Ishbel Ross, in her book Grace Coolidge and Her Era, notes how the kitchen staff saved time by making their cakes as large as dinner plates (p.104). The President saw no reason why any exception should be made for him. He expected thrift not only in public money but also in the use of time.


This Calvin and Hobbes strip by Bill Watterson printed August 1986 humorously illustrates the attitude of economy when it comes to pancakes. It may have amused President Coolidge to see this duo’s attempt at thrift when it came to making breakfast.

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