Recipe: Skinny President Lincoln’s Lemon Cake

a chocolate cake

I am in a baking mood today.  I just took a Zucchini Chocolate Spice cake out of the oven, (recipe on this blog). After it cools I will cut the cake layers in half and make a four layer cake frosted with chocolate buttercream frosting.  There are chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven as I type and I still have grate and freeze two more large zucchini.  Then, too, I still have supper to make, which will be Sloppy Joe sandwiches made with ground beef and served with Coleslaw with Lemon Dressing, (recipe on this blog).

Chocolate Cake whether it is the recipe for Boiled Chocolate cake (recipe on this blog), or the cake that just came out of my oven is probably my husband’s favorite dessert. After 37 years of marriage, and me baking for him all of that time, my husband still weighs almost exactly what he did when we were first married…210 pounds.  His tall lean six foot, four inch frame burns calories very efficiently and, yes, this plump little woman is envious of his God given gift.

My husband’s height is the same as one of our nation’s most famous and highly respected presidents Abraham Lincoln.  Known for his tall almost emaciated appearance Lincoln in his youth was known to enjoy a good appetite.  His cousin, John Hanks, after residing with the Lincoln’s for over four years, recalled that Abe was a good eater and loved tasty food. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, was quoted as saying Abe always ate anything and everything she put in front of him.

         Lincoln before his presidency.

Wild game was a primary dietary protein served to young Abe.  As he matured his diet evolved as his family’s lifestyle improved.  Produce from gardens, orchards and fields were welcome additions to the wild berries, nuts and edible plants foraged from the woods in those early years.

lincoln birth place                                        The Kentucky cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born. 

Several years ago I had the privilege to travel to the state of Illinois. One of the sites we visited was the Lincoln family homestead in Coles County.  I remember being surprised by two things as I stood in the kitchen of that log cabin.  First, as rudimentary and poor as that homestead was there was processed sugar in that kitchen along with natural sweeteners like honey, sorghum and maple syrup.  Secondly, there were many more spices than I had expected.

Lincoln family homestead in Coles County. The first picture is the original cabin and the second is of the reconstructed cabin that now stands on that historic site. 

Whether through bartering or trading neighbors shared garden and spice seeds with each other.  As the populations grew, traveling traders brought new spices and foods into backwater communities like those Lincoln called home in his youth.  Inventories at frontier stores were more diverse than one would think.  Their customers had access to specialty foods like fresh oysters and a variety of fresh fruit including citrus fruits. Food on the American frontier was not as bland or monotonous as I had assumed.

Lincoln Cabin Cole's county kitchen                            Reconstructed kitchen in the Lincoln Home in Coles County, Illinois, 

While always lean by the time Lincoln entered the White House, after his inauguration in 1861, the robust log-splitter was thin to the point of emaciation.  His 6 foot 4 inch frame weighed only 180 pounds.

Lincoln aged a lot during his just over four years as president.  The daily stress of being president during our nation’s bloody Civil War is unimaginable and obviously affected his appetite and health. The first picture was taken during his first term and the second, with his youngest son Tad, was taken shortly before his assassination at the beginning of his second term in office. 

There are many accounts of Lincoln’s poor eating habits while he was Commander and Chief. Whether it was his wife Mary, staff, political associates, friends or his children, Lincoln chronically had to be reminded to eat.

Then, too, his eating habits were remarkably light for so large of a man. John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary noted that the president’s routine breakfast consisted of an egg, toast and coffee. Oftentimes he would forget to eat breakfast until after noon. Lunch often was a biscuit, glass of milk and seasonal fruit.

Lincoln's white house
                                    How the White House looked when Lincoln was president. 

Lincoln’s wife Mary was known for many things, many of which were unpleasant, but her cooking skills were above reproach.  Somehow she managed to earn a reputation as difficult person while at the same time being acknowledged as excellent hostess and homemaker.

Mary Lincoln as First Lady.  The Lincoln’s Springfield, Illinois home as it was during their lifetime. Lincoln is actually in this picture. The actual stove in their home that Mary used to make her prairie lawyer and politician husband’s meals. 

The food that was served to Abraham Lincoln changed greatly over his lifetime.  Whether it was meager and wild fare served in primitive log cabins or sumptuous banquets at the White House, Abraham Lincoln was always appreciative and thankful for the meals set before him.

East Room of the White House during the Lincoln Administration.  This is where they would have entertained their guests. 

Below is the menu for a White House Party hosted by the Lincoln’s on February 5, 1862.
                                               Menu for White House Party

Stewed Oysters                                                          Charlotte Russe, a’ la Parisenne           
Scalloped Oysters                                                      Chateaubriand
Boned Turkey                                                              Chocolate Bavarian
Pate’de Foie Gras                                                       Jelly Compettes
Aspic of Torgul                                                            Fruit Glace’
Patti-Gillets, a’ la Fanisanz                                    Bon-Bons
Chicken Salad a’ la Parisenne                                Orange Glace’                         
Filet of Beef                                                                  Biscuit Glace’               
Stuffed Turkey with Truffles                                   Fancy Cakes
Quails                                                                             Sandwiches
Canvas Back Duck                                                      Fruit and Grapes

One of my favorite cookbooks is, “Lincoln’s Table a President’s Culinary Journey from Cabin to Cosmopolitan.”  This book contains recipes that were known to have been served to Abraham Lincoln and takes the reader on a historical culinary journey beginning in 1809 with a recipe for Knob Creek Corn Cakes and ending with President Lincoln’s last meal of hastily consumed cold meat and potatoes before heading off to meet an assassin’s bullet at Ford’s Theater on April 13, 1865.

Lincoln cookbook

Many of the recipes in this cookbook are Mary Lincoln’s.  Including her “Courting Cake” and “Southern Lemon Cake recipes.  Lemon cake is a fresh tasting great summer dessert. I have made this lemon cake and it is outstanding.

Mary Lincoln’s Southern Lemon Cake


3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 35o degrees.

Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar.  In a separate small dish, lightly beat egg yolks, add to butter and sugar mixture. Add lemon extract and beat until combined.

In a medium-sized separate mixing bowl, sift dry ingredients together.

Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to the creamed butter and sugar mixture.  Beat until well combined.

In a medium-sized glass or stainless steel mixing bowl beat egg whites until stiff.  Gently, fold beaten egg whites into cake batter.  When completely combined…there are no more egg white streaks in your batter.  Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans and cool completely.

Lemon Filling:

1 cup of sugar
3 Tablespoons of corn starch
1 cup of boiling water
2 eggs
Juice of 2 large lemons
2 Tablespoons butter

In a medium-sized sauce pan mix sugar and corn starch together.  Gradually add boiling water.

In a separate small dish beat eggs well. Add to sugar mixture.  Add lemon juice and butter. Cook over low-medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens. This will take about five minutes.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 lemon, juice and zest of (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine butter, sugar and salt and beat till well combined.
Add lemon juice and vanilla and continue to beat for another 3 to 5 minutes or until creamy. Fold in zest

Arrange cake layers on a serving plate.  Spread the lemon filling between the cake layers. Reserve about two tablespoons of filling for garnish on top of the cake.  Use buttercream frosting for the top and sides of the cake.  Plop the remaining lemon filling on the top center of frosted cake for garnish.  Enjoy!





3 thoughts on “Recipe: Skinny President Lincoln’s Lemon Cake

  1. That is all so interesting! I always assumed Lincoln had no interest in food. I actually pinned this to try sometime soon! Thank you!


  2. Reblogged this on The Swedish Farmer's Daughter and commented:

    Well, in a couple of days it will again be….Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His life was like a great theatrical tragedy from start to finish. At his greatest moment of happiness, and personal and political triumph, John Wilkes Booth ended his life with a bullet to the head, in a dark theater on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

    This recipe for Lemon Cake was one of his wife Mary’s specialties and his favorites.


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