How to Make Presidential Squirrel Soup

James A. Garfield is the only president who was elected while a member of the House. He also had a recipe should we need to go back to eating squirrels.

02.28.16 12:17 PM ET

President 20: James A Garfield March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881

We are channeling our inner survivor man this week. Food is all around us and in case of a zombie apocalypse, it is worth knowing the nuts and berries we can eat to tied us over when our twinkie reserves are gone.  Those days when we need protein? No problem. We always have squirrels. Yes, squirrels.  In fact, eating these little neighborhood critters is as old as America itself. During colonial times, Westward expansion, and depressions, folks ate what they could get a hold of and there were forests full of them. President Garfield, who had access to every protein under the sun, claimed squirrel soup was his favorite delicacy. 

Outside of squirrel, Garfield’s tastes were simple: he loved milk and bread. He overcame dysentery during the Civil War but the tummy troubles never truly left him. Without the luxury of Pepto, the President had to monitor his diet with no cheat days. He drank glass upon glass of milk. A cow was even sent from Baltimore and tied up in the White House lawn to supply the fresh stuff to him as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in the White House. As far as his food hates: oatmeal came in as number one.  When the President heard Indian leader Sitting Bull was on hunger strike in jail he said, ‘Let him starve.’ Then he thought for a moment and said, ‘Oh no, send him my oatmeal.” His wife, Lucretia or “Crete” as she was nicknamed, was adamant he ate it and was dedicated to providing the family “an abundance of wholesome, nutritous food with good coffee and tea” in her home. 

The Garfields were from Ohio and he is the only President to be elected as a sitting member of the House of Representatives. In September of his first year in office, President Garfield stepped out on to the platform at the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station in Washington for some fresh air and was shot twice, leaving him in critical condition and ultimately, dead. The shooter was Charles Guiteau, a disturbed man whose had tried and failed at every career in the book. Guiteau had turned his focus to politics, writing rambling speeches that he was convinced helped Garfield win the close election. He traveled to Washington in search of the political appointment he felt he deserved (he’d settle for Paris he told the President) and when turned away, he stalked then shot Garfield.  The President, wounded, lay in the White House until he was taken to the Jersey Shore to be with Crete. Doctors are sure the President would have made a full recovery in modern times. 

President Garfields' favorite meal of squirrel soup and a glass of milk.

Ailsa von Dobeneck

President Garfields' favorite meal of squirrel soup and a glass of milk.

SQUIRREL SOUP. From the Original White House cookbook 1887

Now when it came to sourcing the meat for this week, I had to resort to chasing after rogue squirrels on Capitol Hill. The tourists make it look so easy, taking pictures with them with their selfie sticks but don’t be fooled, they are lightning speed.  To be fair this was a desperate insincere attempt after calling almost every butcher in DC left me empty handed. Some thought I was prank calling from a radio show, and when I convinced them my intention was genuine, let out horrified gasps. So I researched and begrudgingly substituted the squirrel for a rabbit. Much more easily accessible, it has a more gamey quality but is quite similar in texture. I did find some sites that will ship you a squirrel at 100 bucks each but for those unwilling to shell out the big bucks and too slow to catch one, this is a gorgeous alternative. 

Wash and quarter three or four good sized squirrels; put them on, with a small tablespoonful of salt, directly after breakfast, in a gallon of cold water. Cover the pot close, and set it on the back part of the stove to simmer gently, not boil. Add vegetables just the same as you do in case of other meat soups in the summer season, but especially good will you find corn, Irish potatoes, tomatoes and Lima beans. Strain the soup through a coarse colander when the meat has boiled to shreds, so as to get rid of the squirrels' troublesome little bones. Then return to the pot, and after boiling a while longer, thicken with a piece of butter rubbed in flour. Celery and parsley leaves chopped up are also considered an improvement by many. Toast two slices of bread, cut them into dice one-half inch square, fry them in butter, put them into the bottom of your tureen, and then pour the soup boiling hot upon them. Very good.


The substitution of the rabbit (x1) doesn’t change much in terms of cooking as it is also a very lean meat. It also needs to be cooked low and slow.  Cook 8 hours on low in a crockpot for best results. Add the veg half way through. Strain and remove bones as instructed above.

Add whatever seasonal vegetables you would like. I added swiss chard for a bit more substance.