New Supreme Court cookbook dishes up history, recipes

By , on December 18, 2017


At Christmastime, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor would send her colleagues gift-wrapped packages of homemade beef jerky from her family's cattle ranch in Arizona. Her colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg pronounced it “very spicy.” (Photo:  Supreme Court Historical Society/Facebook)
At Christmastime, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would send her colleagues gift-wrapped packages of homemade beef jerky from her family’s cattle ranch in Arizona. Her colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg pronounced it “very spicy.” (Photo: Supreme Court Historical Society/Facebook)

WASHINGTON—At Christmastime, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would send her colleagues gift-wrapped packages of homemade beef jerky from her family’s cattle ranch in Arizona. Her colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg pronounced it “very spicy.”

Now, home chefs can try making their own, with guidance from O’Connor’s supplier, her brother. His jerky-making instructions, minus the family’s secret sauce, are part of a new book on the Supreme Court’s food traditions. “Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes,” out this month, is part history book, part cookbook. It includes more than three dozen recipes associated with justices and their families.

“Food in good company has sustained Supreme Court Justices through the ages,” Ginsburg writes in the book’s forward.

Food is a way the court’s nine justices connect. There are welcome dinners for new justices and retirement dinners for those who are departing. O’Connor, the court’s first female justice, revived a tradition of the justices regularly eating lunch together. And when a justice has a birthday, there is wine, a toast and the singing of “Happy Birthday,” a tradition begun by Chief Justice Warren Burger, who led the court in the 1970s and ’80s.

Clare Cushman, the book’s author, says her offering is in part a response to visitors asking at the Supreme Court’s gift shop whether the court had a cookbook. The White House visitor centre’s gift shop has several books on food and entertaining, and some tourists expected the court would too, said Cushman, the Supreme Court Historical Society’s director of publications. So, for a decade, when Cushman came across a recipe or a food anecdote with a link to a justice, she’d put it in a folder.

“The more I researched the more I realized that this was a really substantial topic and that it wasn’t going to be fluffy or ridiculous to ask these extremely distinguished judges questions like: What are your favourite foods and what do you eat for lunch?” Cushman said.

Cushman said that to research the book she, with help from Supreme Court curator Catherine Fitts, contacted 35 families of justices to ask for recipes and family food stories. The results include instructions for the pineapple and coconut cake Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s wife baked annually for his birthday. Maureen Scalia, the wife of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the first Italian-American to serve on the court, contributed a pasta sauce recipe.

Louise Gorsuch, the English-born wife of Justice Neil Gorsuch, shared her marmalade recipe. Gorsuch, the court’s newest member, by tradition serves on the committee that oversees the court’s public cafeteria.

Readers also learn about the justices’ food habits. The first chief justice, John Jay, liked oysters for breakfast. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. brought his lunch in a tin ammunition box. And Justice John Paul Stevens’ regular lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off.

Some of the photos accompanying the text have never been published before. There are pictures of justices eating together and pictures of birthday cakes served to the justices. There’s a picture of justices preparing to eat a 28-pound salmon that Justice Stephen Breyer caught in Alaska and of Sonia Sotomayor serving homemade Chinese food long before she became a justice.

“For me, eating is sacred. You should not waste a meal, and so it can be simple and healthy but it has to be tasty,” Sotomayor said during a 2016 event on the Supreme Court’s food traditions at the National Museum of American History, an event that helped spur the book’s creation.

The book has stories from the court’s early history, too. It describes how in the early 1800s, the justices lived and ate together at a boarding house. Justice Joseph Story reported they drank wine, but only when it was raining. If he looked out the window and the sun was shining, he was sometimes told “it must be raining somewhere.”

In the late 1800s, when arguments were scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. with no break for lunch, the justices would step away individually or in pairs to eat at small tables behind the bench, the rattle of their knives and forks audible to spectators.

The book is not the first associated with food and the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband, Martin Ginsburg was a talented chef. After his death in 2011, a book of his recipes, called “Chef Supreme,” was compiled as a tribute.

Now, both books are available online through the Supreme Court Historical Society’s website and at the court’s gift shop.