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November 14, 2012

At a White House Thanksgiving, tradition is a presidential thing

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Yet this is also a family not afraid of the occasional indulgence. Remember those presidential burger runs to Five Guys and Ray's Hell Burger? Their Thanksgiving menu takes that tendency into account during the dessert course with not one or two, but six pies. Huckleberry? Okay, not so traditional. But each Thanksgiving, those helpful, anonymous White House sources remind us that the president's favorite is the most traditional of all: pumpkin.

The details of the Obamas' private family gathering are treated with a delicacy approaching the handling of national security secrets. One drizzles out, though. William Yosses, the White House executive pastry chef, confides that the president's favored pie is jazzed up by some acorn squash to give it a dash of color and complexity — a far cry from the canned pumpkin pie that Yosses' mother made when he was a child. Last year, Yosses used a sugar pumpkin, a variety that is smaller and has a firmer flesh than the bulky varieties most often turned into Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

It's a comforting notion, our president liking best what we like best on a national holiday that officially dates back to the "day of Thanksgiving" declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. But it lacks the flair of, say, George W. Bush, who sometimes sat down on Thanksgiving Day to an out-of-context Morelia-style gazpacho, or William Howard Taft, the portly 27th president with the bushy mustache and the adventurous palate.

Taft's Thanksgiving turkeys competed for attention on his holiday tables with chubby Georgia possums, each with a potato stuffed in its mouth. Taft was a Cincinnatian by birth but a Southerner in his tastes, the newspaper accounts of the day noted. His Thanksgiving meal in 1910, thusly, was prepared by three cooks, "all Negro women, the very best of southern culinary artists," the Detroit Free-Press observed. Sadly, the names of these artistes do not appear, this being long before the era of White House chefs appearing on "Iron Chef America" and becoming nationally recognized advocates for healthful cuisine.

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