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November 14, 2012

At a White House Thanksgiving, tradition is a presidential thing

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Along with the traditional items, Allman almost always served persimmon pudding, using a recipe from Carolyn Deaver, the wife of Reagan's deputy chief of staff, Michael Deaver. And there would be a Reagan favorite called monkey bread, a sticky glob of dough segments smushed together in a Bundt pan. Always red wine, too, a logical choice for the former governor of America's biggest winemaking state. "My father got a lot of people drinking red wine," Michael Reagan says.

And even though Reagan once famously sliced his finger with a carving knife, family tradition dictated that the president would carve the turkey with an electric knife, telling stories and Irish blessings all the while, Michael Reagan says. No political chatter allowed.

The president, as ever, got to do and got to eat what the president wanted, a lesson anyone who cooks for or serves the nation's chief executive learns at his or her peril.

Walter Scheib thought he had created a masterpiece when he crafted a sophisticated Thanksgiving menu with dozens of items to show first lady Hillary Clinton. She reviewed it approvingly, but then looked up and asked, "Where's the white-bread stuffing?" Scheib recalls.

He stammered something about all the lovely stuffings he planned: oyster, corn bread.

"All that's fine," Scheib recalls her responding. "But if next year, there's no Pepperidge Farm white-bread stuffing, you're fired." She said it with a smile. But Scheib couldn't help but think she was only half joking.

By then he was getting accustomed to dialing down the fanciness. While working in George W. Bush's kitchen, Scheib showed first lady Laura Bush a 60-year-old balsamic vinegar. "This stuff was like juice from heaven," Scheib says. The first lady, whose husband was known for his simple tastes and who cultivated a guy-you'd-wanna-have-a-beer-with persona during his campaigns, was having none of it. "We can lose the pretense," Scheib recalls her telling him. So much for heaven juice making it onto a Bush holiday table.

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