"MAMIE AND I HAD THE BEST STEAKS THE OTHER EVENING THAT I CAN REMEMBER": WONDERFUL 1958 TYPED LETTER INITIALED BY DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, THANKING HIS CORRESPONDENT FOR STEAKS FROM CHICAGO AND OFFERING EIGHT PARAGRAPHS OF ADVICE ON HOW TO PROPERLY COOK A STEAK
EISENHOWER, Dwight D. Typed letter initialed. Washingon, May 6, 1958. Two sheets of pale green White House stationery, each measuring 7 by 10-1/2 inches; pp. 2. $2000.
Exceptional and lengthy typed letter, initialed by Eisenhower, to Eisenhower's friend, golf partner, and Republican fundraiser, Barry Leithead, concerning the proper cooking of steaks, written in response to Leithead's gift of Chicago steaks.
The letter, typed on White House stationery to Eisenhower's friend, golf partner, and major fundraiser, Barry Leithead, initialed by Eisenhower and with an underline in his hand, reads in full: "May 6, 1958. Dear Barry: I have delayed giving you my personal opinion about the excellence of the steaks you sent to me from Chicago, primarily because I wanted at the same time to answer a question you posed, 'How do you cook good meat, especially this particular type of steak, to avoid ruining it?' In my opinion the first requirement is a meat thermometer and the second is the avoidance of 'excessive' heat. The adjective excessive is a variable one. For some cuts and under particular conditions a very considerable heat is quite satisfactory, but by and large most people use too much. As a general rule the thicker the steak, the greater the distance it should be from the broiler. In the present instance I had them bring the rack in the oven down to the point where the top surface of the steak was at least 7 inches below the broiler (I personally think it could have been 8 inches without hurting it). The broiler was turned on full, and the temperature of the oven itself should not show anything over 300 degrees. The thermometer should be inserted into the steak from the heavy end, with the point of the thermometer reaching as near to the middle of the steak as you can gauge. The exact temperature of the interior of the steak at the time of its removal from the oven is a matter from the individual taste. One hundred and forty degrees is normally stated as rare. I personally take off steaks or roasts as the pointer is passing the 130 mark. As usual, when you take a steak off, salt and pepper it—but I do not think with steaks of this excellence you need to put any butter over them. Under separate cover I am sending you a meat thermometer. While it is not exactly the same type as I have normally used, the instructions on the box and in the little booklet give you a perfectly good method of testing its accuracy. I trust this all works for you, because I assure you that Mamie and I had the best steaks the other evening that I can remember. With warm regard, As ever, D.E."
While the subject of this letter is unsurprising—Eisenhower was an avid and respected cook—the content is. Eisenhower was known for a grilling method that required cooking a steak directly on hot coals, a technique that produced what came to be known as "The Eisenhower Steak." Indeed, Eisenhower had a reputation for grilling steaks (generally strip steaks, thick and medium rare) on the White House balconies and at Camp David. In fact, his cooking instructions for "Outdoor Steak" reside at the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum. This letter, though, suggests an entirely different cooking method using the oven.
Both Mamie's and Dwight's recipes were often published in contemporary newspapers. While Mamie excelled at desserts, Ike was known for meatier fare. The Eisenhowers even released their own cookbook. Dwight, in particular, prided himself on his simple, Midwestern tastes. He golfed, painted, and made his own homemade meals in the White House kitchen. During his childhood, Eisenhower's mother took Sundays off, forcing her boys (all six of them) to become skilled cooks. The recipient of this letter, Barry Leithead, was the chairman of Cluett, Peabody & Co. shirtmakers. Leithead "was an avid golfer in four-somes that occasionally included President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A staunch Republican, he was named chairman of the New York State rally committee that raised nearly $1-million for President Eisenhower in Madison Square Garden in January, 1956" (New York Times). Eisenhower and Leithead carried on a frequent correspondence, particularly during Eisenhower's presidency. Their contacts were so frequent and politically meaningful that Leithead provided an oral history of his involvement in fundraising and Eisenhower's presidential campaigns to Columbia University. Leithead went on to work as an economics and banking advisor to President Nixon.
Original mailing creases. Fine condition.