The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


The White House at Christmas: Every kind of food and decoration that grows


Decorating the White House for Christmas and entertaining official Washington during the month of December has long been a tradition and a job for presidents, but this year there are a few agriculturally-oriented angles that are befitting for First Lady Michelle Obama, whose kitchen garden has become world-famous.

In the Green Room are two trees decorated with tiny glass terrarium ornaments filled with soil and succulent plants. The traditional model of the White House in gingerbread has been covered with speckled decorative bread dough. On a tree paying tribute to former first ladies, Rosalynn Carter is represented by a peanut decoration.

More than 90,000 people toured the White House in December, and President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama entertained Congress, the media and other officials at 24 holiday receptions attended by 14,000 people.

The photos in this essay were taken by Jerry Hagstrom and Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama at a December 1 tour and the December 5 reception for the print media.

Green grow the Green Room ornaments

GreenRoom Trees in the White House Green Room are appropriately decorated with green ornaments:
mini terrariums with live succulents. (Eddie Gehman Kohan / Obama Foodorama)

The Green Room trees feature terrariums in round and tear-drop-shaped ornaments.
Each features a live succulent plant and a tiny tableau.

03_XmasTerrarium1 08_XmasTerrarium1



One group of White House trees remembers former first ladies with special ornaments.
This golden ornament recalls Rosalynn Carter, wife of presidential peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.

Masterpieces in marzipan


This year's gingerbread White House took more than six weeks to create, and features a covering of speckled decorative bread dough. The columns are made of white chocolate. The outsize replica of Bo, the dog, is marzipan over gum paste, and his “fur” is sprayed on with a tiny air brush after being molded into shape.


In addition to the gingerbread White House, the displays this year included a replica of the White House kitchen garden, made mostly from marizpan with chocolate for the boxed beds and dirt, vegetable bed signs and stepping stones. The hoop houses that the White House puts up for winter — and that Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan promotes as a way for vegetable farmers in cold climates to grow produce in winter — are made of fondant, an icing-base made of sugar and water, and gum paste to hold it all together. The beehive, right, is marzipan over gum paste also.

Grand spreads


The Obamas served turkey, ham and beef tenderloin on the holiday buffets. Beef has been the Obamas’ preferred meat for state dinners and other special occasions. The Obamas have served beef at every state dinner except at one that was vegetarian and another at which bison was served. The Obamas also served dry aged rib eye for their annual White House dinners for the governors of the 50 states and at a dinner for members of the armed services that was billed as “A Nation's Gratitude Dinner.” President Obama chose steak for “good luck” dinners before his second and third presidential debates, and the Obamas had steak for their 20th wedding anniversary dinner, Obama Foodorama reported. Note that even though the Obama administration unsuccessfully tried to limit white potato servings in school meals, potatoes were on the holiday buffet table.


The dairy industry plus fruit and nut growers were all well represented (above left). Six cheeses were presented in a tableau on the end of the dinner buffet tables: Saint-André, Chevre, Tomme, Brie, Grayson, and White Cheddar. The large wheel of Saint-André was surrounded by Medjool dates. Dried apricots and raisins, fresh cherries, strawberries and green and red grapes were placed in between the rows of cheese. Glass canisters of spiced walnuts, Mercona almonds, and basil and cherry tomatoes were beside the cheese.

The sugar industry, of course, was not left out on the holiday spread (above right). In addition to the special cookies made for the White House holiday parties, the pastry chefs this year have also made special cakes to be given to the Obamas’ guests. When the family hosted the Oregon State men’s basketball team for Thanksgiving, dessert was a special cake with tiny basketballs, Obama Foodorama has reported.