New Supreme Court cookbook dishes up history, recipes

At Christmas time, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor would send her colleagues gift-wrapped packages of homemade beef jerky.
New Supreme Court cookbook dishes up history, recipes

Clare Cushman, director of publications at the Supreme Court Historical Society, is the author of “Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes.”

At Christmas time, 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, said 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 center’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 favorite 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.

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 through the Supreme Court Historical Society’s website ( and at the court’s gift shop.

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