Egg Dishes

When Spinach almost brought down the White House!

Florentine 4 croppedSince discovering a certain secret about the U.S. White House, I’ve never been able to look at spinach again without chuckling to myself. It turns out that spinach, the most noble of vegetables, created such tension and scandal under Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930’s, that it almost brought down the White House!

In fact, the situation got so bad that national headlines blared, ” FDR DEMANDS NEW DEAL – REFUSES SPINACH- CRISIS STRIKES.” FDR was furious when he read this, but who was the cause of this disaster? It was Henrietta Nesbitt, the White House’s head housekeeper.

Henrietta was hired by Eleanor Roosevelt to plan and supervise all meals at the White House, but what ensued was less than desirable. The President and guests complained that the “soup was watery” and that the salads were frequently filled with chunks of marshmallows and canned fruit. Eleanor herself complained one night that the “peas were as hard as bullets” and it was common knowledge that guests invited for dinner at the White House would frequently dine before arriving in anticipation of ‘ghastly repasts.’

Mrs Nesbitt brushed aside these criticisms, saying that the President was only “having one of his tizzy-wizzies.” Heaven only knows why Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t fire Mrs Nesbitt earlier, but she was finally replaced when the new First Lady, Bess Truman, took over in 1945 (Henrietta was fired for insolence when she refused to let Mrs Truman bring a stick of butter to her bridge club’s pot luck luncheon).

So, why am I telling you all of this? To try to restore Spinach’s honor and present a dish that might have pleased President Roosevelt- Eggs Florentine. This is a French dish with a poached egg served on toast with spinach and topped with a creamy Hollandaise sauce. ‘Simple but tasty elegance’ could be used to describe this dish, and we can guess that even Lady Astor would have been pleased as a White House dinner guest.

Most recipes for Eggs Florentine call for the spinach to be thoroughly cooked, but I only steamed mine for one minute to retain the texture. I’ve also placed my spinach and egg on top of a piece of toasted bread, although you could also use an English muffin.

Here’s to the memory of Mrs Henrietta Nesbitt!  


Eggs Florentine
Serves 4
A soft poached egg served on top of a bed of spinach and topped with a creamy Hollandaise sauce (FDR will thank you)!
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  1. 4 rashers of thin bacon, coursely chopped
  2. 1 bag of fresh Baby Spinach (6 oz or 170 g)
  3. 4 pieces of toasted bread or English muffin halves
  4. ¼ tsp salt
  5. ¾ cup (6 oz) unsalted butter, melted
For the Hollandaise sauce
  1. 1 tbsp lemon juice
  2. 2 tbsp water
  3. 3 egg yolks
  4. ¼ tsp salt
  5. ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
  1. Cook the bacon rashers until crisp, using the microwave or cooked on the stove top. Let cool and chop coarsely.
  2. For the Hollandaise sauce: combine the lemon juice, water and salt in a medium-sized bowl or pan. Add the egg yolks and set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, being careful not to let the bowl touch the water. Whisk the ingredients vigorously until the mixture starts to thicken and ‘ribbons’ begin to appear on the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat and gradually add the melted butter while continually whisking - continue until the mixture thickens and then set aside.
  4. Steam the spinach for about one minute or longer until it reaches the desired texture (I used a steamer basket or you could boil the spinach in salted water).
  5. To assemble the dish, place a piece of toast or English muffin half on a plate, top with a layer of spinach and one poached egg, then pour several tablespoons of Hollandaise sauce on top. Top with some ground black pepper and sprinkle the bacon bits around the plate.
G'day Soufflé

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  • Reply
    [email protected] Riffs
    January 22, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Fun story — I hadn’t heard that. And I like my spinach lightly cooked too. My mom used to cook it to death when I was a kid, so I never thought I liked spinach. But raw or lightly cooked? It’s wonderful! Good recipe — thanks.
    [email protected] Riffs recently posted…Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef BrisketMy Profile

    • Reply
      January 23, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment, John. I used to dislike spinach in primary school- I used to eat in the school cafeteria and they made us eat all the spinach on the plate. Now I actually like it!
      Fran recently posted…When Spinach almost brought down the White House!My Profile

  • Reply
    Gourmet Getaways
    January 22, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Hehe, what a “tizzy-wizzy” anecdote ;P. What was Henrietta thinking all that while?! Thanks, Eggs Florentine goes into the cook notebooks!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx
    Gourmet Getaways recently posted…Picnic Time – Baba GanoushMy Profile

  • Reply
    January 22, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Hello Fran! I ADORE this dish. It is a breakfast of champions and I can never resist a soft poached egg with hollandaise. Although I am not great at making the sauce….you make it sound simple but I have failed many times! I would eat a double portion of this in a flash 🙂 xxx
    Anneli recently posted…Incredible Twisted, Meat Free, LeftoversMy Profile

  • Reply
    Kate @
    January 24, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    That’s an interesting story! This recipe looks delicious… and spinach that’s juuuust slightly wilted/steamed is the best.
    Kate @ recently posted…Oatmeal Craisin Pecan CookiesMy Profile

  • Reply
    January 27, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Hmmm interesting story, although I think Mrs Henrietta Nesbitt was trying her best.. poor lady :). Thanks for the recipe and the story.
    Amira recently posted…Foul- ful- medamesMy Profile

  • Reply
    Amanda (@lambsearshoney)
    January 27, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I had heard about FDR’s cook before and, like you, wondered why they put up with her. I think a good dollop of Hollandaise improves just about anything!
    Amanda (@lambsearshoney) recently posted…Noumea – Relaxed & Very CasualMy Profile

  • Reply
    Kumar's Kitchen
    January 29, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    this is a beautiful dish…so elegant,pretty to look at with that sunny sauce over poached egg….must taste out of the world…thanks for inspiring 🙂
    Kumar’s Kitchen recently posted…Our Simple Thursday Kitchen : Soft & Yummy Steamed Sandesh 🙂My Profile

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