In January 1960, a letter arrived at the White House in Washington.
It was for the president and contained a recipe for scones.
“Dear Mr. President”, it reads. “Seeing a picture of you in today’s newspaper standing in front of a barbecue grilling a quail reminded me that I had never sent you the drop scones recipe, which I gave you at Balmoral.
“Now, I hurry to do it, and I hope you find them successful.”
It was a letter from Queen to President Dwight Eisenhower. He was honoring a culinary promise he had made to him a year ago.
The informal, handwritten letter is a hint of a close relationship and perhaps a hint of what would become an enduring “special relationship” between Britain and America.
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As Queen, Elizabeth has met all but one of the American presidents since Eisenhower, but that was the one she had the closest bond with.
She was the wartime princess and Eisenhower was the wartime general, the supreme allied commander in Europe, who oversaw Operation Torch in North Africa and Operation Overlord (D-Day) in Northern France.
They had met and bonded during the war and after, in London and Balmoral.
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“It’s very moving because World War II was one of those conflicts that really binds people together,” President Susan Eisenhower’s granddaughter told me.
“You’re talking about the Supreme Allied Commander and the royal family, who really played an amazing role in inspiring Britain and the world during this very dangerous time,” he said. “This is where the special relationship begins in a serious sort of way.”
The search for this story allowed an indulgence in the video archives. The Queen’s first state visit to America in 1957 was an extraordinary sight.
The black and white film shows her as she approaches New York by boat. The skyline of the Manhattan skyscraper, still breathtaking today, must have been something truly extraordinary at the time.
The duct tape parade through Manhattan’s boulevards shows the remarkable enthusiasm this nation had for the British royal family.
“The way my grandparents chose to celebrate her first visit to the United States as Queen really underscored the intimacy of this friendship,” Ms. Eisenhower tells me.
Additional footage shows the Queen and Prince Philip along with President Eisenhower and the First Lady. They seem relaxed; the link is clear.
The First Lady insisted that the royal couple remain in the White House itself. Foreign dignitaries usually stay in nearby Blair House.
“The Queen’s Bedroom”
“My grandparents insisted that she be treated like a family guest, and she stayed in a room that was often used by out-of-town guests,” recalls Ms. Eisenhower.
“But my grandmother promptly dubbed it the queen’s bedroom and put it in a special category, actually, where only the most important guests to the president and first lady would allow anyone to stay.”
The special relationship, so often cited, grew from here and also through many presidencies.
It was the queen, not the politicians, who founded the transatlantic friendship. Politicians came and went. She was the constant.
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Watching how America marked his death last week was fascinating.
“I’m going to miss this woman very much. She’s so interesting. I know all Americans think so, but she’s really been kind of a queen to us all and a real North Star for us,” said Ms. Eisenhower.
More than 200 years after the United States declared its independence from the British crown, Americans remain particularly attached to Britain and its royal family.
Wall to wall cover
The cable news networks have been wall-to-wall with their coverage; conductors shipped to London for nearly every show on every network.
The comment was not without an important critical analysis (not so obvious in the UK) – “Mourn the Queen, not her Empire” was the New York Times headline on the day of her death.
But overall, the most heated reflections have been warm and suggest that many in this nation adored the woman she was and found a sympathetic curiosity about the institution she represented.
This is, after all, the nation that invented the Disney Princess and licked Downton Abbey and The Crown. The passage of the real deal would always have a huge impact on this side of the pond.
More seriously, however, I feel an envy among Americans. For decades, they have observed a queen providing unity, an apolitical focal figure in society of a kind they don’t have.
So what now? How will the special relationship develop?
In his reflections, President Biden stressed the “constancy” of the queen. He anchored the relationship.
President Bill Clinton once remarked that the Queen had the qualities of a politician and a diplomat, but the ability to never seem quite. Can the same be said for King Charles?
King Charles she doesn’t have the queen’s affinity for America, and Prime Minister Liz Truss hasn’t (yet) recognized the special relationship the way those before her did.
So what was the secret of the scones?
As for the cooking tips, will more recipes be shared between royalty and presidents? We will see. But here, for posterity, are the Queen’s scone drops pointing to a president.
“I generally use less flour and milk, but use the other ingredients as directed,” wrote the queen.
“I’ve also tried using gold syrup or molasses instead of just sugar, and I think that too can be very good. I think the mixture needs a lot of stirring during preparation and shouldn’t stay too long before the cooking “.