Someday let me give you my recipe for oatmeal meat. I thought it was a luxury when I was a kid." _President Reagan, June 28 News Conference

President Reagan let them eat veal during the round of White House parties early in his administration, and ever since has been trying to live down the image of the rich man's president. His latest initiative, however, has left at least his hometown confused.

After his news conference Tuesday, calls came in seeking Reagan's recipe, the Depression dish of his mother, Nelle Reagan. The White House doesn't have the recipe, though, and a quick telephone survey of Illinois, where Reagan spent his early years, failed to uncover anything about oatmeal meat. Hal Roberts of Dixon, Ill., Reagan's boyhood home, knew the Reagans back then, but the dish is a mystery to him: "You pulled one out of the hat on me there," he said, and couldn't think of anybody else who might know about the stuff.

Twenty-six miles away in Tampico, where Reagan was born, Helen Nicely, who owns the Reagan birthplace and installed a small museum in it, said, "I never heard of oatmeal meat. I don't know what it is." Is she going to put oatmeal in the Reagan birthplace museum? "I may now."

The best guess about oatmeal meat comes from Carmen Walgrave, Whiteside County, Ill., senior extension adviser for home economics, who checked with the Tampico Chamber of Commerce and the town's restaurant, The Dutch Diner, but came up with nothing definitive. It was probably a meatless meatball common in the Depression, she suggested. Spoonfuls of cold cooked oatmeal were rolled in soda cracker crumbs and fried in a small amount of fat until browned, then eaten warm. For variety the oatmeal was formed into a loaf and sliced, then fried like mush.

Whatever the dish, Reagan doesn't eat it in the White House. According to First Family Chef Frank Ruta, who cooks the Reagans' breakfast, the President hasn't had oatmeal since he arrived, "Never, for anything."