Monday, June 29, 2015

Richard Nixon, Shark's Fin Soup, and a Sumptuous Banquet in the Great Hall of the People

During his historic visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1972, President Richard Nixon was honored with a sumptuous, eight-course banquet in the Great Hall of the People. Among the many traditional Chinese dishes that Nixon and his wife Patricia feasted upon were Sichuan Bamboo Shoots, Peking Duck, and Dark Stewed Prawns.

Shark’s Fin Soup was another delicacy featured on the menu. A popular item of Chinese cuisine since the Ming Dynasty, Shark's Fin Soup is often served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets. As a luxury item, the dish is also considered a symbol of wealth and prestige in Chinese culture. But because shark finning is required to make this dish, the practice is highly controversial. Animal rights activists have called the practice brutal and named it as a "primary contributing factor in the global decline of many shark species."

For his part, Nixon urged Congress to pass comprehensive endangered species legislation. Congress responded with unusual speed by passing the Endangered Species Act, which Nixon signed into law on December 28, 1973, eight months before resigning from office.

Although you probably don't want to make Shark's Fin Soup, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Asian Egg Drop Soup from simplyrecipes.com

3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups of chicken stock
1 tablespoon of corn starch
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
3/4 cup of straw, enoki, or sliced shitaki mushrooms

Reserve 1/2 cup of the stock and mix with the cornstarch until dissolved. Place the chicken stock, ginger, soy sauce, green onions, mushrooms and white pepper in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch and stock mixture and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer. Slowly pour in the beaten eggs while stirring the soup. The egg will spread out into ribbons. Turn off the heat and garnish with a few more chopped green onions. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gerald Ford, Watergate, and Golden Brown Waffles with Fresh Strawberries and Sour Cream

At approximately 12:05 p.m. on August 9, 1974, only moments after Richard Nixon officially resigned from the Office of the Presidency, Gerald Ford took the Oath of Office and delivered his first presidential remarks in the East Room of the White House. After pledging to be "the President of all the people" and reaffirming his belief that "honesty is always the best policy in the end," Ford turned his attention to the Watergate scandal and said:

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.


For the next four weeks, the new president enjoyed a high approval rating, partly because the Fords appeared to be such a normal, middle-class American family. Upon moving into the White House, Ford’s teenage daughter Susan vowed to never throw away her blue jeans. His wife Betty was down-to-earth and had a good sense of humor. And President Ford was even photographed "showing off his English-muffin-making skills" in the Family Kitchen at the White House.

Recalling Ford's fondness for English muffins and his other favorite breakfast foods, White House Chef Henry Haller wrote:

President Ford had a healthy appetite and simple tastes. For breakfast, the President usually consumed an energy rich, high carbohydrate meal that included freshly squeezed orange juice, a piece of fresh fruit such as melon, one or two toasted English muffins with margarine and jam, and hot tea.

Sunday breakfast was always a special meal in the Ford's home, however, with the President's favorite: Golden Brown Waffles served with "the works" - strawberries and sour cream.


If you'd like to make some of President Ford's favorite Golden Brown Waffles with Strawberries and Sour Cream for your next Sunday breakfast or brunch, here is the original recipe from The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller:

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspooon vaniall extract
3 egg yolks
5 tabllespoons melted butter
3 egg whites room tempertaure
1 pint fresh strawberrries, lightly dusted with sugar
1 pint sour cream

Into a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using the back of a wooden spoon, make a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine milk, vanialla, egg yolks, and melted butter. Pour rapidly into the center of the dry ingredients and combine quickly, using a whisk.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.
Transfer batter to a pitcher for easy pouring. Heat a waffle iron to medium temperature. Pour in batter until grid is two-thirds full. Close the lid of the waffle iron and bake for 4 minutes or until steam stops emerging and waffle is golden brown. Remove gently. Repeat baking process to make five more waffles. Serve hot, accompanied by bowls of sweetened strawberries and sour cream.

FAST FACT: Although President Ford initially enjoyed high approval ratings, the mood of the nation changed dramatically on September 8, 1974, when he granted Richard Nixon a full pardon for all federal crimes he had "committed or may have committed" in the White House. The response was “a tidal wave of criticism” which all but assured Ford’s defeat to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But, as time passed, critics began to see that Ford’s pardon was both noble and necessary to help the nation heal. In 1999, Bill Clinton conferred on Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Ford also received the Congressional Gold Medal and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in 2001.

Credit: President Gerald R. Ford, Oil on Canvas by Everett Raymond Kinstler, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Monday, June 22, 2015

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Luncheon

In November of 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most dramatic presidential elections in American history. Two and a half months later, on January 20, 1961, Kennedy was sworn in as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States and delivered his Inaugural Address on the terrace of the East Portico of the U.S. Capital. Near the end of his address, he famously said

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge – and more.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man...


After delivering his address, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were escorted to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol for the traditional inaugural luncheon. According to Senate historians, menu items included cream of tomato soup with crushed popcorn; deviled crab meat imperial; New England boiled stuffed lobster with drawn butter; prime Texas ribs of beef au jus; string beans amandine and broiled tomatoes with grapefruit and avocado sections with poppyseed dressing.

Although the traditional inaugural luncheon at the Capital dates back to 1897 when the Senate Committee on Arrangements hosted a luncheon for President McKinley and several other guests, it didn't begin in its current form until 1953 when President Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, and fifty other guests dined on creamed chicken, baked ham, and potato puffs in the Old Senate Chamber.

Since then, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has organized a luncheon celebration at fifteen Presidential Inaugurations. Often featuring cuisine reflecting the home states of the new president and vice president, as well as the theme of the Inauguration, the luncheon program includes speeches, gift presentations, and toasts to the new administration.

FOOD FACT: According to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum,  Kennedy preferred orange juice, poached eggs on toast, crisp broiled bacon, milk and coffee at breakfast. For lunch, he enjoyed all kinds of soup, especially New England Fish Chowder. As for dinner, there were no particular favorites, although it's been said that he liked lamb chops, steak, turkey, baked beans and mashed potatoes. He also enjoyed corn muffins, and, for dessert, if he had any, it would "likely be something prepared with chocolate." Biographers say that Kennedy was a light eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinnertime because "politics always took preference over food."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lyndon Johnson's Barbecue Diplomacy and a Brief History of Father's Day

It has been said that the origins of Father’s Day in the United States can be traced to a young woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Raised by her widowed father, a Civil War veteran who lost his wife after the birth of their sixth child, Sonora felt that her father should be honored in the same way that mothers were honored on Mother’s Day.

Toward that end, a small Father’s Day observance was held near Spokane on June 19, 1910. Although that celebration was a local affair, the idea of a national Father’s Day picked up momentum when it was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. But it would take another thirty years before Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1954. Then, in 1966, the first proclamation honoring fathers was issued by President Lyndon Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Today, of course, Americans celebrate Father's Day in a variety of ways, with perhaps the most traditional festivity being an old-fashioned, American-style barbecue. LBJ, of course, was well-known for hosting down-home, country barbecues at his beloved family ranch in Gillespie County, Texas.

And, of course, barbecuing has been used as a tool in American presidential campaigning for more than 150 years, but no politician used “the conviviality and informality of cooking and eating outdoors" more often than Johnson. In fact, his first State Dinner was a barbecue for 300 catered by Walter Jetton on December 29, 1963. According to historians:

When his staff realized it would be chilly that day, the sit-down part was moved indoors to Stonewall High School gymnasium, about two miles away. Workers did an admirable job of creating an outdoorsy feel with bales of hay, red lanterns, red-checkered table cloths, saddles, lassos, and mariachis. According to Lady Bird's diary, "there were pinto beans, delicious barbecued spareribs, cole slaw, followed by fried apricot pies with coffee. And plenty of beer."

Although those recipes may have been lost to posterity, some Johnson family favorites include Chipped Beef covered with Cream, Pedernales River Chili and Beef Stroganoff. And Lady Bird enjoyed handing out her famous family recipe for homemade Barbecue Sauce. If you’d like to add some zip to your Father's Day barbecue this weekend, here's the original recipe to try:

¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and Tabasco to taste.

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Yields 1 ½ cups

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ulysses S. Grant's Twenty-Nine Course Banquets and the Culinary Excesses of the Gilded Age

"The inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 did more than usher into the Presidency an honored war hero," according to historian Poppy Cannon, it launched an era of opulence in the White House "the United States had not seen before and has seldom seen since."

Culinarily speaking, however, Grant’s first few months in office could hardly be described as extravagant. When the 46-year-old military hero moved into the White House, he brought with him a quartermaster from his army days to serve as cook. To her credit, Grant’s wife Julia refrained from complaining at first, but when it became clear that the "chef" viewed the White House dining room as little more than “an enlarged mess hall,” she replaced him with an Italian steward named Valentino Melah, who had catered for some of the finest hotels in the United States and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a particular twenty-nine course State Banquet at the Grant White House, Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper columnist, wrote:

In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the "first course," which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it.

The ambrosial soup is followed by a French croquet of meat...The third "course" of the dinner is composed of a fillet of beef, flanked on each side by potatoes the size of a walnut, with plenty of mushrooms to keep them company. The next course is...made up entirely of luscious leg of partridges, and baptized by a French name entirely beyond my comprehension.

It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert...[which] is inaugurated by...a rice pudding [that] would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follow confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate...


Although President Grant enjoyed partaking in such opulent banquets, he retained a taste for more basic fare, no doubt shaped by his old soldier's days. One of his favorite breakfasts reportedly consisted of "broiled Spanish mackerel and steak, fried apples with bacon, buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee."

At lunch and dinner, he enjoyed such simple meals as roast beef with wheat bread and boiled hominy. And for dessert, historians tell us that "nothing ever pleased President Grant as much as simple rice pudding."

Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this delicious recipe from simplyrecipes.com which is great to serve at breakfast or as a light dessert:

2 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Charles Dickens and John Tyler at the White House

One of the most famous guests to dine at the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival to the United States, Dickens was honored at an extravagant ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few days later, Dickens met with John Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president:

He looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable.

Although Dickens seemed to like Tyler, he strongly disliked the American institution of slavery. Describing a particular dinner in Baltimore, Dickens wrote:

We stopped to dine at Baltimore, and...were waited on, for the first time, by slaves. The sensation of exacting any service from human creatures who are bought and sold...is not an enviable one. The institution exists, perhaps, in its least repulsive and most mitigated form in such a town as this; but it IS slavery; and though I was, with respect to it, an innocent man, its presence filled me with a sense of shame and self-reproach.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book American Notes in which he criticized Americans for their poor table manners and disgusting habit of spitting tobacco. He also devoted a chapter to slavery in the United States.

While that book was well-received, Oliver Twist is perhaps Dickens’ most famous novel. Set in mid-19th century England, the main character is a nine-year-old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of thin gruel each day. When Oliver courageously asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he's dubbed a troublemaker and treated even more cruelly.

So what, exactly, is gruel? Well, it's usually defined as a thin porridge or soup. Most forms of gruel include rice gruel, flour gruel or millet gruel. If you'd like to whip up a "tasty" batch of gruel today, here's a simple recipe to try:

2 teaspoons of flour
1 teaspoon of salt

Boil one cup water. Drip water on flour and salt until it turns into a thin paste. Add the paste to the boiling water. Stir to a semi-fluid consistency. Strain to eliminate film. Serve warm and say, "Please, sir, I want some more!"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Elizabeth Monroe Baked Apple Charlotte


From all accounts, the dinner parties hosted by James and Elizabeth Monroe were very formal affairs. Large dinners had an especially “cold air,” according to novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who was frequently invited to dine at the Monroe White House. Describing a particular dinner, Cooper wrote:

The whole entertainment might have passed for a better sort of European dinner party, at which the guests were too numerous for general or very agreeable discourse and some of them too new to be entirely at ease. Mrs. Monroe arose at the end of dessert, and withdrew...

No sooner was his wife’s back turned than the president reseated himself, inviting his guests to imitate the same action. After allowing his guests sufficient time to renew in a few glasses...he arose, giving the hint to his company that it was time to join the ladies. In the drawing room, coffee was served and everyone left the house before nine…


Cooper didn't comment on what was served at that particular dinner, but the Monroes were known for serving elaborate French dishes which they had been become accustomed to during their years in Paris while James served as U.S. Minister to France. Still, James retained a childhood taste for Spoon Bread, Chicken Pudding and other simple foods of his Virginia youth.

Apple Charlotte was another Monroe family favorite, so much so that Elizabeth passed a recipe for it along to Martha Washington, who added it to her enormous recipe collection. Although Elizabeth's recipe has been lost to posterity, you can prepare this quick and delicious recipe from The Food Network:

1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoons mace
5 Granny Smith apples, pared, cored and sliced thin
3 fresh lemons, zested
6 tablespoons butter, cold
1 stick butter, melted
1 loaf French bread shredded into crumbs, reserve 1 cup
Butter

In a bowl, add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. Mix together. Reserve 1 cup of mixture to be used for topping. In a separate bowl, mix together apples and lemon zest.

Cover the bottom of Dutch oven pan with bread crumbs and bits of butter. Layer bottom with some sliced apples and brown sugar with a few pats of butter on top. Repeat with another layer until the pan is filled.

For the top layer, combine reserved cup of bread crumbs, melted butter and 1 cup reserved mixture. Sprinkle on top and top with more butter. Bake for 30 minutes until the golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

FAST FACT: James Fenimore Cooper is most well known for his historical novels known as The Leatherstocking Tales, featuring a frontiersman named Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French and Indian War and was made into a popular movie starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Credit: Elizabeth Monroe, oil on canvas, by John Vanderlyn

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and "Tippecanoe and Burgoo, Too!"

During William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign, hard cider flowed so fast that he became known as the “Hard Cider Candidate.” To feed his many rowdy supporters, Harrison's cooks served an election dish called Burgoo which was made by dropping chopped vegetables into warm squirrel stew.

Hailing his victory over Tecumseh thirty years earlier, Harrison’s supporters came up with the slogan, TIPPICANOE AND TYLER, TOO!” With its shrewd and heavy use of slogans, poems, ditties, and songs, and organized picnics, rallies, bonfires, and parades, the Election of 1840 is considered to be the first modern American presidential campaign!

Of course, the custom of plying potential voters with food and drink has been practiced by politicians since George Washington's day. But it reached its zenith in the campaign of 1840, when Harrison and his lieutenants "wined and dined the populace throughout the West."

The first step, according to historian Poppy Cannon, was to erect a log cabin, then "invite all eligible males to a feast of cornbread, cheese, and hard cider." Little by little, the feasts became more elaborate, "culminating in a spread in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which 30,000 hungry voters were served 360 hams, 20 calves, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 8,000 pounds of bread and 4,500 pounds of Burgoo."

Perfected in Kentucky and popular throughout the western territories, Burgoo was the perfect election dish since it could be easily expanded to feed large crowds simply by adding more water, vegetables and squirrel meat to it. Although squirrel was once deemed essential to this classic American dish, most modern recipes, like this one for Kentucky Burgoo from Emeril Lagasse, call for beef, lamb and chicken.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank, trimmed of excess fat
2 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, quartered
4 cloves peeled garlic
1 medium fresh hot red pepper, quartered
Water, to cover
1 (3 to 4 pound) whole chicken or hen, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups medium diced carrots
1 cup medium diced green bell peppers
1 pound baking potatoes, like russets, peeled and medium diced
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh green beans, strings removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Serving suggestions:
8 fresh cornbread muffins, hot
8 fresh biscuits, hot

In a large, heavy pot, over medium heat, add the oil. Season the beef and lamb with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the meat, in batches, for a couple of minutes on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, cloves, and pepper. Cover with water. (about 3 to 4 quarts). Bring to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until tender, about 3 hours.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. During the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking, add the chicken. Remove the meat, chicken and vegetables from the pan, set aside and cool. Discard the vegetables. Add the remaining vegetables and brown sugar to the pot of hot liquid. Continue to cook for 1 hour.

After the meat has cooled, cube the beef and lamb into 1-inch pieces. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard. Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the cubed meat and chicken to the vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Re-season if necessary. Ladle the stew into serving bowls. Serve with hot cornbread or biscuits. Garnish with parsley.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!” was originally a song written for Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler. Harrison was known as “Old Tippecanoe” for his military victory over the Shawnee chieftan Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Thirty years later, Whigs used Harrison’s nickname in a campaign song that portrayed Harrison as a “simple, homespun hero” in contrast to the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren, who was depicted as a wealthy elitist. Here are some of the lyrics:

Sure, let 'em talk about hard cider
and log cabins too
't'will only help to speed the ball
for Tippecanoe and Tyler too
and with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
and with him we'll beat Little Van…


Although Harrison wasn't born in a log cabin, he was the first to use one as a symbol to suggest that he was a man of humble origins. Other candidates followed his example, making the idea of a log cabin (and a non-wealthy background) a recurring theme in presidential elections for the next half century.

Credit: William Henry Harrison, oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Food Fueled the American Revolution, from the Sugar Act to the Boston Tea Party

So did you know that sugar, coffee, wine, tea and other foods and drinks helped fuel the American Revolution? Because volumes could be written about each of these events, I decided to compile a timeline to make this fascinating part of food history a bit easier to digest. SO, let's cut right to the action!

1760 - King George III ascends to the British throne.

1763 - The Treaty of Paris is signed ending the French and Indian War. Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III decided to pay off by imposing taxes on the colonies.

1764 - On April 5, the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act which lowered the rate of tax placed on molasses but increased taxes placed on sugar, coffee, and certain kinds of wines. At the time, most colonists agreed that Parliament had the right to regulate trade, as it had done with the Molasses Act of 1733.

But the Sugar Act was aimed at raising revenue which was to be used to pay for the maintenance of British troops stationed in the colonies. Although most colonists were accustomed to being taxed by their own local assemblies, they strongly objected to being taxed by Parliament, where they were not represented. It was during protests over the Sugar Act that the famous cry, "NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!" was first heard.

1765 - In May, the Quartering Act was passed which required colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - On March 22, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which placed a tax on newspapers, pamphlets, contracts, playing cards, and other products that were printed on paper. Unlike the Sugar Act which was an external tax (e.g., it taxed only goods imported into the colonies), the Stamp Act was an internal tax levied directly upon the property and goods of the colonists. The Stamp Act forced the colonists to further consider the issue of Parliamentary taxation without representation. United in opposition, colonists convened in October at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and called for a boycott on British imports.

1766 - Bowing to the pressure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but, on the same day, passed the Declaratory Act which asserted Parliament's authority to make laws binding on the colonists “in all cases whatsoever.”

1767 - A series of laws known as the Townshend Acts are passed which impose taxes on glass, paint, tea, and other imports into the colonies. One of the most influential responses to the Acts was a series of essays by John Dickinson entitled, "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania." Articulating ideas already widely accepted in the colonies, Dickinson argued that there was no difference between "external" and "internal" taxes, and that any taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament for the sake of raising a revenue were unconstitutional.

1768 - British troops arrive in Boston to enforce custom laws.

1770 - On March 5, four colonists are shot and killed by British troops stationed in Boston. Patriots label the event “The Boston Massacre.”

1773 - In an effort to save the struggling British East India Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act. This act did not place any new taxes on tea. Instead, it eliminated tariffs placed on tea entering England and allowed the company to sell tea directly to colonists rather than merchants. These changes lowered the price of British tea to below that of smuggled tea, which the British hoped would help end the boycott.

1773 - On December 16, a group of colonists led by Samuel Adams disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded three British ships that were docked in Boston Harbor. Armed with axes and tomahawks, the men chopped open the crates they found onboard and dumped almost 10,000 pounds of British tea into the harbor. As news of the "Boston Tea Party" spread, patriots in other colonies staged similar acts of resistance.

1774 - In retaliation, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts which closed Boston Harbor to commerce until the colonists had paid for the lost tea, drastically reduced the powers of self-government in the colonies, and provided for the quartering of British troops in the colonists' houses and barns. On September 5, the First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia.

1775 - Shots are fired at Lexington and Concord. George Washington takes command of the Continental Army.

1776 - On July 4, the Declaration of Independence is approved. British forces arrive in New York Harbor bent on crushing the American rebellion.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

George Washington's Fishery at Mount Vernon

So did you know that before he became president, George Washington ran a successful fishery in the Potomac River near his Mount Vernon home? During the annual spring run, Washington's slaves would catch and harvest more than a million herring, shad, striped bass, oysters, crabs, and clams.

The Potomac River, of course, flows into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Back in George’s day, it was known for its great abundance of shellfish and fish. Today, it's not nearly as productive due to overharvesting, pollution, runoff, and disease, but it still yields more fish and shellfish (about 500 million pounds each year) than any other estuary in the United States.

What are estuaries? Estuaries are typically defined as partially enclosed coastal bodies of water that are formed where freshwater from rivers and streams mix with salt water from an ocean. Some estuaries, like the Chesapeake Bay and the lower part of the Hudson River, were formed thousands of years ago when melting glaciers caused sea levels to rise and flood low lying valleys and lands.

Others, like those found in Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, were formed during periods of glaciation. Still others, like the San Francisco Bay, are known as tectonic estuaries that were formed by the buckling or folding of land surfaces along major fault lines. Regardless of how they were formed, estuaries are critical for marine life and have provided an important source of food for human beings since the beginning of recorded time.

So what do estuaries have to do with George Washington and food? A lot, if you consider the fact that by the time he became president, George had lost almost all of his teeth and had to eat soft foods, like hoe cakes, mashed potatoes, and seafood, throughout most of his adult life.

Although no recipes for preparing shad are contained in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, historians say that cooks at Mount Vernon were "undoubtedly so familiar with it that directions for preparation were unnecessary. Like boiling eggs, cooking shad was something everyone could do!"

If you'd like to whip up some fresh shad this spring, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe for Broiled Shad with Thyme to try from Food and Wine magazine:

2 pounds shad fillets, cut to make 4 pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
4 lemon wedges, for serving

Heat the broiler. Lightly oil a broiler pan or baking sheet. Put the fish in the pan and rub the surface with the oil. Sprinkle with the chopped or dried thyme, the salt, and pepper. Dot with the butter. Broil the fish until golden brown and just done, about 4 minutes for 3/4-inch-thick fillets. Decorate with the thyme sprigs, if using. Serve with the lemon wedges.

FAST FACT: By the time he became president, George had lost all but one of his natural teeth. Because of constant pain from ill-fitting dentures, he had to eat soft foods throughout most of his adult life. Contrary to popular belief, George didn't wear wooden dentures. Instead, a talented dentist named John Greenwood hand-crafted his dentures from elephant ivory, hippopotamus tusks, and parts of horse and donkey teeth!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Andrew Jackson Inaugural Orange Whiskey Punch

When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated on March 4, 1829, it was like "the homecoming of a hero" as twenty thousand of his loyal supporters, who believed he had been cheated out of the White House four years earlier, converged upon Washington, eager to celebrate the long-delayed victory of their champion.

According to food historian Poppy Cannon, Jackson's inauguration "sparked a celebration that did everything but set fire to the White House." Thousands of rowdy fans poured into the building and "little thought was given to the delicate French furniture, elegant draperies, and fine china" as ice cream, punch, ices and cakes "were gobbled up as fast they appeared on long serving tables."

In a letter to her sister, Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite, described the chaos of Jackson's inaugural festivities this way:

But what a scene did we witness! The Majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros, women, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity! No arrangements had been made, no police officers placed on duty, and the whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob...

Cut glass and china to the amount of several thousand dollars had been broken in the struggle to get the refreshments, punch and other articles had been carried out in tubs and buckets, but had it been in hogsheads it would have been insufficient...

Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses, and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe…This concourse had not been anticipated...Ladies and gentlemen only had been expected at this Levee, not the people en masse. But it was the People's day, and the People's President, and the People would rule!


Another observer described the day's events this way:

Orange-punch by barrels full was inside, but as the waiters opened the door to bring it out, a rush would be made, the glasses broken, the pails of liquor upset, and the most painful confusion prevailed. To such a degree was this carried, that tubs of punch were taken from the lower story into the garden to lead off the crowds from the rooms.

Although no one knows exactly how those quick-thinking waiters prepared the punch that day, a writer for The Wall Street Journal scoured some ninteeenth century cookbooks and provided this adapted recipe for Inaugural Orange Punch that's "easy to make by the bucketful" if you've got a mob to entertain!

3 parts fresh orange juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Mulled Orange Syrup*
1 part dark rum
1 part cognac
2 parts soda water

Mulled Orange Syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the peel from an orange and mulling spices (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.

Combine Mulled Orange Syrup and all other ingredients in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

John Quincy Adams, the Corrupt Bargain, and the Art of Dinner Conversation

When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office in 1825, it was under a cloud of controversy. The election of 1824 had been a bitterly contested four-man race between Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Adams.

Since no candidate had won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson had won the most popular and electoral votes. Adams then quickly appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Outraged and feeling cheated out of the White House, Jackson and his supporters called the deal a “Corrupt Bargain to "cheat the will of the people."”

With these accusations hanging over his head, Adams faced problems from the start. Aware of the fact that “two-thirds of the whole people” did not want him to be president, Adams promised in his Inaugural Address to make up for his lack of support with “a heart devoted to the welfare of our country.”

But his four years in office weren't easy ones. Although his intelligence, family background and experience should have made him a great president, John lacked the charisma needed to create a base of loyal supporters.

Nevertheless, he and his wife Louisa hosted many dinner parties at the White House, as required. But his cold personality had a chilling effect on others and guests seated near the president at dinner often said that he had a hard time engaging in casual conversation. Aware of his inability to make small talk, John wrote this in his diary:

I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, control, or to change it.

I am by nature a silent animal, and my dear mother’s constant lesson in childhood, that children should be seen and not heard, confirmed me irrevocably in what I now deem a bad habit. Conversation is an art of the highest importance, a school in which, for the business of life, more may perhaps be learnt than from books. It…consists more in making others talk than in talking. Therein has been, and ever will be, my deficiency – the talent of starting the game.


Like his father, John Quincy Adams was a very intelligent man, but he lacked personal warmth and his critics called him “a chip off the old iceberg!”

FAST FACT: Adams’ policies favoring a strong federal government angered many southern slave holders who feared that that any expansion of federal power might interfere with slavery. His Indian policies also cost him supporters. Like Jefferson and Monroe, Adams wanted to remove Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, but believed that the government should honor and uphold Indian treaties and purchase (rather than forcibly or fraudulently take) Indian lands.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt, a Brooklyn Candy Shop Owner, and the Invention of the Teddy Bear!

So did you know that the first American Teddy Bear was created and named in honor of Teddy Roosevelt? It all began when Roosevelt went on a four-day hunting trip in Mississippi in November, 1902. Although he was an experienced big game hunter, he hadn't come across a single bear on that particular trip.

According to the National Park Service:

Roosevelt’s assistants, led by Holt Collier, a born slave and former Confederate cavalryman, cornered and tied a black bear to a willow tree. They summoned Roosevelt and suggested that he shoot it. Viewing this as extremely unsportsmanlike, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. The news of this event spread quickly through newspaper articles across the country. The articles recounted the story of the president who refused to shoot a bear. However, it was not just any president, it was Theodore Roosevelt the big game hunter!

So that's how Roosevelt's name became associated with a bear. But the story doesn't end there because when a political cartoonist named Clifford Berryman read reports about the incident, he decided to lightheartedly lampoon it. Then, when a Brooklyn candy shop owner named Morris Michton saw Berryman’s cartoon in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902, he came up with a BRILLIANT idea.

You see, Michtom's wife Rose was a seamstress and made stuffed animals at their shop, so he asked her to make a stuffed toy bear that resembled Berryman's drawing. He then showcased his wife's cute cuddly creation in the front window of their shop along with a sign that read "Teddy's Bear."

After receiving Roosevelt’s permission to use his nickname, Michtom began mass producing the toy bears, which became so popular that he launched the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, and, by 1907, more than a million teddy bears had been sold in the United States.

And so NOW you know how Teddy Roosevelt, a political cartoonist, and a Brooklyn candy shop owner led to the creation and naming of the Teddy Bear!!

Now, I'm assuming you probably don't want to feast on juicy bear steaks like those that Roosevelt and his fellow hunters enjoyed, but you might like to try these cute Teddy Bear Cupcakes that are a cinch to make and great to serve at children's birthday parties and play dates.

1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 eggs
1 container chocolate frosting
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
48 teddy bear-shaped graham snacks

In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, peanut butter and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and tops spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the frosting. Spread remaining frosting over cupcakes. Sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate chips; press gently into frosting. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon frosting on flat sides of 2 graham snacks. Place on cupcakes, pressing candles slightly into cupcakes to hold in place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Abraham Lincoln Kentucky Corncakes

Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were great animal lovers and allowed their four young sons to keep all sorts of pets on White House grounds. Among other animals, Abe and his family had three cats, a dog named Fido, rabbits, horses, and two rambunctious billygoats named Nanny and Nunko.

Another was a wild turkey named Jack with whom Lincoln’s youngest son Tad played with daily. When it came time for Jack to be sacrificed for a holiday dinner, Tad supposedly begged his dad to spare the turkey’s life, and, to this day, the White House maintains the tradition of “pardoning” a wild turkey each holiday season!

Although it’s a "tad" early to be thinking about preparing your next holiday dinner, you can whip up a batch of Kentucky Corncakes, which are a great side dish at just about any meal and were a Lincoln family favorite. If you’d like to make some Kentucky Corncakes today, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:

1 cup roasted cornmeal (fine ground yellow cornmeal)
1 cup self-rising flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
3 ounces corn oil
2 cups fresh corn kernels

Place cornmeal, flour, and sugar in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, corn oil, and fresh corn and mix together. Fold mixtures together. Place 4 ounces of pancake mix onto a hot griddle. Cook on medium high heat for 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve warm with lots of butter and honey enjoy!

FAST FACT: According to historians at the Miller Center, the Lincoln family's routine in the White House reflected "the presence of their sons, the demands of war, and the highly complex and many-sided character of Abraham and Mary. [T]he day went from breakfast together as a family at 8:00 in the morning, reunion again for dinner at 8:00 in the evening, and then bedtime. Until little Willie's death in 1862, the two younger sons demanded a good deal of attention, and both parents gave them ample attention, although Lincoln grew more distant as the war progressed and occupied much of his day."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Last Dinner on the Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton England on her maiden voyage to New York. Known as the largest, most luxurious ocean liner ever built, its passengers were a mix of the world's wealthiest basking in opulent, first-class accommodations and poor immigrants packed into steerage.

Four days into her journey, at 11:40 p.m. on April 14th, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. One crew member later compared the sound of the collision to "the tearing of calico, nothing more." But the force of the impact tore apart faulty rivets along the hull, filling the ship's interior with some 39,000 tons of seawater before its sinking.

As the bow plunged deeper into the water, passengers frantically scrambled to the stern. Seventeen-year-old Jack Thayer witnessed the sinking from an overturned lifeboat. "We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard," he recalled, "clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle." Two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg, the last of the Titanic slid slowly beneath the dark surface of the water.

Of course, the sinking of the Titanic is the most famous maritime disaster in modern history and has been chronicled in countless books, novels, plays, TV shows, and movies. What isn't so well-known, however, is that the Titanic carried some of the most advanced culinary facilities afloat, with elegant dining saloons, outdoor cafes, and luxurious first-class dining rooms that rivaled the ritziest restaurants in Paris, London,and New York.

Although a huge staff worked round the clock to serve more than 6,000 meals each day, only two menus were recovered from the Titanic for the final night of its doomed voyage. One of them - the first-class menu - tells us that the meal began as it did every night, with hors d’ouevers and oysters, followed by Consommé Olga, Cream of Barley Soup and Poached Salmon garnished with cucumbers and Mousseline Sauce.

After this came Filet Mignons Lili, Saute of Chicken Lyonnaise, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duckling, and Sirloin of Beef with Chateau Potatoes, Creamed Carrots, Boiled Rice and Parmentier Potatoes. Then came Punch Romaine with Roast Squab and Cress followed by Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, Pate de Foie Gras and Celery. If passengers had any room left for dessert, they could choose from such items as Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs, and French Ice Cream.

Although it might be a bit macabre, some Titanic enthusiasts enjoy recreating the last meals on the ship, and Rick Archbold's The Last Dinner on the Titanic presents 50 recipes based on the dishes that appeared on its menus. One of the most delicious items from a first-class dinner menu is Chicken Lyonnaise. If you'd like to get a taste of what some first-class passengers ate on that fateful night, here's the recipe to try:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp tomato paste
Pinch granulated sugar

In sturdy plastic bag, shake together flour, 1 tbsp of the thyme (or 1 1/2
tsp if using dried), salt, and pepper. One at a time, dip chicken breasts
into egg, and then shake in flour mixture. In large deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Cook, turning once, for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet and place in 225-degree F oven.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining oil to skillet. Stir in onions, garlic,
and remaining thyme; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook onions, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add wine to pan; cook, stirring to scrape up any brown bits, for about 1 minute of until reduced by half. Stir in stock, tomato paste, and sugar. Boil for 2 minutes or until beginning to thicken. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat, and cook for 5 minutes or until juices from chicken run clear.

FAST FACT: In the wake of the disaster, King George sent a cablegram to President William Howard Taft, which read: "The Queen and I are anxious to assure you and the American nation of the great sorrow which we experienced at the terrible loss of life that has occurred among the American citizens, as well as among my own subjects, by the foundering of the Titanic. Our two countries are so intimately allied by ties of friendship and brotherhood that any mis fortunes which affect the one must necessarily affect the other, and on the present terrible occasion they are both equally sufferers."

In response, Taft sadly wrote, "In the presence of the appalling disaster to the Titanic the people of the two countries are brought into community of grief through their common bereavement. The American people share in the sorrow of their kinsmen beyond the sea. On behalf of my countrymen I thank you for your sympathetic message. "WILLIAM H. TAFT."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Brief History of the White House Easter Egg Roll

According to the White House website, some historians note that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the White House dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. But First Lady Lucy Hayes revived the tradition in 1878 by inviting children to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to an article in Time Magazine:

Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event.

Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.


This year, the First Family will host the 137th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 6th. According to the White House, this year’s theme is “#GimmeFive,” and more than 35,000 people will gather on the South Lawn to join in the celebrations. Keeping history alive, the event will feature sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations, and Easter classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, live music and storytelling. In addition to all of the fun, the day’s activities will encourage children to lead healthy, active lives in support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Although the menu for this year's White House Easter Brunch hasn't been released, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that menu items in 2008 included Honey Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Sauce, Eggs Benedict, spinach salad, waffles, sauteed asparagus, biscuits and cheese grits. If you'd like whip up some Eggs Benedict for your Easter brunch this Sunday, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:

1 teaspoon vinegar
4 eggs
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins

Hollandaise sauce:

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and hot
Salt and pepper
Paprika and chopped parsley

In large skillet, bring 2 inches of water and vinegar to a boil. Crack one egg into a glass. Reduce water to a simmer and pour egg into water. Add remaining eggs and cook for 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain. In a non-stick skillet heat the bacon until warm. Toast the English muffins until golden.

For sauce: Place yolks, water and lemon juice into blender. Blend for 1 minute. With blender running, pour butter through open hole of lid. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble: Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and the chopped parsley.

FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll has been held at the White House every year except during World War I, World War II, and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find and Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the Easter Bunny in the festivities. Years earlier, Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her famous pet racooon Rebecca!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden and English Peas with Olive Oil and Fresh Mint!

So did you know that Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello was one thousand feet long and contained more than 250 varieties of more than 75 species of plants from around the world?

Tended by elderly slaves, Jefferson’s garden was divided into twenty-four squares, or growing plots, arranged according to which part of the plant was to be harvested, be it roots (carrots and beets), leaves (lettuce and cabbage) or fruits (tomatoes, peas, and beans). Among the many exotic "new" plants grown there were beans and salsify collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, figs from France, peppers from Mexico, and broccoli and squash imported from Italy.

As methodical as a botanist, Jefferson recorded the results of his planting experiments in his Garden Book, noting such events as the dates that seeds were planted, when leaves appeared, and when his favorite vegetables were ready to eat! Biographers say that Jefferson’s favorite vegetables included Spanish tomatoes, turnip greens, and French Beans.

He was also fond of the English pea, and, by staggering the time of their planting, he and his many dinner guests were able to enjoy them from mid-May through mid-July. According to historians at Monticello:

Jefferson might have taken special note of the English pea because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas.

Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"


Given his fondness for peas, it's not surprising that these tiny green vegetables often appeared on Jefferson's table, both at Monticello and at the newly built President's House in Washington D.C. In her popular 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph (a relative of Jefferon's) included a recipe for preparing this simple, slightly-minty side dish:

To have them in perfection, they must be quite young, gathered early in the morning, kept in a cool place, and not shelled until they are to be dressed; put salt in the water, and when it boils, put in the peas; boil them quick twenty or thirty minutes, according to their age; just before they are taken up, add a little mint chopped very fine, drain all the water from the peas, put in a bit of butter, and serve them up quite hot.

If you'd like to whip up some English Peas with today, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe from epicurious.com

1 spring onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups English peas, shelled (about 12 ounces)
6 mint leaves, torn
Salt

Sauté the spring onion in two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shelled peas, a pinch of salt, and enough water to barely cover. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the torn mint leaves. Continue cooking until the peas are tender, a few more minutes. Add more salt if needed.

FAST FACT: When English colonists arrived in America, "pease" were one of the first crops to be planted. This makes sense as peas are nutritious and required little storage space on ships. They would also keep for long periods of time, as reflected in the children's rhyming song "Pease Porridge Hot." Maybe you remember the lyrics: Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mamie Eisenhower, the Election of 1952, and St. Patrick's Day Leprechauns in the State Dining Room

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower's wife Mamie was by his side every step of the way, delighting crowds with her quick wit and natural charm. Campaign songs were written about her and colorful buttons and posters proclaimed, “I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.”

One reason Mamie was so popular as First Lady was that she shared the country’s interests and middle-class values. She watched soap operas, played board games, and encouraged White House cooks to use boxed cake mixes and Jell-O.

Even her personal tastes reflected those of the nation. She was a fan of such hit TV shows as “I Love Lucy” and "The Milton Berle Show" and let it be known that she and Ike liked to take their dinner on trays while watching TV in the private family quarters at the White House. As First Lady, Mamie was proud of her role as a traditional housewife, and was famously quoted as saying, "Ike runs the country, the turn the pork chops."

But Mamie did occasionally break with tradition in her entertaining as First Lady. According to White House historians, she regularly decorated the State Dining Room each holiday season with Halloween skeletons, witches and jack-o-lanterns, and, on St. Patrick's Day, with tiny leprechauns and green ribbons.

The Eisenhowers also entertained more royalty and heads-of-state than most previous administrations. Among their guests were the emperor of Ethiopia; the presidents of Panama, Haiti, Turkey, Italy, and Ireland; the rulers of Greece, Nepal, and Denmark, as well as Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.

The highlight of the 1957 social season, however, was the round of festivities celebrating Elizabeth II’s first trip to Washington, D.C., shortly after she became Queen of England. In addition to hosting reciprocal state dinners and exchanging diplomatic gifts, the president later received a personal recipe from the queen for English Drop Scones.

Yet for all its glamour and excitement, the Queen’s visit came at a challenging time for Eisenhower. In September of 1957, racial tensions over desegregation had exploded in violence in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then came news in early October that the Soviet Union had orbited the first space satellite (Sputnick), causing many Americans to fear that the United States was losing both the "space race" and the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Eisenhowers’ "charismatic personalities and traditional middle-class values allowed them to maintain the affection of an overwhelming majority of Americans" throughout the 1950s and well into their retirement.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dolley Madison Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream!

Legend has it that in the early nineteenth century, a freed slave named Sallie Shadd went into her family’s catering business in Wilmington, Delaware. Sallie supposedly achieved fame there for a fabulous new dessert sensation she created with sugar, fruit and frozen cream.

When Dolley Madison heard about this new dessert, she supposedly travelled to Delaware to try it -- and she must have loved it because a magnificent dome of pink ice cream was served at President Madison’s second Inaugural Ball in 1813, and ice cream often appeared as the official dessert on the White House menus during her husband's two terms of office.

If you'd like to whip up some Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream this week, here's a tasty recipe to try from epicurious.com

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: an ice-cream maker and an instant-read thermometer

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest. Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, overed, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.

While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve (to remove seeds) into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard. Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

FDR, the Election of 1944, and Feeding Fala

On November 10, 1940, a cute black Scottish terrier puppy arrived at the White House as a gift for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family. At first, the dog’s name was "Big Boy" but the president soon renamed him “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill” after a distant Scottish ancestor.

One of the most famous presidential pets, Fala, as he was nicknamed, went just about everywhere with Roosevelt and quickly became part of his public image. In her Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, No Ordinary Time, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:

Fala accompanied the president everywhere, eating his meals in Roosevelt's study, sleeping in a chair at the foot of his bed. Within a few weeks of his arrival, the puppy was sent to the hospital with a serious intestinal disturbance. He had discovered the White House kitchen, and everyone was feeding him. When he came home, Roosevelt issued a stern order to the entire White House staff: "Not even one crumb will be fed to Fala except by the President." From then on, Fala was in perfect health.

While being pampered at the White House and traveling with Roosevelt, Fala had the good fortune to meet many famous political leaders, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Mexican President Manuel Camacho.

Thrust as he was into the national spotlight, it’s perhaps not surprising that Fala became embroiled in a political controversy during the Election of 1944. You see, earlier that year, Fala had faithfully accompanied his master on a diplomatic trip to the Aleutian Islands. Shortly after Roosevelt returned home, a rumor began circulating that Fala had been accidentally left behind on one of the islands and that the Navy had to send a destroyer back to retrieve him.

Capitalizing on the rumor, Republicans accused Roosevelt of spending millions of taxpayers' dollars in the effort to get his beloved dog back. Responding sharply but light-heartedly to the accusation, FDR delivered his famous “Fala Speech” at a campaign dinner in Washington D.C. before the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. These are some of the remarks that Roosevelt made that evening:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks — but Fala does resent them.

You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I'd left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or 20 million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious.

He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself — such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.


Sadly, less than a year after he delivered that speech, Roosevelt died. In her autobiography, Roosevelt's wife Eleanor described her recollections of Fala's reaction to his best friend's death:

his legs straightened out, his ears pricked up and I knew that he expected to see his master coming down the drive as he had come so many times. Later, when we were living in the cottage, Fala always lay near the dining-room door where he could watch both entrances just as he did when his master was there...Fala accepted me after my husband's death, but I was just someone to put up with until the master should return.

FAST FACT: Fred D. Fair was Roosevelt’s porter on the Ferdinand Magellan, the presidential Pullman rail car. In a Washington Post article, Mr. Fair recalled his memories of the president's beloved dog in a letter titled "Feeding Fala": I served him his meals, made his bed. We would serve the president highballs before dinner. Before the meal, I would fix Fala's food. He would never go into the dining room until you called him. We'd serve him in there. But you couldn't serve Fala yourself, oh no. You had to hand it to the president, and he'd feed Fala out of his hand. Many times, I remember dignitaries and other important folks waiting for their supper until Mr. Roosevelt finished feeding Fala."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Grover Cleveland, a Small Dinner Party in Paris, and a Brief History of the Statue of Liberty!

Although historians don’t typically play the game of What If, it's hard to know if the United States could have won its independence from the British without the aid of the French.

At critical times during the Revolutionary War, the French provided ships, munitions, money and men to the American colonists, and some Frenchmen, including, most notably, the Marquis de Lafayette, became high-ranking officers in the Continental Army. It was, as one historian proclaimed, “an alliance of respect and friendship that the French would not forget.”

According to historians at the American Park Network:

Almost one hundred years later, in 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, several French intellectuals, who were opposed to the oppressive regime of Napoleon III, were at a small dinner party. They discussed their admiration for America's success in establishing a democratic government and abolishing slavery at the end of the civil war.

The dinner was hosted by Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye...scholar, jurist, abolitionist and a leader of the "liberals," the political group dedicated to establishing a French republican government. During the evening, talk turned to the close historic ties and love of liberty the two nations shared...

As he continued speaking, reflecting on the centennial of American independence only 11 years in the future, Laboulaye commented, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in France gave the United States a great monument as a lasting memorial to independence and thereby showed that the French government was also dedicated to the idea of human liberty?"


Laboulaye's proposal intrigued one of his guests, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a successful 31-year old French sculptor. Years later, recalling the dinner, Bartholdi wrote that Laboulaye's idea 'interested me so deeply that it remained fixed in my memory.'” And so was sown the seed of inspiration that would eventually become the Statue of Liberty!

Once conceived, Bartholdi set out to design and promote the statue. Work began on the structure in Paris in the winter of 1875, and, in August of 1876, the right arm and torch, consisting of 21 separate copper pieces, were “completed, assembled, dismantled, packed and shipped to the Philadelphia International Centennial Exhibition, where it was assembled as a feature exhibit."

In 1880, work on the iron framework for the tower began in Paris, and, during the next three years, “the inner structure and outer skin were assembled, piece by piece, to the statute's full height of 151 feet." Finally, in June of 1884, the statue was completed and then dismantled, packed into 214 crates, and shipped to the United States in early 1885.

The official unveiling of the statue on October 28, 1886 was declared a public holiday, with leaders from both France and the United States in attendance. President Grover Cleveland, formerly the governor of New York, presided over the event. After some introductory speeches, Cleveland addressed the cheering crowd, proclaiming that the statue's "stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression until Liberty enlightens the world."

One hundred years later, on July 4, 1986, the United States threw "a special birthday party for the Statue of Liberty. With a golden sunset glowing in the background, President Ronald Reagan declared, 'We are the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the world to see.’" Later, Reagan pressed a button that sent a laser beam across the water toward the statue. Slowly, dramatically, majestically, a light show unveiled Liberty and her new torch while spectacular fireworks exploded across the sky."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Herbert Hoover, a "Chicken in Every Pot" and the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, many Americans couldn't afford to pay their mortgages and lost everything they owned. Suddenly homeless, millions of American families had no choice but to find shelter in shanty towns, or Hoovervilles, which sprang up throughout the United States in the early 1930s.

In the popular musical Annie, which takes place in a Hooverville beneath the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, there's a song called “We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover." In it, the chorus blames President Hoover for all the hardships they've endured as a result of the Great Depression. Maybe you've heard the lyrics:

[ALL]
Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal

[SOPHIE]
Today I'm stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?...

[ALL]
We'd like to thank you: Herber Hoover
For really showing us the way
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today...

In ev'ry pt he said "a chicken"
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don't we have the chicken
We ain't got the pot!


In the Election of 1932, Hoover never actually uttered the phrase “a chicken in every pot and two automobiles in every back yard,” but the Republican Party did run ads suggesting that this was what Americans could expect if he was elected.

As far as modern campaign slogans go, "A Chicken in Every Pot" sounds rather modest. But "the words rang hollow during the Great Depression that blighted Hoover's presidency and shook the economic foundations" of the nation to the core. As one observer remarked, daily bread and shoes without holes were hard enough to come by, let alone stewing chickens and automobiles.

Nevertheless, while millions of Americans were scrounging for food in the streets, Hoover and his wife "Lou" were entertaining on a scale not seen at the White House in years. According to historian Poppy Cannon, "The watchword had been economy while the Coolidges lived at the White House. Now it was elegance. Mrs. Hoover never questioned the amount of food consumed or its cost. Her only requirement was that it be of the best quality, well cooked and well served.”

Needless to say, this infuriated many Americans, and, in the Election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a massive landslide, ushering in decades of Democratic dominance in presidential elections. Meanwhile, Hoover left the White House in disgrace, "having incurred the public's wrath for failing to lift the nation out of the Great Depression."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Civil War Rations and Hardtack Crackers

During the Civil War, rations generally consisted of twelve ounces of bacon or pork or one pound of fresh or salted beef; beans or peas; rice or hominy; sugar, coffee or tea and hard biscuits or crackers known as Hardtack. Hardtack was usually square or rectangular in shape with tiny holes baked into it, similar to the soda crackers we're familiar with today.

According to historians, factories in the north “baked thousands of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in crates, and shipped them out by wagon or rail.” Sometimes the hardtack didn't get to the soldiers until weeks, or even months, after they had been made. By then, the crackers were so hard that soldiers called them "tooth dullers" or "sheet iron crackers."

Older crackers were often infested with maggots or weevils so soldiers referred to them as "worm castles" because of the many holes bored through them by these tiny pests. Civil War soldiers dreaded these crackers so much that they sang a wartime tune about them called “Hard Tack, Come Again No More!” These are some of the lyrics:

Let us close our game of poker, take our tin cups in our hand
As we all stand by the cook's tent door
As dried monies of hard crackers are handed to each man.
O, hard tack, come again no more!

CHORUS: 'Tis the song, the sigh of the hungry:
"Hard tack, hard tack, come again no more."
Many days you have lingered upon our stomachs sore.
O, hard tack, come again no more!

'Tis a hungry, thirsty soldier who wears his life away
In torn clothes - his better days are o'er.
And he's sighing now for whiskey in a voice as dry as hay,
"O, hard tack, come again no more!" - CHORUS

'Tis the wail that is heard in camp both night and day,
'Tis the murmur that's mingled with each snore.
'Tis the sighing of the soul for spring chickens far away,
"O, hard tack, come again no more!" - CHORUS


But to all these cries and murmurs, there comes a sudden hush
As frail forms are fainting by the door,
For they feed us now on horse feed that the cooks call mush!
O, hard tack, come again once more!

'Tis the dying wail of the starving:
"O, hard tack, hard tack, come again once more!"
You were old and very wormy, but we pass your failings o'er.
O, hard tack, come again once more!


Despite the bad rap hardtack got, soldiers prepared it in a number of ways. Some would crumble it into coffee or tea or soften it in water and fry it in bacon grease. Others made a popular dish called "skillygallee" by crumbling the crackers into salted fried pork. If you’d like to whip up some Hardtack today, here's a simple recipe to try from americancivilwar.com:

2 cups of flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat
6 pinches of salt

Mix the ingredients together into a stiff batter, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/2 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet. Bake for one-half an hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough. Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another half hour. Turn oven off and leave the door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until cool. Remove, eat with coffee or tea and sing "Hardtack, Come Again No More!"

FOOD FACT: According to visitgettysburg.com, rations also consisted of fresh vegetables (sometimes fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes), dried fruit, and dried vegetables when available. Men also "foraged and scavenged the countryside for fresh food at times." Many also received supplements mailed from their family, or they could buy foods from sulters who followed the troops selling pickles, cheese, sardines, cakes, candies, beer and whisky, even though the troops were forbidden to drink alcohol.