Friday, May 29, 2020

George Washington Sweet Cherry Cobbler

An early nineteenth century American book peddler, itinerant preacher and author, "Parson" Mason Locke Weems is best known today as the source of some of the most beloved if apocryphal stories about George Washington. The famous story of George and the Cherry Tree is included in Weems' masterpiece, The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington, which was originally published in 1800 (the year after Washington's death) and was an immediate best-seller.

Reprinted in ever more inventive editions over the next 25 years, it contains, according to Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the cherry tree myth" and other exaggerated or invented anecdotes that extolled Washington’s virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the young republic.

In telling his cherry tree story, Weems attributed it to "an aged lady,” who was reportedly a distant relative of George, and who, as a young girl, supposedly spent much time with him. This is how the fable famously unfolded:

"When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it.


The next morning, [George’s father], finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."

“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”


Although plausible enough, most historians generally agree that this quaint story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George was particularly fond of cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy highly versatile fruit.

Of course, then, as today, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this recipe for cherry cobbler, which George surely would have loved had he had time to try it during his extraordinarily illustrious life:


Crust: 1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold milk, cream or water

Filling: 2 cups cherry preserves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, toss carefully with your hands to coat the butter cubes in flour. Pulse in the food processor several times until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Add the additional tablespoon of liquid if needed until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to shape it into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a shape a ½ inch wider than the tart pan you are using. Loosely fold the dough in half and transfer it to the tart pan.

Line the pan with the dough, being. Trim any excess dough from the rim of the pan, leaving a blunt neat edge. Gather the trimmings into a ball (it should be about the size of a pingpong ball). Wrap the tart and the ball of dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from refrigerator and spread the marmalade evenly over the crust. Grate the chilled ball of pastry onto the filling, and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

James Garfield, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the Founding Father of Vegetarianism

As a lawyer, professor, and duly ordained minister, James Garfield is the only president to have discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. The Theorem, of course, is named after Pythagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician.

As you might recall from grade school, the theorem says that in a right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two right angle sides will always be the same as the square of the hypotenuse (the longest side).

Translated mathematically, the equation would read: A2 + B2 = C2. Let’s try it quickly here: If Side A is 4 inches long and Side B is 3 inches long, the equation would be: 4 x 4 = 16 and 3 x 3 = 9. Added together, 16 + 9 = 25. Now we simply find the square root of 25 and - voila! - we know that side C is 5 inches long!


So what does the Pythagorean Theorem have to do with food? A lot, if you consider the fact that Pythagoras has been called the Founding Father of Vegetarianism. Until the 19th century, when the term "vegetarian" came into use, people who didn't eat meat were often called “Pythagoreans.”

As a young man, Garfield was a farmer in Ohio and wouldn't have called himself a Pythagorean, but he might have enjoyed this healthy recipe for Ultimate Veggie Burgers from 101 Cookbooks if he tried it!


2 1/2 cups garbanzo beans or canned garbanzos, rinsed
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 onion, chopped
Grated zest of one lemon
1 cup toasted (whole-grain) bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine garbanzos, eggs, and salt in a food processor. Puree until the mixture is the consistency of a thick, slightly chunky hummus. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in the cilantro, onion, and zest.

Add breadcrumbs, stir, and let sit for a couple of minutes. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium low, add 4 patties, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes. Flip the patties and cook the second side for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

FAST FACT: Garfield was one of our most intellectual presidents. Before going into politics, he was a professor of ancient languages. He was also ambidextrous and would often show off his knowledge by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other. Now THAT'S impressive!

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Last First Class Dinner on the Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton England on her maiden voyage to New York City. 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 hungry 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. 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, 2020

Abraham Lincoln, Lucy Hayes, and a Brief History of the Easter Egg Roll at the White House


Some historians claim that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll on White House grounds while others tell stories of egg-rolling parties dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. What is clear, however, is that, 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, a group of party-poopers in 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. Fortunately, the tradition was revived in 1878 when First Lady Lucy Hayes invited children of all ages to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to this 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.


In 2016, the Obamas hosted the 138th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, March 28, when more than 35,000 people joined them on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional egg roll.


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 family while quarantining Easter brunch this challenging year, 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. Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and chopped parsley.

FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll was held at the White House every year in the 20th century 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, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her pet racooon Rebecca!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

James Polk, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Food on the Range

So did you know that in 1848 James Polk signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War and gave most of present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Wyoming, and Utah to the United States?

With the addition of these vast "new" tracts of land, more and more cowboys headed west, where they herded cattle north to market and sold them for beef. As they galloped along, cowboys would sing songs about food like "Trouble for the Range Cook" and "Starving to Death on My Government Claim."

"Git Along Little Dogies" is another classic cowboy tune. In it, a cowboy tells the dogies (the calves in the herd) that it’s their misfortune (and none of his own) that they will soon be sold at market. Maybe you remember the lyrics:

As I walked out this morning for pleasure,
I met a cowpuncher a jogging along;
his hat was throwed back and his spurs was a jingling,
and as he advanced he was singing this song.

Yippee ti yi yo, get along little dogies
It's your misfortune and none of my own
Yippee ti yi yo get along little dogies
For you know that Wyoming will soon be your home...


It's early in spring that we round up the dogies,
And mark 'em and brand 'em and bob off their tails;
We round up our horses and load the chuckwagon,
And then throw them dogies out onto the trail.

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along, little dogies,
It's your misfortune And none of my own;
Whoopee ti yi yo, Git along, little dogies,
You know that Wyoming will be your new home.



As cowboys drove cattle north, cooks drove Chuck Wagons (which carried all of the food and supplies for meals) ahead of the herds to set up camp for the night. Meals on the range typically consisted of beef, hash, beans, chili peppers, coffee, biscuits, sugar, and dried fruit.

Like cowboys, cooks would sing snappy tunes about food while working hard on the range. In “Punchin’ Dough” am exhausted, overworked cook tells some bothersome and ungrateful cowboys that cooking is just as demanding as herding cattle (you can listen to it here ):  

Come, all you young waddies, I'II sing you a song
Stand back from the wagon, stay where you belong
I've heard you complaining' I'm fussy and slow,
While you're punchin' the cattle and I'm punchin' dough.

Now I reckon your stomach would grow to your back
If it was'n't for the cook that keeps fillin' the slack
With the beans in the box and the pork in the tub
I'm a-wonderin' now, who would fill you with grub?

When you're cuttin' stock, then I'm cuttin' a steak,
When you're wranglin' hosses, I'm wranglin' a cake.
When you're hazin' the dogies and battin' your eyes,
I'm hazin' dried apples that aim to be pies…


Meanwhile, as cowboys were devouring biscuits and beans on the range, Polk was dining on Continental cuisine at the White House. But Polk was no stranger to grub. As a boy growing up on the frontier, he reportedly ate Black Bear Steak and Barbecued Deer. Like other frontier folk, basic country fare, like  Tenesseee Ham and Corn Pone, was what pleased Polk the most!



If you'd like to wrangle up some corn pone, here's a simple recipe to try:
1 tablespoon of shortening
3/4 cup of boiling water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon of salt

Melt shortening in 8 or 9-inch skillet. Heat water to boiling point and pour immediately over corn meal and salt. Add melted shortening; stir to blend well. As soon as mixture has cooled enough to handle, divide into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a pone about 3/4 inch thick by patting between the hands. Place in pan and bake at 450°F for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ulysses S. Grant Simple Cinnamon Rice Pudding

"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 New York and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a twenty-nine course 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.


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 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 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, if he had any, nothing ever pleased him as much as "simple rice pudding."

Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this recipe from simplyrecipes.com or this one for Cinnamon Rice Pudding that's 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 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 10 minutes or so, until thickened. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy! Ulysses S. Grant

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Lou Henry Hoover and the First Organized Girl Scout Cookie Drive of 1935


So did you know that Herbert Hoover’s wife "Lou" served as president of the Girl Scouts and helped coordinate one of the first Girl Scout Cookie Drives in 1935? Sixty five years later, in April of 2000, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum held an exhibit entiitled, American Women! A Celebration of Our History. One exhibit depicted Lou Hoover’s lifelong commitment to the Girl Scouts. This is how the placard read:

A woman nicknamed "Daisy" started the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. with 18 girls. And a tomboy called "Lou" helped the organization grow into its current membership of over 3.5 million! Lou Henry grew up enjoying the outdoor life, and was the first women to receive a degree in geology from Stanford. She traveled the world with her husband Herbert Hoover, and assisted him with his mining ventures and famine relief activities.

During World War I she met up with Juliette Low [Daisy], and was a Girl Scout for the next 25 years. As First Lady and national leader of the Girl Scouts, Hoover quietly aided people in need during the Depression, and was also the first to desegregate White House social functions.

Lou remained a Scout the rest of her life and led the first Girl Scout cookie drive in 1935. Juliette Low and Lou Henry Hoover brought together girls from the North and South, wealthy and poor, black and white, athletic and handicapped – instilling confidence that all women can develop their potential to be whatever they wish to be.


In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts all across the country baked their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. They then packaged their coookies in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker and sold them door-to-door for 25 to 35 cents a dozen.


Today, of course, there is a wide array of commercially baked Girl Scouts cookies to choose from, including such traditional favorites as Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, and Thin Mints! If you'd like to whip up a batch of cookies with your kids today, here's the original recipe for Early Girl Scout Cookies® from The Girl Scouts of the United States of America.


1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount for topping (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Barack Obama, the Super Bowl, and Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

The private Family Theater at the White House is occasionally used by presidents to rehearse major speeches such as the State of the Union Address each January, but more often it's where the First Family can watch just about any movie they please, often sent direct from Hollywood before its release.

According to this article in the Guardian Unlimited, many presidents have enjoyed private screenings of their favorite films in this luxurious, state-of-the-art theatre that features four comfortable arm chairs and forty red upholstered seats. So, what are some of the presidents' favorite flicks? According to the article:

Starting with All the President's Men — about the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought him to office — Jimmy Carter held 480 screenings at the White House over four years...The devout Baptist started off insisting that only family films be shown, but eventually relented and became the first president to watch an X-rated film at the family theatre: Midnight Cowboy.

Bill Clinton
 enjoyed High Noon, but his taste in movies mirrored the style of his presidency. It ranged from the earnest and complex — Schindler's List and American Beauty were among his favorites — to simple and earthy, like the Naked Gun movies.

George Bush is a fan of the Austin Powers series and has been known to raise his little finger to his lips in imitation of the characters Dr Evil and Mini-Me. Since the September 11 attacks, however, his viewing has become more somber. In 2002, after the worst of the fighting was over in Afghanistan and plans were being hatched to invade Iraq, President Bush watched more war movies, like We Were Soldiers, about Vietnam, and Ridley Scott's soldier's-eye view of Mogadishu in 1993, Black Hawk Down.

Like his predecessors, President Obama rehearsed speeches in the theatre and enjoyed star-studded, pre-release screenings of such blockbusters as Julie & Julia with stars Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in attendance) and Slumdog Millionaire, as well as the HBO miniseries "The Pacific," with executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in attendance.

And, in Dec. 2015, two stormtroopers and R2-D2 surprised reporters with an appearance in the White House briefing room while President Obama rushed to finish a press conference so he could watch the latest Star Wars film. A private, pre-release screening was held for Gold Star Families, an organization for those who lost family members in the Iraq War.


An avid sports fan, Obama also hosted a Super Bowl party in 2009 in the White House Theatre, where he and his guests tried out special 3D effects as they watched the Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly defeat the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 27-23. And when it came time for some Super Bowl snacks, the president rolled up his sleeves and personally served Oatmeal Raisin cookies to his guests.

Although that particular recipe might be difficult to find, you can try this one from Martha Stewart if you'd like to whip up a batch of Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies at your Super Bowl party this Sunday:


1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours and baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Add flour mixture, and stir to combine; mix in oats and currants.

Using two tablespoons of dough per cookie, roll into balls; place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, 15to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

FAST FACT: According to the White House Museum website, the Family Theatre was converted in 1942 from a long cloakroom when the current East Wing building was constructed. Since then, some presidents have considered it to be the greatest perk of living in the White House, including Bill Clinton, who remarked, "The best perk out in the White House is not Air Force One or Camp David or anything else. It’s the wonderful movie theater I get here, because people send me these movies all the time.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Woodrow Wilson, the Sinking of the Lusitania, and Food Blockades During World War II


On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania that was en route from New York City to Liverpool. Attacked without warning, the ship sank in fifteen minutes, killing 1,198 civilians, including 128 Americans.

Woodrow Wilson immediately denounced the sinking of the Lusitania in harsh, threatening terms, demanding that Germany pledge to never launch another attack on citizens of neutral countries, even when traveling on French or British ships. Germany initially acquiesced to Wilson's demand, but only temporarily. In March, 1916, a German U-boat torpedoed the French passenger liner Sussex, causing a heavy loss of life and injuring several Americans.


Two months later, in what's known as the Sussex pledge, German officials announced that they would no longer sink Allied merchant ships without warning. At the same time, however, they made it clear that it would resume submarine attacks if the Allies refused to respect international law, which, in effect, meant that the Allies had to lift their blockades of food and other raw materials bound for the Central powers.

Despite further provocations, President Wilson still hoped for a negotiated settlement until February 1, 1917, when Germany resumed submarine warfare against merchant ships, including those of the United States and other neutral countries. In response, Wilson immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.

Then, on February 25, the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from Germany's foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico. The so-called "Zimmermann telegram" proposed that in the event of war with the United States, Germany and Mexico would form an alliance. In return, Germany promised to regain for Mexico its "lost provinces" of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The release of the Zimmermann Telegram ignited a public furor that was further enflamed by the loss of at least three U.S. merchant ships to German submarines. After much thought and introspection, President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress on the evening of April 2, 1917 and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.


This is a partial excerpt of what he said:

It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts - for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we dedicate our lives and our fortunes...

Wilson was reportedly having lunch in the State Dining Room when word came that the declaration of war had arrived for his signature. Although no one knows what Wilson ate for lunch on that momentous day, we do know that by the time the United States entered the war, German submarines were taking a catastrophic toll on the supplies of food and other provisions being shipped to Britain from abroad.

In response, the British admiralty established a system of convoys. Under the plan, merchant ships were grouped together in "convoys" and provided with warship escorts through the most dangerous stretches of the North Atlantic.

The convoys had a dramatic effect. By the end of 1917, the tonnage of Allied shipping lost each month to German U-boat attacks plummeted from one million tons in April to 350,000 tons in December. And while many other factors were at play, the increase in food and other necessary provisions helped to stiffen the resolve of French and British troops and thwarted Germany’s attempt to force Britain’s surrender.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner

One of the most famous guests to visit the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival in the United States, Dickens was honored at a lavish 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.

Some days later, Dickens met 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. I thought that, in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book American Notes. But of all of his books, perhaps none are more well-known than A Christmas Carol, which was published in 1843, one year after Dickens visited the White House. Among all of its famous food oriented scenes, none are more memorable than the one depicting the Cratchit family Christmas dinner. Maybe you remember it:


Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped.

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim...beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!


No recipes are included in the book, of course, but The Food Channel recreated the Cratchit's Christmas dinner and "the more bountiful feast at the merry gathering" at the home of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew. If you'd like to bring some Dickens Christmas spirit to your family dinner this holiday season, here's a fabulous recipe for Duchess Potatoes:


3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and softened
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, light beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Fill a large pot with cold water, add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and boil until tender. While the potatoes are still hot add cream, 3 tablespoons butter, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold in the remaining butter until pieces are evenly distributed.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer potato mixture to piping bag fitted with 1/2-inch star tip (you can use a gallon size baggie with snipped off corner) and pipe eight 4-inch wide mounds of potatoes on baking sheet. Spray the tops of the potatoes lightly with butter flavored cooking spray and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is another classic Dickens novel that's filled with many memorable food scenes. Set in England, the main character is a nine-year old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of gruel a day. When Oliver asks for more, he is dubbed a trouble maker and treated even more cruelly. Oliver Twist called attention to the problem of starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Brief History of the White House Turkey Pardon, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama


As it often is with political history, there are competing claims as to when the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving Day holiday turkey began. Some say it dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's young son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey named "Jack" that had been sent to the Lincolns to be part of their Christmas dinner.

Others claim that the tradition began during Harry Truman's administration. Although it's true that the National Turkey Federation has been providing holiday turkeys to the White House since 1947, when Truman was in office, there's no evidence to prove that this story is true. This is what the Truman Library offered on the issue:

The Truman Library has received many requests over the years for information confirming the story that President Truman "pardoned" a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, thus initiating a Presidential tradition that continues to this day.

The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.


While President John F. Kennedy spared a turkey's life on November 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, he didn't use the word "pardon." Instead, the bird had a sign hanging around its neck that read, "GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!", which prompted Kennedy to quip, "Let's just keep him."

The first president to actually use the word "pardon" in reference to a holiday turkey was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was already heading to a local petting zoo.


Which brings us to President George H.W. Bush, who was apparently the first president to intentionally "pardon" a turkey. At the National Turkey Presentation Ceremony in 1989, Bush light-heartedly remarked: "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy - he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now - and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

Although it's difficult to confirm exactly when this White House tradition began, we do know where some of the more recently pardoned turkeys have been sent after receiving their presidential reprieves. From 1989 until 2004, the fortunate fowls were sent to live out their natural lives at Frying Pan Farm in Virginia.

The venue changed in 2005, however, when Disneyland was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. That year, a lucky turkey named "Marshmallow," and his alternate, "Yam," were taken by police escort to the airport and then flown first class to California. According to the Associated Press:

Marshmallow became the Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade, and the sign above his float read "The Happiest Turkey on Earth." The turkeys then retired to a coop at the park's Big Thunder Ranch, where three of the pardoned birds...still live. Florida's Disney World got the birds from 2007, when they arrived on a United Airlines flight that was renamed "Turkey One."

In 2010, the venue changed yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama pardoned was sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, it was reportedly "be driven to his pen in a horse-drawn carriage and be greeted with a trumpet fanfare."


A spokeswoman for Mount Vernon said that it was appropriate that the turkey go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and he raised wild turkeys at Mount Vernon.

Although she didn't say how the Washington's preferred to serve their Thanksgiving birds, the Mount Vernon Inn offers a daily lunch menu that includes a "Colonial Turkey Pye" which is described as "a turkey stew served with mixed vegetables and topped with a homemade buttermilk biscuit."

While it might be difficult to obtain a copy of that particular recipe, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Turkey Pot Pie if you need something to do with your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving or this one from Pillsubry.com:


1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 (11-ounce) cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
1 large turkey skinned, cooked, boned and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
2 cup cooked butternut squash, diced
2 cup cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long.
On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes.

Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Golfer-in-Chief: Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops


While Donald Trump's round of golf with Tiger Woods this year made national headlines, Tiger's round with Barack Obama in 2013 also caused quite a stir. Although scores remain top secret, what's not so secret is that many American presidents have been avid golfers.

According to Don van Natta’s First Off the Tee, 14 of the last 17 presidents have been serious golfers and how they played the game reveals a lot about their character. Dwight Eisenhower played more than 800 times during his eight years in office and had a putting green installed on the South Lawn of the White House.

A member of Augusta National Golf Club, Ike broke 80 on a dozen occasions and the Eisenhower Pine, once located on the 17th hole, was named after him. Ike hit the tree so many times that, at a club meeting in 1956, he proposed that the tree be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club’s chairman adjourned the meeting rather than reject the request.

John F. Kennedy was a serious golfer but didn't want to be seen playing because he wanted to contrast his image with Ike’s reputation of “golfing his way through the presidency.” JFK and his aides reportedly made a lot of hay out of Ike's constant playing, and dubbed him "Duffer in Chief.”


As for LBJ, van Natta says that he “really tore it up” on the course and would take 300, sometimes 400 swings, in a round. "He just wanted the feel of one perfect shot," van Natta notes, "and if it took 400 swings to do it, he was going to do it. He was the president and nobody was going to get in his way."

Ronald Reagan only played the game about a dozen times while in office, but he loved putting around the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One.


But nowhere does golf run deeper than in the Bush family bloodline.

George H.W. Bush's maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1920. A single-digit handicapper, he donated the Walker Cup, the trophy awarded to the winning team in the biennial matches between leading amateur golfers from the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland. And 41’s father, Senator Prescott S. Bush, was a scratch golfer who served as president of the USGA in 1935.


As for Clinton, Van Natta says he "followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then...started taking these do-over shots, gimme putts and, at the end of the 18 holes, it took him about 200 swings to score an 82."

And as for Barack Obama, an article in Time magazine notes that he took up golf “as a relaxing alternative to basketball...but now that his game is out of the closet, it is clear that he duffs in much the same way that he tries to govern.” Wellington Wilson, Obama’s longtime golf buddy, was quoted as saying, “You can really tell a person's personality by the way he plays golf. He just goes with the flow. Not too high. Not too low."


And while it's hard to know if Donald Trump chose to just "go with the flow" with Tiger Woods last year, we do know that Obama attended a Black Caucus Dinner in Washington D.C. after his match with #MacDaddySanta, then flew to California for a fundraiser at the ritzy Fig and Olive restaurant in West Hollywood.

According to obamafoodroma.com, celebrity guests included Jack Black, Jamie Foxx, Danny DeVito, and Quincy Jones. Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin were also on hand for the festivities, where guests reportedly shelled out a whopping $17,900 each for dinner.

So what kind of meal comes with such a price tag? Well, one guest revealed that appetizer options included:

jamón ibérico and a fig Gorgonzola tartlet, while entree options included striped bass filet en papillote with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion, and saffron served with Arbequina olive oil mashed potato & chives; free range organic chicken breast with grilled zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomato, cipollini onion, roasted fig, Parmesan polenta, and marinated red bell pepper; and rosemary lamb chops, grilled then smoked a la minute with Herbs de Provence, goat cheese, and chive gnocchi.

Sounds delish, but since most of us don't have a spare $18k to drop on dinner, here's a fabulous and more affordable recipe for Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops from epicurious.com:


3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 3 teaspoons dried
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 1-inch-thick loin lamb chops, fat trimmed

Mix first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Place lamb chops in single layer in 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Pour marinade over. cover with foil and refrigerate 4 hours, turning lamb chops occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). When coals turn white, drain chips, if using, and scatter over coals. When chips begin to smoke, season lamb with salt and pepper and place on grill. Cover; grill shops to desired doneness, basting often with marinade, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to platter and serve.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Watergate and Richard Nixon Family-Style Meatloaf


Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom was a former employee of the CIA, were arrested in what authorities would later describe as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." At dinner, Nixon enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here's a recipe to try here and here's the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.


FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue. Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.” Doh!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Brief History of Trick-or-Treating


Trick-or-treating has been a popular American Halloween tradition for nearly a century, but its origins remain unclear. Ancient Celtic festivals, early Roman Catholic holidays, medieval practices, and even British politics all lay claim as possible antecedents of the present-day practice of trick-or-treating.

Ancient Origins of Trick-or-Treating

Some historians say that the origins of the practice of trick-or-treating may lie in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The following day, November 1, marked the new year. On the Celtic calendar, this day signaled the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter, an uncertain and frightening time that was often associated with death.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that on Samhain the barrier between the living and the dead was blurred more so than on any other night and that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth as they transitioned to the otherworld. On the night of Samhain, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and pay homage to the dead.


In some Celtic celebrations of Samhain, villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away spirits while banquet tables were prepared and offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. In later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be another possible antecedent of trick-or-treating.

Early Christian and Medieval Antecedents

In the first few centuries of the first millennium, Christianity spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, a time to honor all martyrs and saints. The night before (October 31) was known as All Hallows Eve, which eventually became Hallowe’en and finally Halloween.

In 1000 A.D., the church designated Nov. 2 as All Souls Day, a day when the living prayed for the souls of the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated in ways similar to Celtic commemorations of Samhain. People lit bonfires, dressed in customs as saints and devils, and masqueraded in parades.

Poor families would also visit the homes of wealthier families who would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in exchange for their promise to pray for the souls of the family's dead relatives. This practice, known as “souling,” was later taken up by children who would go from home-to-home and be given “treats” such as food, money, and ale.


A similar Scottish and Irish practice known as guising – children disguising themselves in costumes and roaming door-to-door for treats – is another possible antecedent of trick-or-treating. The main difference is that in souling children promised to say a prayer for the dead in return for their “treat” whereas guisers would sing a song, recite a poem, or perform some sort of “trick” for their treat, which traditionally consisted of fruit, coins, or nuts.

Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations

Still another antecedent might be the British custom of children wearing masks and carrying effigies while begging for pennies on Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night), an annual commemoration of the foiling of the so-called Gunpowder Plot of 1605. On November 5, 1606, Fawkes was executed for his role in the Catholic-led conspiracy to blow up England's parliament building in an attempt to remove the Protestant King James I from power.

The original Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated immediately after his execution. Communal bonfires were lit to burn effigies and the symbolic "bones" of the Catholic pope. By the early nineteenth century, effigies of the pope had been replaced by those of Guy Fawkes and children would roam the streets carrying an effigy or "Guy" and ask for "a penny for the Guy."

A New American Tradition


Although some early American colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, the rigid Protestant belief systems of New England Puritans meant that they had no place for such pagan and Catholic celebrations as Samhain and All Souls Day, or even Halloween itself. In the southern colonies, however, where larger, more ethnically diverse European communities had settled, there are some accounts of Halloween festivities meshing with Native American autumn harvest celebrations.

In the mid-1800s, large numbers of new immigrants, especially the nearly two million Irish immigrants fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize Halloween. Borrowing from English and Irish traditions, children would dress in costumes and go door-to-door asking for food or money.

As Halloween grew in popularity, it was celebrated with bonfires, ghost stories, divination games, costume parties and pranks. By the 1920s, juvenile pranks had gotten out of hand and often resulted in the destruction of private property, sometimes amounting to more than $100,000 in damages each year in some major metropolitan cities.

The deepening Depression exacerbated the problem, with Halloween pranks often devolving into vandalism, assaults, and sporadic acts of violence. One theory holds that it was the excessive “pranks” on Halloween that led to the widespread adoption of an organized, community-based trick-or-treating tradition in the 1930s. This trend was abruptly curtailed, however, with the outbreak of World War II. Children were forced to refrain from trick-or-treating because of sugar rationing and pranksters were told that their actions would “hurt the war effort” and be considered “sabotage.”


With post-war prosperity and the baby boom, trick-or-treating was revived and quickly became a standard practice for millions of children in the cities and newly-built suburbs. No longer constrained by sugar rationing, major American candy companies capitalized on this lucrative trend, launching national ad campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. If trick-or-treating had once been an intermittent practice, it was now a popular American tradition. Today, Americans spend more than $9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the nation's second largest commercial holiday.

Adapted from my article at history.com