Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Parties at the White House

To celebrate their first Halloween in the White House in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama got in the spirit by dressing as a leopard, replete with furry ears, dramatic cat-like eyes and a spotted orange-and-black animal print top while President Obama played it safe, dressing as, well, “a middle-aged dad, with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks.”

According to the Washington Post, about 2,600 trick-or-treaters from local schools “swooped, skulked and pitter-pattered their way through the front drive of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the North Portico to get their treat: a plastic baggy containing White House M&Ms, an orange sugar cookie in the shape of the residence, and clumps of [dried] apricots, apples and papayas.”

Meanwhile, wandering around in front of the orange-lit White House were hundreds of odd creatures, including musicians dressed as skeletons, walking trees, Star Wars characters, and dancers dressed as red and gold butterflies inside giant bubbles.

After casually chatting with the trick-or-treaters, the President and the First Lady hosted a reception for military families in the East Room of the White House. In his brief welcoming remarks, the president acknowledged the many sacrifices made by military families and said, “'We are so grateful to you. Especially now, a lot of the times, you guys are separated. It's tough. The spouses who are at home are serving just as much as folks who are deployed. So we are just so thrilled that you guys could be here.”

Of course, this wasn't the first Halloween celebration held at the White House. Known for her playful personality, Mamie Eisenhower hosted a Halloween party for the wives White House staff members. Described as “the most interesting party ever given in the dignified setting of the White House,” it reportedly included “skeletons hanging from the State Dining Room chandeliers and witches on broomsticks riding over the white tablecloth.”

In more recent years, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia hosted a Halloween carnival for underprivileged school children in the D.C. area while the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF. And to mark their first Halloween in the White House, George Bush and his wife Barbara staged an Anti-Drug Youth Rally for 500 local school children on the South Lawn of the White House, where they loaded the youngsters up with treats and spoke to them about the dangers of illegal drugs.

FAST FACT: Although no one knows exactly how the Obamas plan to celebrate Halloween this year, we do know that the origins of Halloween likely lie in the ancient pagan Celtic festival of Samhain. According to historians at the Library of Congress, “the wearing of costumes and roaming from door-to-door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ulysses S. Grant's Twenty-Nine Course Banquets

"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, October 23, 2014

James Madison, the Potomac Oyster Wars and the Path to the Constitutional Convention

So you probably know that James Madison was one of the drafters of the Constitution and later helped spearhead the drive for the Bill of Rights, but what you might not know is that he also played a major role in negotiating an end to the Potomac Oysters Wars which indirectly helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention. This is how the story briefly goes:

In the seventeenth century, watermen in Maryland and Virginia battled over ownership rights to the Potomac River. Maryland traced its rights to a 1632 charter from King Charles I which included the river. At the same time, Virginia laid its claims to the river to an earlier charter from King James I and a 1688 patent from King James II, both of which also included the river.

In 1776, after more than a century of conflict, Virginia ceded ownership of the river but reserved the right to “the free navigation and use of the rivers Potowmack and Pocomoke." Maryland rejected this reservation and quickly passed a resolution asserting total control over the Potomac. After the Revolution, battles over the river intensified between watermen from both states.

To resolve this problem, leaders from Maryland and Virginia appointed two groups of commissioners which, at the invitation of George Washington, met at Mount Vernon in May of 1785. James Madison led the Virginia contingent and Samuel Chase led the Maryland delegation. Their discussions led to the Compact of 1785, which allowed oystermen from both states free use the river.

Peace prevailed until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland re-imposed harvesting restrictions. Virginia retaliated by closing the mouth of the Chesapeake and watermen from both states engaged in bloody gun battles which lasted, with periodic breaks, for more than a century.

Today, these battles are known as the Potomac Oyster Wars. They are important in their own right, but they have a larger historical significance because they revealed one of the main weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, which was that the federal government didn't have the power to control commerce among the states, a setup that was creating constant chaos and conflict.

With this problem in mind, Madison and the others who convened at Mt. Vernon in May of 1785 agreed to meet the following year at Annapolis to discuss the need for a stronger federal government. Not many delegates showed up and so they agreed to convene the following May in Philadelphia, which is, of course, where the Constitution was drafted.

And so NOW you know how James Madison and a little bivalve from the Potomac helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention!

FACT: Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the power to raise its own army, regulate commerce between the states, or coin money for the country. To pass a law, Congress needed the approval of nine out of the 13 states, and in order to amend the Articles it needed the approval of all 13 states, which made it nearly impossible to get anything done! The Articles also didn't provide for an Executive or Federal branch so there was no separation of powers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Andrew Johnson Hoppin' John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. Historians say that Johnson’s victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”

After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he likely consumed such traditional southern foods as Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck throughout the coming year. If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

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 is 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."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Franklin Roosevelt's "Royal Hot Dog" Diplomacy

When Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in June of 1939, the significance of the invitation reportedly did not go unnoticed. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, "the United States and Great Britain had oftentimes experienced tense relations, but Roosevelt's invitation carried great significance in the history of
Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation.”

With Europe on the brink of war, Roosevelt realized the need to forge closer ties between the two democracies and he reportedly “planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people." His efforts apparently paid off. According to historians at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Americans heartily welcomed England's royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city. In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.

On their second day, the King and Queen took in the sights of DC as they boarded the presidential yacht and sailed up the Potomac River to George Washington's Mount Vernon and to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After two days in Washington, the...royal couple accompanied the Roosevelts to their home in Hyde Park, New York [where]...they enjoyed the simpler things in life. In contrast to the formal State Dinner at the White House, dinner at the Roosevelt's home...was described to the press as a casual dinner between the two families.


Even more informal was the following day's event - an old-fashioned, American-style picnic which included the following menu items: Virginia Ham, Smoked Turkey, Cranberry Jelly, Green Salad, Sodas, Beer and...Hot Dogs!

The next day, news of the picnic made the front page of the New York Times, under the headline, “KING TRIES HOT DOG AND ASKS FOR MORE.” While the King reportedly ate his hot dog by hand like an American, the Queen daintily cut hers with a knife and fork.

Although the royal visit was surely the high point of the Roosevelt's 1939 social season, the president and the king also discussed the dire political and military situation developing in Europe. Equally important to Roosevelt, however, was that the visit "changed the perceptions of the American people, which in turn allowed him to do more for Britain. When England declared war on Germany three months later, Americans, due in no small part to the King and Queen's visit, sympathized with England's plight. Britons were no longer strangers or the evil colonial rulers from the past but familiar friends and relatives with whom Americans could identify."

For their part, the Royal Couple was deeply appreciative of the Roosevelt’s efforts and of the outpouring of support from the American people. In a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, the Queen wrote:

Sometimes, during the last terrible months, we have felt rather lonely in our fight against evil things, but I can honestly say that our hearts have been lightened by the knowledge that friends in America understand what we are fighting for. We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President's welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes - not to mention the hot dogs!

Although the picnic appeared to be a casual affair, much fuss had been made in advance of it. Almost a month before the event, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed concern about it in her newspaper column called "My Day." In an entry dated May 25, 1939, she wrote: Oh dear, oh dear, so many people are worried that the dignity of our country will be imperiled by inviting Royalty to a picnic, particularly a hot dog picnic! My mother-in-law has sent me a letter which begs that she control me in some way...Let me assure you, dear readers, that if it is hot there will be no hot dogs, and even if it is cool there will be plenty of other food, and the elder members of the family and the more important guests will be served with due formality.

Friday, September 26, 2014

George W. Bush, Barack Obama and the Politics of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

George Bush's memoir Decision Points has been described by the New York Times as "an autobiography focused around 'the most consequential decisions' of his presidency and his personal life from his decision to give up drinking in 1986 to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to his decisions regarding the financial crisis of 2008." According to the Product Description of the book:

President Bush brings readers inside the Texas Governor’s Mansion on the night of the hotly contested 2000 election; aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America’s most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq; and behind the Oval Office desk for his historic and controversial decisions on the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues that have shaped the first decade of the 21st century...

With so many momentous issues to review, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush didn't bother to mention his favorite foods, but...in an interview with Oprah Winfrey during the 2000 presidential campaign, he did say that his favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly on white bread.

Eight years later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again made national headlines. Responding to charges that his economic policies were socialistic in nature, Barack Obama ridiculed his opponent John McCain for constantly resorting to trivialities and distractions:

Now, because he knows that his economic theories don't work, he's been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book. Lately he's called me a socialist for wanting to roll-back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. I don't know what's next. By the end of the week he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

Although neither Bush nor Obama mentioned how they prefer their PB&Js to be made, we do know that John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal pioneer, was the first person to receive a patent for the process of making peanut butter butter in 1895. According to Andrew Smith's Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, early peanut butters had several problems:

The first was that peanut oil has a melting point below room temperature. Gravity separated the oil, which then oxidized and turned rancid. Likewise, salt added to the peanut butter separated and crystallized. Grocers received peanut butter in tubs or pails and were advised to use a wooden paddle to stir it frequently...

During the early years of the twentieth century, William Norman, an English chemist, invented a method of saturating unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, thus preventing them from turning rancid. In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield...applied these principles to peanut butter [and] developed a process to prevent oil separation and spoilage in peanut butter...The result was a semisolid peanut butter [that]...was thick and creamy and did not stick to the roof of the mouth as much as previous products.


Selecting the name "Skippy" for his product, Rosefield introduced creamy and chunky-style peanut butter in 1932. Three years later, the company inaugurated its first wide-mouth peanut-butter jar, which quickly became the industry standard. And in less than twenty five years, peanut butter had "evolved from a hand ground delicacy to a mass-produced commercial commodity sold in almost every grocery store in America."

FOOD FACT: Florence Cowles' 1928 cookbook Seven Hundred Sandwiches includes dozens of creative recipes for peanut butter sandwiches, including: Peanut Butter and Egg Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cabbage Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Prune Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cherry Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cheese Sandwich, and Peanut Butter and Olive Sandwich made with Mayonnaise on Rye. Oh my!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ulysses S. Grant, the Transcontinental Railroad and Santa Fe Broiled Sage Hen

After the Civil War, peace between the North and South made it possible for the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad to be completed. In 1863, the Union Pacific began laying track in Omaha, Nebraska, heading west. At the same time, the Central Pacific started laying track in Sacramento, California, heading east.

Work in the beginning was slow and difficult, as you can imagine. After less than 25 miles of track had been laid in California, the Central Pacific “faced the daunting task of laying tracks over terrain that rose 7,000 feet in less than a hundred miles.” To conquer the sheer embankments, workers, the vast majority of whom were Chinese immigrants, were lowered by rope from the top of cliffs. While dangling in mid-air, they chipped away at the granite with picks and axes and then planted explosives to blast tunnels through the cliffs.

On October 10, 1865, Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, submitted a progress report to President Ulysses S. Grant:

A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more
profitable and congenial employment in mining and agricultural pursuits, than in railroad work. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise within the time required by the Acts of Congress...

Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents…in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents…furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants that ...the [company] will be able to procure during the next year not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force, the Company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it within the time required by the Acts of Congress, but so as to meet the public impatience.


Four and a half years later, the two tracks finally met and the final “Golden Spike” was driven in with great ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. By the end of the century, four more railways crisscrossed the United States. By then, most trains had luxury dining cars where first class passengers like President Grant dined on superb regional fare. The Baltimore and Ohio, for example, was famous for fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay while the Santa Fe was known for its Prairie Spring Chicken and Broiled Sage Hen.

Although those recipes would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this simple and simply delicious recipe for Lemon Sage Roasted Chicken from Bon Appetit.

4 chicken breast halves with skin and bones
8 very thin lemon slices, seeded
12 fresh sage leaves
Olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450°F. Slide fingertips under chicken skin to loosen. Arrange 2 lemon slices and 3 sage leaves under skin on each breast; smooth skin over to enclose. Place chicken on rimmed baking sheet; brush with oil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon lemon juice over each breast; sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup broth onto sheet around chicken.

Roast chicken until brown and cooked through, basting once or twice with pan juices, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Place baking sheet directly atop 2 burners; add remaining 1/2 cup broth. Using back of fork, mash any garlic on baking sheet into broth and pan juices. Boil over high heat until broth reduces almost to glaze, scraping up browned bits, about 4 minutes. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

FAST FACT: For every track of mile laid, railroads were granted a certain sum of money and 20 square miles of free land. The transcontinental railroad brought rapid economic growth to the nation, as farming, cattle-ranching and other agricultural businesses rapidly developed along the main lines.

Monday, September 15, 2014

James Monroe, Mississippi Steamboatin' and "Food Piled High on a Long Linen Cloth"

So did you know that James Monroe was the first president to ride and possibly dine on a steamboat? By the 1820s, steamboats were in use on most of the major rivers, canals, and waterways in the United States.

The steamboat completely revolutionized shipping. For the first time in history, people didn't have to rely on unpredictable currents and winds and could travel to just about any port at any time. Plantation owners in Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana, for example, could cheaply and easily ship cargoes of sugar, cotton and other goods upriver on the Mississippi rather than send them around the tip of Florida and up the Eastern seaboard as they had previously done.

Steamboats also provided a luxurious way for wealthy passengers to travel. In Mississippi Steamboatin’, Herbert Quick described the palatial setting and abundance of food served on later steamboats:

The palatial setting of later steamboats attracted pleasure-seekers and wealthy travelers...More comfortable than their 'settin' rooms,' more ornate than their prim and uncomfortable parlors...they saw the steamboat's cabin as a bewilderingly beautiful palace.

The...glistening cut-glass chandeliers; the soft oil paintings on every stateroom door; the thick carpets that transformed walking into a royal march; the steaming foods piled high on the long linen cloth in the dining room, with attentive waiters standing at the traveler's elbow, waiting with more food, and gaily colored desserts in the offing - neither homes nor hotels...were ever like this.


Between 1814 (three years before Monroe took office) and 1834, steamboat arrivals in New Orleans increased from 20 to 1,200 each year. For the next half century, steamboats were the main transporter of American goods, and tiny river towns grew into thriving cities “when steamboats began to make regular stops at their docks.”

FAST FACT: If you've ever watched steam rise from a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, you might think that a steamboat is propelled by steam. That makes sense, but that isn't exactly how a steamboat works. In a steamboat's engine, wood or other fuel is burned to heat water in a boiler, and the steam that rises from the water is forced through small spaces (piston cylinders) to increase the speed at which it escapes, similar to the release of a valve on a pressure-cooker. The concentrated steam then hits and moves a paddlewheel which, in turn, propels the steamboat through water!

Credit: James Monroe, oil on canvas by Gilbert Stuart (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Air Force One Tuna Melt on Croissant

Regardless of where in the world the President travels, "if he flies in an Air Force jet, the plane is called Air Force One." According to White House officials, Air Force One is technically the "call sign" of any Air Force aircraft carrying the President. In practice, however, the name "Air Force One" is used "to refer to one of two highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000."

Emblazoned with the words "United States of America" and an image of the American flag and the Seal of the President of the United States, Air Force One is "an undeniable presence wherever it flies." This is how the interior of this amazing, high-tech jet is described on the White House website:

Capable of refueling midair, Air Force One has unlimited range and can carry the President wherever he needs to travel. The onboard electronics are hardened to protect against an electromagnetic pulse, and Air Force One is equipped with advanced secure communications equipment, allowing the aircraft to function as a mobile command center in the event of an attack on the United States.

Inside, the President and his travel companions enjoy 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, including an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room. Air Force One includes a medical suite that can function as an operating room, and a doctor is permanently on board. The plane’s two food preparation galleys can feed 100 people at a time.


Although it's proven mighty difficult to find copies of specific Air Force One menus, The Old Foodie tells us that the following luncheon items were served aboard Air Force One on February 6, 1994.

Assorted Relishes
Vegetable Soup
Tuna Melt on Croissant
Chips
Choice of Beverage
Cookies

Now, this is a surprisingly sparse and ordinary menu to present to a sitting president, don't you think? BUT...that was back in 1994, when Bill Clinton was in office, which leads me to believe that perhaps this particular menu was inspired by his wife's or advisors' well-meaning desire to steer the president away from the greasy cheeseburgers and french fries that he once seemed to so much like and nudge him toward more healthy, low-calorie choices to help trim his then-less-than-slender waistline.

Although that specific recipe for "Tuna Melt on Croissant" isn't easily obtainable today, Barack Obama did kindly provide his favorite recipe for Tuna Salad during an interview with "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft early on in the 2008 presidential campaign. If you're in the mood for tuna salad today, here is President Obama's take on Toasted Tuna Salad Sandwiches:

Tuna
Grey Poupon mustard
Mayonnaise
Chopped gherkins
Toasted Bread

Whatever items might appear on its many in-flight menus, be they simple Tuna Melts on Croissants or crystal-filled dishes of Russian caviar, Air Force One truly is an "undeniable presence" wherever in the world it flies.

FAST FACT: According to the White House website: Air Force One is maintained and operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, part of the White House Military Office. The Airlift Group was founded in 1944 as the Presidential Pilot Office at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For the next 20 years, various propeller driven aircraft served the President. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy became the first President to fly in his own jet aircraft, a modified Boeing 707. Over the years, several other jet aircraft have been used, with the first of the current aircraft being delivered in 1990 during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Richard Nixon's Resignation Address, the Watergate Scandal, and Family-Style Meatloaf

Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom said he was a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested in what authorities described 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 Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon awoke around 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed his 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 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 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," he famously 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.


Although it would take some great investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, it has been said that it consisted of a small bowl of cottage cheese with pineapple.

Whether that is true is hard to confirm, but White House Chef Henry Haller later recalled that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." As for favorite dinners, Nixon reportedly enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also particularly fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Chef 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 make Pat Nixon's Meatloaf for your next family dinner, here is 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 on lower shelf of oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is fully 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” that 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.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

William Henry Harrison, Castor Oil, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a cold and stormy day. Standing in the freezing weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.

Having lasted only a single month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide much insight into his culinary preferences, but one thing is certain: his death caused a brief constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would merely be “acting” as President or would actually become President upon Harrison's death.

Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident...

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office? After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying that he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become president. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th president of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president for the remainder of Harrison's term. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1967.

FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds have been used to treat human disease for thousands of years. In the food industry, castor oil is used in additives, flavorings, chocolate, and candies.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in office in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Leonardo da Vinci Saffron Risotto

How Leonardo da Vinci used rudimentary pigments in 1503 to create such subtle shadows and light on the Mona Lisa has long baffled art historians. Now French researchers are "using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to isolate and study each ultra-thin layer of paint and glaze da Vinci used" to create the effect he was seeking, according to recent new stories.

By beaming x-rays on the Mona Lisa without removing it from the wall on which it is mounted in Paris' Louvre Museum, scientists found that da Vinci used a Renaissance painting technique known as sfumato, intricately mixing thin layers of pigment, glaze and oil to create the appearance of lifelike shadows and light. Scientists now believe that da Vinci used up to 30 layers of paint on his works.

While this research may solve one mystery about the Mona Lisa, others remain, like: "who is this enigmatic woman" and why does she hold her subtle half-smile? To these mysteries we can add another: what did this mysterious woman and da Vinci like to eat?

According to one researcher who studied the culinary habits of fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, some Renaissance favorites were Risi e Bisi, Saffron Risotto with Mushrooms, and Spinach Soup with Hazelnuts. Although those recipes would be impossible to duplicate today, this one for Saffron Risotto with Mushrooms from the New York Times might just give you a sense of how and what Leonardo da Vinci ate.

4 cups beef or chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/4 cup finely minced onions
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and sliced (see note)
1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Place stock in a heavy saucepan, and over medium heat bring to a simmer. Add saffron, stir, and leave to simmer very slightly.

Meanwhile, in a larger saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in olive oil. When foam subsides, add scallions and onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and yellow but not browned. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated.

Add rice to mushrooms, and cook, stirring to coat well, with butter and oil. Add approximately 3/4 cup of simmering stock to rice and mushrooms. Stir well and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until rice has absorbed most of stock. Continue adding stock to rice by the half-cupful, adding only after rice has absorbed previous addition. As cooking continues, you will have to stir more frequently. After 25 to 30 minutes, all the stock should be absorbed, and rice should be tender but still chewy.

Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining butter and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately, passing the rest of the cheese.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

George Washington 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 twenty-five years, it contained, according to historian Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the famous 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 unfolded:

"When George," said she, "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, 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 modernized dessert, 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 careful not to stretch the dough. 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 and up to 2 days.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove the tart pan from the 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 on a rack in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature

FOOD FACT: According to fruit experts at the University of Georgia, the sweet cherry originated in the area between the Black and Caspian seas of Asia Minor. Birds may have carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Cultivation probably began with Greeks, and was perpetuated by Romans. Sweet cherries came to the United States with English colonists in 1629 and were introduced to California by Spanish Missionaries. In the early 1800s, sweet cherries were moved west by pioneers and fur traders to their major sites of production in Washington, Oregon, and California, and today more than five BILLION pounds of sweet cherries are produced commercially each year!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

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 tracts of land, more and more cowboys headed to the southwest, 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’ve heard 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” a cook tells some bothersome and ungrateful cowboys that cooking is just as demanding as herding cattle:

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, President Polk was dining on fancy French 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 one of these days, here's a simple recipe to try from The Smokey Mountain Cookbook

1 tablespoon of shortening
3/4 cup of boiling water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon of salt

Melt shortening in heavy 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!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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 in the world 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 mid-nineteenth century, when the term "vegetarian" came into use, people who didn't eat meat were often called “Pythagoreans.”

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

2 1/2 cups sprouted 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 large 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 so crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. 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: James Garfield was one of our most intellectual presidents. Before going into politics, he was a professor of ancient languages at Hiram College in Ohio. He was also ambidextrous and biographers say that he would often show off his knowledge by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Road to Independence: From the Sugar Act to the Boston Tea Party

So did you know that sugar, coffee, tea and other basic foods played a role in some of the key events that led to the American Revolutionary War? 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:

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 specifically 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 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 often 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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dolley Madison Fresh Raspberry Flummery

So did you know that Dolley Madison had an insatiable sweet tooth and was particularly fond of such treats as Macaroons, Cinnamon Cakes, Gingerbread, Cranberry Sherbet and ice cream?

Flummery was another popular ninteeenth century dish that Dolley reportedly served at her many festive social gatherings at the White House. According to an article in the New York Times, dictionary writers are not kind to flummery and this “innocent pudding” is often described by lexicographers as a “bland custard” or “a sort of pap,” while Webster’s asserts that an alternative meaning of flummery is “something insipid or not worth having.”

Food historians say that the modern origins of flummery can be traced to a seventeenth century Welsh specialty prepared with oatmeal and boiled until dense. As this "goopy dish" lost popularity over the years, cooks gave the name flummery to those puddings that were “firmed up with almonds and gelatin.”

By the time flummery made its way to the United States, it had been transformed into a "pure, delicately-set fruit stew." If you’d like to whip up some flummery for your next dinner party or large social gathering, here is a simple recipe to try from the New York Times Magazine:

1 quart fresh raspberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water or milk
Juice of half a lemon
Heavy cream, for serving

Combine the berries, sugar and ½ cup hot water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is liquid. Strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Return the strained liquid to a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, blend the cornstarch with the cold water or milk. Stir this into the boiling berry liquid. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute. Serve with heavy cream and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: Famous for hosting elegant dinner parties and receptions, Dolley Madison’s name became associated with fine dining and entertaining. In the early nineteenth century, food companies and advertisers began using her name to suggest that any woman could entertain as well as she did. Some of the food companies named after her were The Dolly Madison Bakery and Dolly Madison Ice Cream. There was even a Dolly Madison Popcorn. And Dolly Madison snacking cakes are still widely available today!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his enemies called him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored an important Supreme Court decision protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.

Popular in the south throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south.

¾ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix until well-combined. Stir in the sesame seeds and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Credit: Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Millard Fillmore, the Great Irish Famine, and Garlic Mashed Potato Pancakes

So did you know that in the election of 1856, Millard Fillmore ran as the presidential candidate of the Know-Nothing party? One of the nation’s first major third parties, the Know-Nothing party was formed partly in response to large numbers of Irish and German immigrants arriving in the United States.

Facing starvation during the Great Potato Famine, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants moved to New York and other large northeastern cities in the late 1840s and 1850s. Willing to work for low wages in unskilled jobs, Irish immigrants seemed to be taking jobs away from native-born Americans.

Around the same time, large numbers of Germans were immigrating to the United States. Like the Irish, most Germans were Catholic and "didn't keep the Sabbath" the way American Protestants did. They also seemed to drink lots of beer, which offended many Americans who still "clung to traditional Puritan values."

Although the Know-Nothing party quickly faded away, the Irish and German remained and introduced many traditional ethnic foods to the United States, including spätzle, saurkraut, pretzels, pumpernickel bread, Irish Stew, corned beef, coddle, and goodey.

Mashed Potato Pancakes are another popular Irish and German dish. And while no one knows today if President Fillmore ever ate them, he surely would have enjoyed these Garlic Mashed Potato Pancakes from Cat Cora at Oprah.com:

5 large baking potatoes
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cloves peeled and minced garlic
2 cups low-fat milk
3 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter in a medium skillet. When the butter is melted, add the garlic. Cook over low heat just until the garlic starts to color. Take care not to burn the butter. Take pan off heat and set aside to cool.

When the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, drain them and return them to the pot. The residual heat will help the excess water evaporate. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or a ricer. Gradually add the milk until the potatoes are the desired consistency.

Stir in the butter and garlic mixture, add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Form the mixture into pancake patties and cook on each side for about 1 to 2 minutes over medium-high heat in skillet on stove top until a bit crisped on both sides. Serve warm and enjoy!

FAST FACT: According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, the Know-Nothing Party "is the popular name for the American Republican Party, later called the American Party, which was established in 1843 with the aim of restricting immigration and preventing Roman Catholics from holding public office. They were called Know-Nothings because members of the party were told to say ‘I know nothing’ when asked about it. They were also called ‘nativists’ because they believed that foreign-born Americans should not be allowed to hold government posts." Know-Nothings scored some victories in the 1850s, but were divided over the issue of slavery, and the party soon faded away

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lou Henry Hoover and the First Organized Girl Scout Cookie Drive in 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 is 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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Abraham Lincoln Chicken Fricassee

Despite the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln reportedly took his entertaining duties at the White House seriously, and if the only culinary records of his administration were the menus of his gala state banquets and balls, one could justifiably conclude , according to food historian Poppy Cannon, that he was "a gourmet to end gourmets, a connoisseur of exquisite sensitivity [and] a bon vivant supreme."

But nothing could be further from the truth. Not prone to eating breakfast every day, it has been said that he had an egg and biscuit only occasionally. Lunch was often only an apple with a glass of milk, and dinner could be entirely forgotten unless a tray of food was forced on him. “Abe can sit and think longer without food than any other person I have ever met,” Lincoln’s former law partner in Chicago wrote. And, shortly after his death, Lincoln’s sister-in-law recalled, “He loved nothing and ate mechanically. I have seen him sit down at the table and never unless recalled to his senses, would he think of food.”

But when Lincoln did turn his attention to food, he ate heartily and never lost a boyhood taste for Kentucky Corn Cakes, Gooseberry Cobbler, Rail Splitters, Gingerbread Cookies, and Corn Dodgers. And it has been said that one of the few entrees that would tempt Lincoln was Chicken Fricassee. According to A Treasury of White House Cooking by Francois Rysavy, Lincoln "liked the chicken cut up in small pieces, fried with seasonings of nutmeg and mace and served with a gravy made of the chicken drippings."

Although Abe's favorite recipe for Chicken Fricassee has surely been lost to posterity, you can try this more recent one for Tarragon Chicken Fricassee from Gourmet Magazine:

3 1/2 to 4 pounds chicken pieces with skin and bone
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pat chicken dry and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté chicken in 2 batches, skin side down first, turning over once, until browned, 10 to 12 minutes total per batch. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet, then cook shallots, garlic, and bay leaf over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Stir in cream, broth, and 1 tablespoon tarragon, then add chicken, skin side up, and simmer, covered, until just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer chicken with tongs to a platter and keep warm, loosely covered. If necessary, boil sauce until thickened slightly. Stir in lemon juice, remaining 1/2 tablespoon tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. Discard bay leaf; pour sauce over chicken.

Monday, February 10, 2014

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.)