Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Ike Runs the Country, I Turn the Pork Chops"

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

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

Even her personal tastes reflected those of the nation. She was a fan of such hit shows as “I Love Lucy” and "The Milton Berle Show" and let it be known that she and Ike liked to take their dinner on trays while watching TV in the private family quarters at the White House.

As First Lady, Mamie was proud of her role as a traditional housewife, and was famously quoted as saying, “Ike runs the country, I turn the pork chops.” But Mamie did occasionally break with tradition in her entertaining as First Lady. According to White House historians, she regularly decorated the State Dining Room each holiday season with Halloween skeletons, witches, jack-o-lanterns, St. Patrick's Day leprechauns and green ribbons.

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

The highlight of the 1957 social season, however, was undoubtedly the round of festivities celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s first trip to Washington, D.C., after she became Queen of England. In addition to hosting reciprocal state dinners and exchanging diplomatic gifts, the president and the queen also shared recipes through the mail.

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

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

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 and the Cherry Tree Myth

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.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

James Monroe Virginia Spoon Bread

While serving in the Continental Army, James Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington, fought at the Battle of Trenton, and endured the harsh winter at Valley Forge.

Among the soldiers at Valley Forge were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Another soldier encamped there was Dr. Albigence Waldo, a surgeon from Connecticut, whose diary provides perhaps the best account we have of conditions that winter at Valley Forge:

Dec. 22nd., Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night, my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit's eyes, occation'd by a great Cold, and Smoke. What have you got for Breakfast, Lads ? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir." I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one…But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat...

After the war, Monroe returned to Virginia and studied law under Thomas Jefferson. He then served as governor of Virginia and was later appointed U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a fondness for fancy French cuisine but retained a taste for Virginia Spoon Bread and other simple foods of his youth.

Because it has a consistency similar to pudding, Spoon Bread is usually served straight from the baking pan with a large spoon. If you would like to make some, here's a simple recipe to try:

¾ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder

Combine cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add boiling water. Stir in melted butter.

In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add egg and milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture. Add baking powder and mix.

Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Serve straight from the baking dish with a spoon and enjoy!

By the way, did you know that in Emmanuel Luetz’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm? If you would like to see this painting (it measures 12 feet high and 21 feet long), it is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Friday, December 27, 2013

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dickens Meets Tyler at the White House

One of the most famous guests to dine at the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival 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.

A few 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.

Although Dickens seemed to like Tyler, he strongly disliked slavery. Describing a particular meal in Baltimore, Dickens wrote:

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

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

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is perhaps Dickens’ most famous novel. 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 thin gruel a day. When Oliver asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he is dubbed a troublemaker and treated even more cruelly. Oliver Twist called attention to the problem of poor and starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ulysses S. Grant's Second Inaugural Ball

The menu for Ulysses S. Grant’s second Inaugural Ball reflects the opulence of the Gilded Age. A New York Times article dated March 5, 1873 contains a mind-boggling list of dishes and provisions served, including:

10,000 fried oysters; 8,000 scalloped oysters; 8,000 pickled oysters; 63 boned turkeys; 75 roast turkeys; 150 roast capons stuffed with truffles; 15 saddles of mutton; 200 dozen quails; 300 tongues ornamented with jelly; 200 hams; 30 baked salmon; 100 roasted chickens; 400 partridges; 25 stuufed boar’s heads; 2,000 head-cheese sandwiches; 3,000 ham sandwiches; 3,000 beef-tongue sandwiches; 1,600 bunches celery; 30 barrels of salad; 350 boiled chickens; 6,000 boiled eggs; 2,000 pounds of lobster; 2,500 loaves of bread; 8,000 rolls and 1,000 pounds of butter.

Dessert items inclued 300 charlotte russes; 200 moulds of wine jelly; 200 moulds of blanc mange; 300 gallons of assorted ice-cream; 400 pounds of mixed cakes; 25 barrels of Malaga grapes; 400 pounds of mixed candies; 200 pounds of shelled almonds; 200 gallons coffee; 200 gallons of tea and 100 gallons of hot chocolate.

But the best laid plans can go awry, even for a president. The weather that evening was freezing and the temporary ballroom had no heat. Guests danced in their hats and overcoats, they ran out of hot chocolate and coffee, and perhaps most tragically, most of the decorative caged canaries (which were supposed to be happily chirping) froze!

Credit: Portrait of Ulysses S. Grant by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grover Cleveland, Major League Baseball, and the Battle over the Baby Ruth Bar

So did you know that Grover Cleveland's name is associated with a long-standing debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar? Some people say that this popular candy bar was named after Cleveland's infant daughter Ruth, who was endearingly referred to as "Baby Ruth." Others claim that it was named after the great baseball player Babe Ruth, who hit the peak of his fame shortly after the candy bar was introduced in 1920.

According to Babe Ruth Central, this is how the story goes:

Back in 1916, the Curtiss Candy Company was founded in Chicago. The company's first candy bar was called the "Kandy Kake". The product was not overwhelmingly successful, so Curtiss went about refashioning it. And, in 1920, the "Baby Ruth" candy bar was introduced to candy-craving consumers.

That would be a pretty simple story, if it ended there. But, of course, it didn't. Adults and kids back then, just like today, were confused by the name and thought it was a candy bar related to Babe Ruth. After all, even in 1921, Babe already had gained a lot of fame in the baseball world. He had hit 54 home runs in 1920 and 59 during the 1921 season. These were incredible records at the time and he was in newspapers all over the country.

So, for many, Baby Ruth was Babe Ruth's candy, whether truth or not. Kids around the country purportedly sent the Babe their Baby Ruth candy bar wrappers in hopes of getting his signature.


Despite widespread popular opinion that the candy bar was named after the Babe, the Curtiss Candy Company never swayed from its position that it was named in honor of Cleveland's daughter Ruth.

But...as many commentators have observed, Ruth died of diptheria in 1904, seventeen years "before Curtiss combined nougat, chocolate, caramel and peanuts into its chewy Baby Ruth." Moreover, Grover Cleveland left office in 1897, and, by the time the Baby Ruth bar hit the market in 1920, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft had all served as president, and Woodrow Wilson was just finishing his second term.

So why would the Curtiss Company name its candy bar after a long-deceased daughter of a former president? Well, many people believed that the company conveniently concocted the story to avoid having to pay royalties to Babe Ruth, which, if true, would have been very unfair and illegal.

Whatever the case may be, the story doesn't end there. In 1926, Babe agreed to lend his name to a new candy bar called "Ruth's Home Run Candy Bar" that was manufactured by the fledgling George H. Ruth Candy Company. In response, the Curtiss Company filed a lawsuit to prevent the rival candy bar from being made, claiming that it infringed on their trademark established in 1919.

In 1931, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ruled in favor of the Curtiss Company and George Ruth's Home Run Bar was forced off the market. To support its ruling, the court explained that it was evident that George Ruth was trying to capitalize on his nickname at a time when sales of Baby Ruths were reportedly as high as $1 million a month.

Regardless of the legal outcome of the case, the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar continues to this day! And so NOW you know how Grover Cleveland's name became associated with the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar!

FAST FACT: So did you know that Grover Cleveland is the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms. His first term was 1885-1889 and his second term was 1893-1897 which means he was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. So that's why President Obama is the 44th president even though there have only been 43 different presidents to date!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

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 later wrote:

I must tell you how moved I have been by the many charming, sympathetic, and understanding letters which I have received from kind people in the United States. Quite poor people have enclosed little sums of money to be used for our wounded, our sailors, or mine sweepers. It really has helped us, to feel such warmth of human kindness and goodness, for we still believe truly that humanity is overall.

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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

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

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

Since no candidate had won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson had won the most popular and electoral

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

So this story is kind of repulsive and certainly won't make you crave a juicy hamburger or steak, but it's a part of food history so here goes:

On June 30, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act which provided for federal inspection of meat products and prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated food products. The Acts arose in part due to articles and exposés written by muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, whose popular 1906 novel The Jungle contains hair-raising descriptions of the ways in which meat was produced in Chicago slaughterhouses and stockyards.

Sinclair described how dead rats, putrid meat, and poisoned rat bait were routinely shoveled into sausage-grinding machines, how bribed inspectors turned a blind eye when diseased cows were slaughtered for beef, and how filth and guts were swept off the floor and then packaged and sold as “potted ham.”

Muckraker, of course, is a term that is applied to those novelists and journalists who sought to expose the corruption of American business and politics in the early twentieth century. It was President Roosevelt who first coined the term in a 1906 speech in which he compared writers like Sinclair to the “Man with the Muck-rake” (a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) who was so focused on "raking the filth at his feet” that he failed to look up and “behold the celestial crown.”

Similarly, Roosevelt argued that Sinclair and other muckrakers were so focused on the evils of American society that they failed to "behold the vision of America's promise.”