Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ronald Reagan's Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address from the Oval Office at the White House. In it, he spoke reverently of the past, of his accomplishments during his eight years in office, and of his vision of America’s promise.

Near the end of his address, Reagan turned his attention toward patriotism, freedom, and the future, and said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table” in the daily conversations between parent and child. This is what he said:

My fellow Americans...we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant...Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do...


After leaving office, Reagan and his wife Nancy retired to a mansion on a private, tree-lined street in the exclusive community of Bel Air, California. Despite the elegant State Dinners that he had become accustomed to during his two terms of office, those who were close to the president say that he retained a childhood taste for Meatloaf, Hamburger Soup, and other simple foods of his youth.

One his all-time favorites, however, according to White House Chef Henry Haller, was Macaroni and Cheese, so much so that Reagan requested that a dish of it be delivered to him while he was recuperating at a hospital after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt that took place on March 30, 1981, less than 100 days into his presidency.

“The dish was served in the manner the President prefer[ed],” Haller explained, “with the noodles well cooked and covered with a light cheese spiked with mustard.” If you’d like to serve up some of President Reagan’s Favorite Macaroni and Cheese for dinner tonight while talking to your kids about what it means to be an American, here is the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:

½ pound macaroni
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of paprika

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add 2-1/2 cups of the grated cheese.

In a small bowl, combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole. Pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch and the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entree accompanied by a hot green vegetable and a crisp salad, or as a side dish with Hamburgers or Meat Loaf.

FAST FACT: Also injured in the assassination attempt was White House Press Secretary James Brady who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, while a Secret Service Agent was shot in the chest and a Washington, D.C. police officer was hit near the spine. Historians at the Miller Center say that "as Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. According to Political Affairs Director Lyn Nofziger, Reagan was in good spirits, at one point teasing the medical staff, 'Please tell me you're Republicans.'"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth and the Debate over the Name of 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.


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!

Monday, December 8, 2014

George Washington's Ice House at Mount Vernon

So did you know that one of George Washington’s favorite desserts was ice cream? In fact, he liked this soft, creamy treat so much that he had an ice house constructed near his Mount Vernon home so that he and his family could eat ice cream often.

Historians say that Washington’s icehouse was located on a riverbank about 75 yards from the Potomac. To store ice, Washington’s slaves had to use chisels and axes to pull large chunks of ice from the frozen river during the wintertime and then haul them to the icehouse where they were stacked in layers and stored for use throughout the spring and summer.

Before constructing his ice house, Washington sought advice from his friend and fellow patriot Robert Morris, who had an ice house at his home at 6th & Market Streets in Philadelphia. In a letter to Washington, Morris provided a detailed account of how his ice house had been constructed:

My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 square, the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the water which drains from the ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain...the Walls of my Ice House are built of stone without Mortar...On these [walls] the Roof is fixed...I nailed a Ceiling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled the Space between the Ceiling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw so that the heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect...

The Door for entering this Ice house faces the north, a Trap Door is made in the middle of the Floor through which the Ice is put in and taken out. I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small pieces and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe. I tried Snow one year and lost it in June. The Ice keeps until October or November and I believe if the Hole was larger so as to hold more it would keep untill Christmas...


Although Morris didn't mention what he stored in his icehouse, we do know that the Washingtons used theirs to preserve meat and butter, chill wine, and make ice cream and other frozen delicacies for their many guests at Mount Vernon.

Of course, George Washington wasn’t the only president who enjoyed ice cream. Accounts of it often appear in letters describing the many elegant dinner parties hosted by James and Dolley Madison, and the dish frequently appears in visitors' accounts of meals with Thomas Jefferson.

One particular guest wrote: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material inclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven." If you'd like to whip up some ice cream contained in warm pastry for your next dinner party, here's a simple recipe to try from puffpastry.com

1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package pastry sheets, 1 sheet, thawed
1 pint chocolate ice cream, softened
1 pint strawberry ice cream, soft
Chocolate fudge topping

Heat the oven to 400°F. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks. Place the pastries onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Split each pastry into 2 layers, making 6 in all.

Reserve 2 top pastry layers. Spread the chocolate ice cream on 2 bottom pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes. Top with another pastry layer and spread with the strawberry ice cream. Top with the reserved top pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes or until the ice cream is firm. Drizzle with the chocolate topping.

FAST FACT: In 1790, Robert Morris's house at 6th & Market Streets became the Executive Mansion of the United States while Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the nation. Morris' icehouse was used by President Washington and his household until 1797, and by President John Adams and his family from 1797 to 1800.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

James Monroe, Virginia Spoon Bread, and the Long Winter at Valley Forge

While serving in the Continental Army, James Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington, fought at the Battle of Trenton, and endured the long 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. 21st., Preparations made for hutts. Provision Scarce...sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoiled with continual smoke. A general cry thro' the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, "No Meat !, No Meat !", the Distant vales Echo'd back the melancholly sound, "No Meat ! No Meat !"…What have you for our Dinners Boys?" Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir." At night, "Gentlemen the Supper is ready." What is your Supper, Lads? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir..."

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, then served as governor of Virginia and was later appointed as U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a fondness for fancy French cuisine, but historians say that he retained a boyhood taste for Spoon Bread and other simple foods of his Virginia 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'd like to whip up a batch today, here's a quick and 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!

FAST FACT: In Emmanuel Luetz’s famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm. Measuring 12 feet high and 21 feet long, it's on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Abraham Lincoln Gingerbread Men Cookies

In The Prairie Years, the great American poet and biographer Carl Sandburg told a story about Abraham Lincoln and gingerbread, a story that Abe had told in his famed debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. According to Sandburg, this is how Lincoln’s “Gingerbread Story” unfolded:

“When we lived in Indiana,” Lincoln said, “once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled the gingerbread and came into the house to get my share while it was still hot. My mother had baked me three gingerbread men. I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them.

There was a family near us poorer than we were and their boy came along as I sat down. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme a man.’ I gave him one. He crammed it into his mouth in two bites and looked at me while I was biting the legs off my first one. ‘Abe, gimme that other’n.’ I wanted it myself, but I gave it to him and as it followed the first, I said to him, ‘You seem to like gingerbread.’ ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘I don’t s’pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better’n I do — and gets less’n I do...’”


Lincoln’s childhood recollection charmed the audience – and readers of widely published newspaper accounts. Years later, Lincoln reportedly repeated the story in the White House, mentioning details of the recipe his mother may have used. Although her recipe has been lost to posterity, this one from the Food Network is simple to prepare and great to share with family and friends during the holidays.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup molasses

Directions

Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda in a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then the molasses. Slowly add the flour mixture. Mix well after each addition of flour. The dough will be stiff.

Divide dough in half, flatten into 2 thick circles and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm enough to roll out. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out, cut into desired shapes and bake until golden brown.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, World War II, and "There's Not Enough Milk for the Babies"

On February 19, 1942, just two and a half months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which led to the internment of more than 125,000 Japanese-American citizens who were removed from their homes and detained in internment camps until the end of World War II.

The daily conditions of camp life are especially vivid in descriptions of the mass feeding of thousands of Japanese detainees. On May 11, 1942, Joseph Conrad of the American Friends Service Committee submitted a Progress Report to the federal government which read:

There's not enough milk for the babies in camp because the Army's contract for milk is with farmers in Oregon and even though there is plenty of milk in the neighboring towns begging to be used, red tape makes it impossible.

There hasn't been enough food to go around because there were [more] arrivals than were expected. Some have gone without meals several times. There has been no fresh vegetables; no fruit (and a large part of the population are children), no fresh meat, but plenty of canned food for those who were early in line to get it...


Meanwhile, as thousands of interned children were suffering from malnutrition, millions of homeless and unemployed Americans were starving during the Great Depression. To address this national crisis, Soup Kitchens began opening in large cities and small towns throughout the United States.

When soup kitchens first appeared, they were generally run by churches or private charities. But by the mid-1930s, when Roosevelt was in office, state and federal governments were also operating them.

Why soup? Throughout history, soup has been one of the primary foods consumed by poor and homeless people. If you think about it, this makes sense because soup is economical (it can be prepared with whatever scraps of food are available and can be stretched to feed more people by adding water). It is also quick and simple to make (only a pot is needed) and easy to serve (it requires only a bowl and spoon, or, "in a pinch, can be sipped").

Like many Americans during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor consumed economical foods like fried cornmeal mush and dry crackers with stew. According to White House chef Henrietta Nesbitt, soup was another Roosevelt family favorite:

There was never such a family for soups as the Roosevelts. All the years they occupied the White House we kept the big steel soup kettles singing in the White House - clear soup for dinner and cream soup for lunch. Pretty nearly every usable variety of fish, fowl, beast, mineral, vegetable, and contiment was used in our White House soups...

Give Mrs. Roosevelt a bowl of soup and a dish of fruit for lunch and she'd be off with recharged vitality on one of her trips...Cream of almond - L'Amande soup - was one of her special favorites. The President was partial to fish soups... Among the recipes his mother gave me was the one for clam chowder...Another of his favorites was the green turtle soup, and there was always a great fuss when it was made.


Today, green turtle soup is prohibited in the United States because most species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered. But you can try this simple and delicious recipe for Creamy Chicken Soup which Eleanor surely would have enjoyed before setting out on one of her "supercharged" afternoons.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 egg yolks, beaten
coarse Salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups diced cooked boneless, skinless, chicken breast
chopped fresh parsley

Add unsalted butter to stockpot. Melt over low heat. Stir in flour, and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in chicken stock. Heat over medium heat, almost but not boil. Add heavy cream and egg yolks to medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Ladle in ½ cup hot soup. Blend with whisk. Stir cream mixture into stockpot.Season with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. Add chicken meat and Simmer until heated through but not boiling. Serve hot in individual soup bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley.

FOOD FACT: In a 1942 New Republic article, Ted Nakashima described the daily conditions of camp life this way: The food and sanitation problems are the worst. We have had absolutely no fresh meat, vegetables or butter since we came here. Mealtime queues extend for blocks; standing in a rainswept line, feet in the mud, waiting for the scant portions of canned wieners and boiled potatoes, hash for breakfast or canned wieners and beans for dinner. Milk only for the kids. Coffee or tea dosed with saltpeter and stale bread are the adults' staples.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hasty Pudding and the French and Indian War

So did you know that Hasty Pudding is mentioned in a verse in the patriotic song YANKEE DOODLE DANDY? A popular British song, its origins can be traced to the French and Indian War. It was later adopted in the United States and is the state anthem of Connecticut today. Maybe you remember the lyrics:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni'

Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy

Fath'r and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty puddin'


Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. The name of the war refers to the two main enemies of the British: the Royal French forces and the various American Indian tribes allied with them.

Heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the British, the French and Indian forces “collapsed in a massive defeat” in Quebec in 1759, and, in less than a year, the British controlled most of the North American frontier.

Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III sought to pay off by imposing taxes on sugar, coffee, wine, rum, tea, and other food stuffs and imports to the colonies. These taxes, along with other increasingly oppressive measures, united the colonists in opposition and set them down the path toward the Revolutionary War.

Now...Hasty Pudding wasn't a standard wartime ration, but by the early eighteenth century, it was a common dish in England and the colonies, with its origins reaching back to the various pottages of the Middle Ages. According to the Oxford Companion to Food and Drink:

Hasty pudding, the simplest of all puddings, if it can be called a pudding at all, for it is no more than a porridge of flour and milk. Such a pudding should be made in little more time than it took to boil the milk, and it has no doubt been a popular emergency dish since the Middle Ages, if not earlier.

Sweetened, flavoured with spice or rosewater, and dotted with butter, hasty pudding can be quite palatable; and in fact in the 18th and 19th centuries in England it was esteemed as a delicacy...In the far north of England, and in Scotland, at least as early as the 18th century, the name came to be applied to a plain porridge of oats and barley, made with water as often as milk. In Victorian England...Hasty pudding was sometimes made with oatmeal, or with sago or tapioca. Milk was always used.


While recipes vary considerably, most early American versions were known as Indian Pudding because it was typically prepared with ground Indian maize and sweetened with maple sugar or molasses. If you'd like to whip up a batch of this classic American dish, here's a fabulous recipe to try from simplyrecipes.com that's simple to prepare and tastes simply delicious:

6 cups of milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Scald the milk and butter in a large double boiler. Or heat the milk and butter for 5 or 6 minutes on high heat in the microwave, until it is boiling, then transfer it to a pot on the stove. Keep hot on medium heat. Preheat oven to 250°F. In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, and salt; stir in molasses. Thin the mixture with about 1/2 cup of scalded milk, then gradually add the mixture back to the large pot of scalded milk. Cook, stirring until thickened.

Temper the eggs by slowly adding a half cup of the hot milk cornmeal mixture to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Add the egg mixture back in with the hot milk cornmeal mixture, stir to combine. Stir in sugar and spices, until smooth.

At this point, if the mixture is clumpy, you can run it through a blender to smooth it out. Pour into a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 2 hours at 250°F. Allow the pudding to cool about an hour. It should be reheated to warm temperature if it has been chilled. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long.

On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes. Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside until ready to assemble pies. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Royal State Dinner at the Reagan White House

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981 has been aptly described as one of the most celebrated spectacles of the Reagan era. But because of the assassination attempt on President Reagan four months earlier, he couldn't attend, but he encouraged his wife Nancy to “serve as the United States representative at the event.”

Rising to the occasion, Mrs. Reagan traveled to England and spent one week in London, which was the longest amount of time she had been away from her husband in their then-twenty-nine years of marriage. During her stay, the First Lady reportedly attended eighteen events on behalf of the nation, including "a ball at Buckingham Palace, a dinner at the American Embassy, tea with the Queen Mother, and lunch with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.”

According to the Ronald Reagan Foundation,

Mrs. Reagan was an especially appropriate delegate for the United States to send to the Royal Wedding. The Reagans had met Prince Charles many years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Also, in March of 1975 Ronald and Nancy had met Margaret Thatcher, and the future president and future prime minister found they shared a special connection even then...

Over the years, the President and Mrs. Reagan expressed their immense respect for their British friends in many ways, saving the first and last state dinners to honor Margaret Thatcher. Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the first dinner in February 1981, and the Queen returned the honor when she hosted a state dinner for the Reagans’ visit to London when the president addressed Parliament in 1982.


The following year, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visited Rancho del Cielo, the Reagans’ Santa Barbara ranch, and invited the Reagans aboard the royal yacht Brittania to celebrate an anniversary dinner. But of all the Royal visits to the Reagan White House, none were more memorable than the star-studded State Dinner held in honor of the Prince and Princess of Wales on November 9, 1985. As the BBC reported at the time:

Prince Charles and Princess Diana have ended the first day of their much-vaunted trip to the USA at a gala dinner in Washington, hosted by President Reagan and his wife Nancy. They mixed with movie stars, such as Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Tom Selleck and the singer Neil Diamond as well as politicians and businessmen.

A small group of anti-British IRA supporters protested outside and there were a few slip-ups during the glamorous event. For a moment President Reagan forgot the Princess of Wales' name during an after-dinner speech to guests. "Permit me to add our congratulations to Prince Charles on his birthday just five days away," he said, "and express also our great happiness that...er...Princess David...Princess Diane (sic) is here on her first trip to the United States."


According to the report, the Princess herself, still suffering from jetlag, momentarily forgot to return the toast. But all that was forgotten when she famously took to the dance floor with John Travolta in her midnight blue velvet dress and sapphire and diamond choker.

Earlier in the evening, an elegant dinner was held in the State Dining room, where ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov was seated next to Princess Diana, while Prince Charles sat between actress Beverly Sills and the First Lady. In addition to Neal Diamond, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and Travolta, other well-known personalities who attended the affair included fasion icons Gloria Vanderbilt and Estee Lauder, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, and architect I.M. Pei.

According to White House chef Henry Haller, the dinner menu that evening "was carefully designed to suit the noble tastes of the Prince and Princess, and to appeal to the varied tastes of their table mates. Since the Prince favors fish and fowl, the meal featured fennel-flavored lobster mousse as the first course and lightly glazed chicken for the entree."

If you'd like to whip up some Lobster Mousse for your next formal gathering, here is a delicious recipe to try from the New York Times:

1/2 pound cooked lobster meat
3/4 cup clam broth
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt, white pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Curly kale

Cut lobster into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle gelatin over broth. Place over low heat; stir until thoroughly dissolved. Cool. Whip cream. Combine celery, onion, mustard, parsley, whipped cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, salt and pepper, lobster and cooled broth and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into 1-quart mold and seal tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least four hours or overnight. To serve, mix remaining mayonnaise with lemon juice. Unmold mousse and serve on curly kale, with lemon mayonnaise poured over the top. Serve with homemade Melba toast.

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! And while it’s hard to know if Madison enjoyed eating oysters, he surely would’ve liked this simple and simply delicious take on Oysters with Linguine from the New York Times

FAST FACT: Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the power to raise an army, regulate interstate commerce, 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!

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!!