Sunday, November 28, 2010

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 had used. Although her recipe has been lost to posterity, this one from the Food Network is relatively easy to prepare and fun 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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pardoning the White House Thanksgiving Turkey

As it typically is with political history, there are many competing claims as to when the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving turkey began. Some say the tradition dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's 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 says 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 say with certainty 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."

This year, the venue will change yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama will pardon this Wednesday will be sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, he will 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's appropriate that the turkey will go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and the Washingtons also raised and ate 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.

FAST FACT: According to recent news reports, two turkeys boarded a United Airlines flight dubbed "Turkey One" departing from San Francisco to Washington D.C. last Friday. The birds were named Apple and Cider by California schoolchildren "who submitted 200 suggestions to the White House." The gobblers reportedly checked into "a private room at the W Hotel in Washington - carpeted in wood chips - and will feast on room-service corn feed until National Turkey Federation CEO...Yubert Envia delivers the plump 40-pounders to the Rose Garden," where President Obama will offer his official pardon the day before Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Thanksgiving Day Fiasco

So did you know that in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving Day forward by a week? Rather than allow the holiday to fall on its traditional date, the last Thursday of November, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring that the holiday would instead be celebrated a week earlier.

Why did he make such a seemingly random decision in the midst of the Great Depression? Well, his reason was economic and was intended to extend the Christmas shopping season. According to the Wall Street Journal:

There were five Thursdays in November that year, which meant that Thanksgiving would fall on the 30th. That left just 20 shopping days till Christmas. By moving the holiday up a week to Nov. 23, the president hoped to give the economy a lift by allowing shoppers more time to make their purchases and—so his theory went—spend more money...

In an informal news conference in August announcing his decision, FDR offered a little tutorial on the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, he noted, meaning that it was not set by federal law. According to custom, it was up to the president to pick the date every year.

It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, that that date became generally accepted, Roosevelt explained. To make sure that reporters got his point, he added that there was nothing sacred about the date...


Just as he had done with his controversial "Court Packing" plan of 1937, Roosevelt had badly misjudged public opinion. Outraged protests of his plan began in Plymouth, Massachussetts, the place of the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621, but quickly spread to other circles.

PRESIDENT SHOCKS FOOTBALL COACHES: Many Games are Upset by Thanksgiving Plan, read a banner headline in the New York Times. And even in the staunchly Democratic state of Arkansas, the football coach of Little Ouachita College threatened: 'We'll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.'"

Of course, some collegiate coaches and athletic directors were more diplomatic. In a letter to the president's secretary, Philip Badger, Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control at New York University wrote:

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day...As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President's proposal.


Outside of the collegiate football arena, public sentiments also ran heavily against Roosevelt's plan, as evidenced by a national Gallup poll which found "that 62% of Americans surveyed disapproved of the date change." And, as opposition grew, some state governors "took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation."

According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! [And so] family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

By 1941, most retailers also disapproved of Roosevelt's plan, and even the federal government conceded that the date change had not resulted in any boost in sales. And so, on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Joint Resolution 41 making Thanksgiving a national holiday and mandating that it be observed on the fourth Thursday in November of each year.

FAST FACT: According to the Library of Congress, when "Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November."

FOOD FACT: According to the Thanksgiving Timeline compiled by the Library of Congress, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the autumn harvest in 1621 with an elaborate three-day feast. Governor William Bradford "invited the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, Massasoit, to join the fifty colonists who had survived the harsh winter. The Native American leader brought ninety of his tribesmen to the feast. The celebration included athletic contests, a military review led by Miles Standish, and a feast on foods such as wild turkeys, duck, geese, venison, lobsters, clams, bass, corn, green vegetables, and dried fruits." In 1841, a doctor by the name of Alexander Young claimed that this harvest celebration was the "First Thanksgiving" and the origin of an American tradition. This interpretation "gained such widespread acceptance that other contenders for the distinction faded into obscurity."

Monday, November 15, 2010

George Bush's Top-Secret Thanksgiving Dinner

Traveling under extraordinary secrecy to ensure his safety, President George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Baghdad in November of 2003. According to a USA Today news report, Bush “shared a holiday dinner with U.S. troops in a military mess hall at Baghdad International Airport."

Wearing a grey army jacket and with his eyes reportedly wet with tears, Bush strode out as about six hundred American soldiers leapt to their feet and cheered. In his remarks, the president said:

Thank you for inviting me to dinner...I can't think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all. We're proud of you. Today, Americans are gathering with their loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. And this year we are especially thankful for the courage and the sacrifice of those who defend us, the men and women of the United States military...

You're engaged in a difficult mission. Those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will. They hope we will run. We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins...

On this Thanksgiving, our nation remembers the men and women of our military, your friends and comrades who paid the ultimate price for our security and freedom. We ask for God's blessings on their families, their loved ones and their friends, and we pray for your safety and your strength, as you continue to defend America and to spread freedom.

Each one of you has answered a great call...You live by a code of honor, of service to your nation, with the safety and the security of your fellow citizens. Our military is full of the finest people on the face of the earth. I'm proud to be your commander in chief. I bring greetings from America. May God bless you all.


To the troops great surprise, President Bush then stood in a chow line and dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a huge platter of turkey.

Because of security concerns, Air Force One had landed in Baghdad with its lights dimmed and window shades closed to minimize chances of it being made a target. And news of the top-secret trip wasn’t made public until after Air Force One was back in the air, heading back to the United States.

Of course, earlier that week, President Bush had pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkey at the White House, marking the 56th anniversary of the annual event. Apart from some gobbling while the president spoke, the lucky turkey, according to CNN, “was generally well behaved during the Rose Garden ceremony."

Once again referring to the courage of American troops, President Bush, standing next to the relieved turkey, said:

It speaks well for America that one of our most important holidays is set aside for sharing and appreciating our blessings...This year, as in other times in our history, we can be especially grateful for the courage and faithfulness of those who defend us.

The same holds true today, as always.

FAST FACT: George W. Bush wasn't the first American president to visit troops on the front-line on Thanksgiving Day. His father, George H.W. Bush, visited U.S. troops at a desert outpost in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day in 1990.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Luncheon

Fifty years ago this week, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most dramatic presidential elections in American history. Two and a half months later, on January 20, 1961, Kennedy was sworn in as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States and delivered his Inaugural address on the terrace of the East Portico of the U.S. Capital. In his eloquent address, Kennedy said:

...Fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago...

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

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

This much we pledge – and more.

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


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

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

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

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