Friday, April 22, 2011

Lucy Hayes and the First Easter Egg Roll at the White House

According to the White House website, "some historians note that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll, while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the White House dating back to President Lincoln's administration." Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. But First Lady Lucy Hayes revived the tradition in 1878 by inviting children to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to an article in Time Magazine:

Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event.

Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.

This year, the White House Easter Egg Roll will be held on Monday, April 25th, with the theme of “Get Up and Go!” promoting health and wellness. According to the White House website, the event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and, of course, an Easter egg roll!

Although the menu for this year's White House Easter Brunch hasn't been released, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that menu items in 2008 included Honey Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Sauce as a main entree, along with Eggs Benedict, spinach salad, waffles, sauteed asparagus, biscuits and cheese grits.

If you'd like to serve Eggs Benedict at your Easter Brunch this year, here is a simple recipe to try from the Food Network:

1 teaspoon vinegar
4 eggs
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins

Hollandaise sauce:

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and hot
Salt and pepper
Paprika and chopped parsley

In large skillet, bring 2 inches of water and vinegar to a boil. Crack one egg into a glass. Reduce water to a simmer and pour egg into water. Add remaining eggs and cook for 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain. In a non-stick skillet heat the bacon until warm. Toast the English muffins until golden.

For sauce: Place yolks, water and lemon juice into blender. Blend for 1 minute. With blender running, pour butter through open hole of lid. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble: Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and the chopped parsley.

FAST FACTS: Historians tell us that the Easter Egg Roll has been held at the White House every year except during World War I, World War II and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find in the Egg Hunt and President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the White House Easter Bunny in the festivities." Years earlier, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her famous pet racooon Rebecca!