Friday, January 28, 2011

Herbert Hoover, a Chicken in Every Pot, and the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, many Americans couldn't afford to pay their mortgages and lost everything they owned. Suddenly homeless, millions of American families had no choice but to find shelter in shanty towns, or Hoovervilles, which sprang up throughout the United States in the early 1930s.

In the popular musical Annie, which takes place in a Hooverville beneath the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, there is a song called “We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover." In it, the chorus blames President Hoover for all the hardships they are forced to endure as a result of the Great Depression. Maybe you've heard the lyrics:

[ALL]
Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal

[SOPHIE]
Today I'm stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?...

[ALL]
We'd like to thank you: Herber Hoover
For really showing us the way
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today...

In ev'ry pt he said "a chicken"
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don't we have the chicken
We ain't got the pot!


During the Election of 1928, Hoover never actually uttered the phrase “a chicken in every pot and two automobiles in every back yard,” but the Republican Party ran ads suggesting that this was what Americans could expect if he was elected.

As far as modern campaign slogans go, "A Chicken in Every Pot" sounds rather modest. But "the words rang hollow during the Great Depression that blighted Hoover's presidency and shook the economic foundations" of the nation to the core. As one observer remarked, "daily bread and shoes without holes were hard enough to come by, let alone stewing chickens and automobiles."

Nevertheless, while millions of American families were scrounging for food in the streets, President Hoover and his wife Lou were entertaining on a scale not seen at the White House in years. According to historian Poppy Cannon, "The watchword had been economy while the Coolidges lived at the White House. Now it was elegance...Mrs. Hoover never questioned the amount of food consumed or its cost. Her only requirement was that it be of the best quality, well cooked and well served.”

Needless to say, this infuriated many struggling Americans, and, in the Election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a landslide, ushering in decades of Democratic dominance in presidential elections. Meanwhile, Hoover left the White House in disgrace, "having incurred the public's wrath for failing to lift the nation out of the Great Depression."

Friday, January 21, 2011

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 mighty difficult to find published 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 his 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.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Jelly Beans

Shortly after Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in 1967, he began eating pectin jelly beans to help him quit smoking. When a new brand of jelly beans, called Jelly Belly beans, appeared on the market in 1976, Reagan quickly switched to them and would often share them with his staff and visiting officials.

Reagan enjoyed these sweet little candies so much that he later sent a letter to the chief executive of the company that produced them, stating, "we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans."

Even after he became president, Reagan's fondness for Jelly Bellies did not diminish, and large colorful jars of them were often prominently displayed on his desk in the Oval Office, in the Cabinet Room, and even on Air Force One.

When Jelly Bellies first appeared on the market, there were only eight flavors: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape, and Licorice, which was reportedly President Reagan's favorite.

Today, there are 50 official and creatively-named flavors to choose from, including Bubble Gum, Buttered Popcorn, Cappuccino, Caramel Corn, Chili Mango, Chocolate Pudding, Cotton Candy, Green Apple, Kiwi, Juicy Pear, Lemon Drop, Margarita, Orange Sherbet, Piña Colada, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Sizzling Cinnamon, Strawberry Cheesecake, Toasted Marshmallow, Top Banana, Tutti-Fruitti, Very Cherry, Wild Blackberry, and Watermelon.

Of course, jelly beans taste great alone, but they can also be used in cookies, cakes, and in this official recipe for Jelly Belly Pudding Parfait:

1 5.1 ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 3.4 ounce package butterscotch flavor instant pudding mix
5 cups milk
2 ounces Jelly Bellies (your choice)
8 fan wafer cookies

Directions: Select serving of parfait glasses that hold 3/4 to 1 cup capacity. In two separate bowls, prepare pudding mixes according to package directions. Fill glasses with alternating layers of vanilla and butterscotch pudding. Chill 5-10 minutes. Garnish parfaits with Jelly Belly beans on top and a fan wafer if desired.

FOOD FACT: In 1981, three-and-a-half tons of Jelly Belly beans were shipped to Washington, D.C. for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Blueberry, one of the most popular flavors today, was developed so there would be patriotic red, white and blue jelly beans at the festivities.

FAST FACT: In addition to the 50 official flavors, the Jelly Belly Company frequently produces "rookie" flavors that are added to the roster if they become popular enough. Some of the more curious flavors that have since been withdrawn from the market include Baked Bean, Bloody Mary, Buttered Toast, and...Roasted Garlic!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

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.

Historians say that 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 any port at any time." Plantation owners in the southern states of 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 it 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)

Monday, January 10, 2011

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

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

Since no candidate had won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson had won the most popular and electoral votes. Adams then quickly appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Outraged and feeling cheated out of the White House, Jackson and his supporters called the deal a “Corrupt Bargain.”

With these accusations hanging over his head, President Adams faced problems from the start. Aware of the fact that “two-thirds of the whole people” did not want him to be president, Adams promised in his Inaugural Address to make up for his lack of support with “a heart devoted to the welfare of our country.”

But his four years in office were not easy ones. Although his intelligence, family background and experience should have made him a great president, John lacked the charisma needed to create a base of loyal supporters.

Nevertheless, John and his wife Louisa hosted many dinner parties at the White House, as required. But John's cold personality had a chilling effect on others and guests seated near the president at dinner often said that he had a hard time engaging in casual conversation. Aware of his inability to make small talk, John wrote this in his diary:

I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, control, or to change it. I am by nature a silent animal, and my dear mother’s constant lesson in childhood, that children should be seen and not heard, confirmed me irrevocably in what I now deem a bad habit. Conversation is an art of the highest importance, a school in which, for the business of life, more may perhaps be learnt than from books. It…consists more in making others talk than in talking. Therein has been, and ever will be, my deficiency – the talent of starting the game.

Like his father, John Quincy Adams was a very intelligent man, but he lacked personal warmth and his critics called him “a chip off the old iceberg”!

FAST FACT: Adams’ policies favoring a strong federal government angered many southern slave holders who feared that that any expansion of federal power might interfere with slavery. His Indian policies also cost him supporters. Like Jefferson and Monroe, Adams wanted to remove Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, but believed that the federal government should honor Indian treaties and purchase (rather than forcibly or fraudulently take) Indian lands.

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