Sunday, March 27, 2011

Woodrow Wilson, "Foods That Will Win the War," and Liberty Cabbage

Following the outbreak of war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to observe “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to help the war effort. He assured families that conserving food at home would help support our troops and allies overseas and feed starving people in Europe where food production and distribution had been disrupted by war.

In 1918, Houston Goudiss, a food expert, and his wife Alberta, Director of the School of Modern Cookery, published a book entitled, Foods That Will Win The War and How to Cook Them. In it, they explained the importance of food conservation and described how seemingly small sacrifices could have a huge impact in the aggregate:

Food will win the war, and the nation whose food resources are best conserved will be the victor...A little bit of saving in food means a tremendous aggregate total, when 100,000,000 people are doing the saving. One wheatless meal a day would not mean hardship; there are always corn and other products to be used.

Yet one wheatless meal a day in every family would mean a saving of 90,000,000 bushels of wheat, which totals 5,400,000,000 lbs. Two meatless days a week would mean a saving of 2,200,000 lbs. of meat per annum. One teaspoonful of sugar per person saved each day would insure a supply ample to take care of our soldiers and our Allies.

These quantities mean but a small individual sacrifice, but when multiplied by our vast population they will immeasurably aid and encourage the men who are giving their lives to the noble cause of humanity on which our nation has embarked.


Fueled by the anti-German sentiment that spread across the nation during the Great War, certain foods were renamed to remove their ethnic connotations. Patriotic Americans proudly called sauerkraut "Liberty Cabbage," for example, while frankfurters became known as Liberty Sausage! Although the Goudiss' didn’t provide a recipe for Liberty Cabbage in their book, you can whip up this delicious recipe for Sweet and Sour Cabbage from epicurious.com

5 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 pounds red cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup apple juice

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add onions; sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix in next 7 ingredients. Add cabbage; cook until cabbage begins to wilt, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Cover; simmer until cabbage is crisp-tender, stirring often, about 17 minutes. Uncover; add apple and apple juice and cook until apple is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

FOOD FACT: In a chapter titled "WHEAT: Reasons Why Our Government Asks Us to Save Wheat," the Goudiss' wrote: A slice of bread seems an unimportant thing. Yet one good-sized slice of bread weighs an ounce. It contains almost three-fourths of an ounce of flour. If every one of the country's 20,000,000 homes wastes on the average only one such slice of bread a day, the country is throwing away daily over 14,000,000 ounces of flour — over 875,000 pounds, or enough flour for over a million one-pound loaves a day. For a full year at this rate there would be a waste of over 319,000,000 pounds of flour — 1,500,000 barrels — enough flour to make 365,000,000 loaves.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ulysses S. Grant, the Transcontinental Railroad, and "Santa Fe Sage Broiled Hen"

After the Civil War, peace between the North and South made it possible for the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad to be completed. In 1863, the Union Pacific began laying track in Omaha, Nebraska, heading west. At the same time, the Central Pacific started laying track in Sacramento, California, heading east.

Work in the beginning was slow and difficult, as you can imagine. After less than 25 miles of track had been laid in California, the Central Pacific “faced the daunting task of laying tracks over terrain that rose 7,000 feet in less than a hundred miles.” To conquer the sheer embankments, workers, the vast majority of whom were Chinese immigrants, were lowered by rope from the top of cliffs. While dangling in mid-air, they chipped away at the granite with picks and axes and then planted explosives to blast tunnels through the cliffs.

On October 10, 1865, Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, submitted a progress report to President Ulysses S. Grant:

A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more
profitable and congenial employment in mining and agricultural pursuits, than in railroad work. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise within the time required by the Acts of Congress...

Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents…in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents…furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants that ...the [company] will be able to procure during the next year not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force, the Company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it within the time required by the Acts of Congress, but so as to meet the public impatience.


Four and a half years later, the two tracks finally met and the final “Golden Spike” was driven in with great ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. By the end of the century, four more railways crisscrossed the United States. By then, most trains had luxury dining cars where first class passengers like President Grant dined on superb regional fare. The Baltimore and Ohio, for example, was famous for fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay while the Santa Fe was known for its Broiled Sage Hen and Prairie Chicken.

Although those railway recipes would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this simple recipe for Lemon Sage Roasted Chicken from Bon Appetit.

4 chicken breast halves with skin and bones
8 very thin lemon slices, seeded
12 fresh sage leaves
Olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450°F. Slide fingertips under chicken skin to loosen. Arrange 2 lemon slices and 3 sage leaves under skin on each breast; smooth skin over to enclose. Place chicken on rimmed baking sheet; brush with oil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon lemon juice over each breast; sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup broth onto sheet around chicken.

Roast chicken until brown and cooked through, basting once or twice with pan juices, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Place baking sheet directly atop 2 burners; add remaining 1/2 cup broth. Using back of fork, mash any garlic on baking sheet into broth and pan juices. Boil over high heat until broth reduces almost to glaze, scraping up browned bits, about 4 minutes. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

FAST FACT: For every track of mile laid, railroads were granted a certain sum of money and 20 square miles of free land. The transcontinental railroad brought rapid economic growth to the nation, as farming, cattle-ranching and other agricultural businesses rapidly developed along the main lines.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth, and the Debate over the Baby Ruth Candy Bar

So did you know that Grover Cleveland was born 174 years ago today? And did you know that his name is associated with a long-standing debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar? Some people say that this popular candy bar was named after Cleveland's infant daughter Ruth, who was endearingly referred to as "Baby Ruth." Others claim that it was named after the great baseball player Babe Ruth, who hit the peak of his fame shortly after the candy bar was introduced in 1920.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

In 1931, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ruled in favor of the Curtiss Company and George Ruth's Home Run Bar was forced off the market. To support its ruling, the court explained that it was evident that George Ruth was trying to capitalize on his own 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 candy 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 candy bar!

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ronald Reagan, Tip O'Neill, and the Origins of the Annual St. Patrick's Day Luncheon

On March 17, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will attend the annual St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon at the U.S. Capital, a tradition that dates back to 1983 when Thomas “Tip” O’Neill hosted a bipartisan lunch for President Ronald Reagan and other House and Senate members.

The House reportedly arranged that luncheon to ease tensions between O'Neill and Reagan, both of whom were intensely proud of their Irish-American roots but couldn't have been more politically or idealogically different. According to a political columnist for The Washington Post:

O'Neill and Reagan were oil and water. O'Neill was raised with a firm belief in Roosevelt's New Deal and the power (and necessity) of government to make a difference in average peoples' lives. Reagan's entire governing philosophy was an implicit rejection of the New Deal. Clashes, predictably, ensued.

Reagan's victory heralded the end of Democrats' vice-grip on Congress and began nearly three decades in which Republicans held the White House for all but eight years. As Democrats sought to dust themselves off from the 1980 electoral defeat, it was O'Neill who stepped in the leadership void to take on Reagan day in and day out - ensuring that his party's vision was represented in the national debate.


In the process, O'Neill effectively moved the speakership from "the back rooms of Congress to the television sets of the country by installing himself as Reagan's prime antagonist." Yet, for all their fierce and very public political debates, the two Irish-American politicians developed an amicable personal relationship that was evident in the days leading up to that first St. Paddy's Day Luncheon in 1983.

“I’m going to cook you some Boston corned beef, and I’m going to have an Irish storyteller there,” O’Neill promised Reagan, to which the president reportedly quipped, “I’ll have to polish up some new Irish jokes.”

Although O'Neill didn't officially enter his recipe for Boston Corned Beef in the congressional record, you can whip up this simple recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage for your next St. Paddy's luncheon or other large social gathering:

3 1/2 pounds corned beef brisket or plain beef brisket
15 peppercorns
8 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
Salt, if using plain brisket
2 medium sized turnips, peeled and quartered
4 red new potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 carrots, cut into thirds and quartered lengthwise
1 small head cabbage, cut into fourths

Put the brisket in a 5 or 6 quart Dutch oven and cover with an inch of water. If you are using corned beef brisket and it does not come already packed in seasoning, add peppercorns, cloves, and a bay leaf to the pot. If using plain brisket, add a teaspoon of salt for every quart of water. Bring to a simmer and then cover, lower the heat until it is barely simmering. Keep at a low simmer for four hours or until the meat is tender (a fork goes through easily).

Remove meat and set aside. Add vegetables to the pot. Check the broth for taste. If it is too salty, add a little more water to taste. Raise the temperature and bring the soup to a high simmer. Cook at a high simmer until done, about 15-30 minutes longer, depending on the size of the cut of your vegetables. Slice the meat in thin slices against the grain. Serve with horseradish or mustard or both.

FOOD FACT: Although the official menu for the 1983 luncheon has proved mighty difficult to find, obamafoodorama.com tells us that menu items for the 2009 St. Paddy's Day Luncheon included Terrine of Smoked Salmon, Crab and Avocado with Yellow Pepper Coulis, and Cheese Straws as appetizers with Lamb Chops Provencal and Madeira Sauce as the Main Entree. Side dishes included Crispy Fried Potatoes and Fondue of Vegetables followed by Ghirardelli Chocolate Praline Mousse and freshly baked "Shamrock Cookies" for dessert!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Millard Fillmore, the Great Irish Famine, and Garlic Mashed Potato Pancakes

So did you know that in the election of 1856, Millard Fillmore ran as the presidential candidate of the Know-Nothing party? One of the nation’s first major third parties, the Know-Nothing party was formed partly in response to large numbers of Irish and German immigrants arriving in the United States.

Facing starvation during the Great Potato Famine, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants moved to New York and other large northeastern cities in the late 1840s and 1850s. Willing to work for low wages in unskilled jobs, Irish immigrants seemed to be taking jobs away from native-born Americans.

Around the same time, large numbers of Germans were immigrating to the United States. Like the Irish, most Germans were Catholic and "didn't keep the Sabbath" the way American Protestants did. They also seemed to drink lots of beer, which offended many Americans who still "clung to traditional Puritan values."

Although the Know-Nothing party quickly faded away, the Irish and German remained and introduced many traditional ethnic foods to the United States, including spätzle, saurkraut, pretzels, pumpernickel bread, Irish Stew, corned beef, coddle, and goodey.

Mashed Potato Pancakes are another popular Irish and German dish. Although no one nows if President Fillmore ever ate them, he surely would have enjoyed them if he tried this simple and simply delicious recipe for Garlic Mashed Potato Pancakes from Cat Cora at Oprah.com:

5 large baking potatoes
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cloves peeled and minced garlic
2 cups low-fat milk
3 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter in a medium skillet. When the butter is melted, add the garlic. Cook over low heat just until the garlic starts to color. Take care not to burn the butter. Take pan off heat and set aside to cool.

When the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, drain them and return them to the pot. The residual heat will help the excess water evaporate. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or a ricer. Gradually add the milk until the potatoes are the desired consistency.

Stir in the butter and garlic mixture, add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Form the mixture into pancake patties and cook on each side for about 1 to 2 minutes over medium-high heat in skillet on stove top until a bit crisped on both sides. Serve warm and enjoy!

FAST FACT: According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, the Know-Nothing Party "is the popular name for the American Republican Party, later called the American Party, which was established in 1843 with the aim of restricting immigration and preventing Roman Catholics from holding public office. They were called Know-Nothings because members of the party were told to say ‘I know nothing’ when asked about it. They were also called ‘nativists’ because they believed that foreign-born Americans should not be allowed to hold government posts." Know-Nothings scored some victories in the 1850s, but were divided over the issue of slavery, and the party soon faded away.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and "Tippecanoe and Burgoo, Too!"

During William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign, hard cider flowed so fast that he became known as the “Hard Cider Candidate.” To feed his many rowdy supporters, Harrison's cooks served an election dish called Burgoo which was made by dropping chopped vegetables into warm squirrel stew.

Hailing his victory over an Indian confederacy thirty years earlier, Harrison’s supporters coined the slogan, "TIPPECANOE AND TYLER, TOO!” With its shrewd and clever use of catchy slogans, poems and songs, and organized picnics, rallies, bonfires, and parades, the Election of 1840 is considered by many historians to be the first modern American presidential campaign!

Of course, the custom of plying potential voters with food and drink has been practiced by politicians since George Washington's day. But it perhaps reached its zenith in the campaign of 1840, when Harrison and his lieutenants "wined and dined the populace throughout the West."

The first step, according to historian Poppy Cannon, was to erect a log cabin, then "invite all eligible males to a feast of cornbread, cheese, and hard cider." Little by little, the feasts became more elaborate, "culminating in a spread in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which 30,000 hungry voters were served 360 hams, 20 calves, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 8,000 pounds of bread and 4,500 pounds of Burgoo."

Perfected in Kentucky and popular throughout the western territories, Burgoo was the perfect election dish as it could be easily expanded to feed large crowds by simply adding more water, vegetables, and squirrel meat to it. Although squirrel was once deemed essential to this classic American dish, most modern recipes, like this one for Kentucky Burgoo from Emeril Lagasse, call for beef, lamb and chicken.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank, trimmed of excess fat
2 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, quartered
4 cloves peeled garlic
1 medium fresh hot red pepper, quartered
1 (3 to 4 pound) whole chicken or hen, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups medium diced carrots
1 cup medium diced green bell peppers
1 pound baking potatoes, like russets, peeled and medium diced
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh green beans, strings removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a large, heavy pot, over medium heat, add the oil. Season the beef and lamb with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the meat, in batches, for a couple of minutes on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, cloves, and pepper. Cover with water. (about 3 to 4 quarts). Bring to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until tender, about 3 hours.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. During the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking, add the chicken. Remove the meat, chicken and vegetables from the pan, set aside and cool. Discard the vegetables. Add the remaining vegetables and brown sugar to the pot of hot liquid. Continue to cook for 1 hour.

After the meat has cooled, cube the beef and lamb into 1-inch pieces. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard. Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the cubed meat and chicken to the vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Re-season if necessary. Ladle the stew into serving bowls. Serve with hot cornbread or biscuits. Garnish with parsley.

Credit: William Henry Harrison, oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.)