Thursday, December 22, 2011

James Buchanan Snickerdoodles

Presiding over the nation during a time of great strife, James Buchanan is the only president who never had a wife. And while he dined mighty fine at his many White House parties, biographers say that James retained a childhood taste for Scrapple, Confederate Pudding, and sweet Pennsylvania Dutch-German cookies called Apees.

Snickerdoodles are another traditional Dutch-German cookie that are covered with cinnamon and sugar and baked in the shape of a snail. Some historians say that their fanciful name comes from the German term schnecke knödel which can be translated as “snail dumpling.” Others say that “snicker” comes from the Dutch word snekrad or the German word schnecke, both of which refer to a small, snail-like shape.

Although no one knows who came up with their name, we do know that these sweet little sugar cookies have been popular in Buchanan's native state of Pennsylvania for centuries. If you'd like to whip up a batch of snickerdoodles this holiday season, here is a recipe to try from Emeril Lagasse:

For the topping:

3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cookie dough:

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside. To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients. In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Chill dough 1 hour if it's sticky or difficult to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Place on an ungreased sheet pan 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked. Let cool on the sheet a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool.

FOOD FACT: At Buchanan’s inaugural reception in 1857, more than 5,000 guests reportedly dined on "eight rounds of beef, seventy-five hams, sixty saddles of mutton, four saddles of venison, four hundred gallons of oysters, five quarts of jellies," twelve hundred quarts of ice cream, and more than $3,000 was spent on the wines - an astronimical figure at the time. But this was just a hint of the culinary excesses to come, and, during his four years in office, Buchanan’s annual $25,000 presidential salary wasn’t always enough to cover his tabs and he often had to pay for his extravagant "bachelor" parties at the White House out of his own pocket!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Benjamin Harrison, a Holiday Dinner, and the First Decorated Christmas Tree at the White House

Benjamin Harrison’s presidency began with a dramatic, three-day centennial commemoration of George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States. The festivities began on April 28, 1889 with a reception in the White House, followed by a reenactment of George Washington’s crossing of New York Harbor by barge under a fuselage of gun salutes and fireworks. The evening was capped with a lavish banquet, featuring thirteen wines and thirteen toasts in honor of the original thirteen colonies.

Despite the initial fanfare, Harrison and his family dined rather modestly during their four years in the White House, and it has been said that their Christmas dinner was about as unpretentious as the family itself. According to culinary historian Poppy Cannon:

The dinner began with Blue Point oysters on the half shell, followed by consomme a la Royale, chicken in patty shells, and then the piece de resistance, stuffed roast turkey, cranberry jelly, Duchess potatoes and braised celery. Then came terrapin a la Maryland, lettuce salad with French drssing, and assorted desserts: minced pie, American plum pudding, tutti fruitti ice cream. For those still hungry, ladyfingers, Carlsbad wafers, and macaroons were passed, followed by fruit and coffee...

But of all White House holiday traditions, the Harrison's are perhaps most well-known for setting up the first decorated Christmas tree in the White House. According to White House historians, it was on the morning of December 25, 1889 that President Harrison "gathered his family around the first indoor White House Christmas tree. It stood in the upstairs oval room, branches adorned with lit candles. First Lady Caroline Harrison, an artist, helped decorate the tree."

As our nation's First Lady, Mrs. Harrison set the stage for what would eventually become a White House holiday tradition. But not all First Families after the Harrisons set up Christmas trees in the White House. First Lady Grace Coolidge did in the 1920s; however, it was First Lady "Lou" Henry Hoover who started the custom in 1929 when she oversaw the decoration of the first "official" tree. Since then, the honor of trimming the main White House Christmas tree has belonged to the First Ladies. According to the White House Historical Association:

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet. Mrs. Kennedy reused these ornaments in 1962 for her children's theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday decor during her White House years. Her 1965 and 1966 Blue Room Christmas trees were decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood roses from Hawaii...

Handmade crafts set the theme for First Lady Betty Ford's 1974 Blue Room tree. Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree. She kept this quaint feel in 1975 for her "old-fashioned children's Christmas" theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes, acorns, dried fruits, pinecones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments...


This year, the White House theme for the 2011 holiday season is "Shine, Give, Share," which offers "an opportunity to pay tribute to our troops, veterans, and their families throughout the White House." The official tour features 37 Christmas trees (30 are natural trees and 7 are made from paper, felt or aluminum) and a gingerbread model of the White House made of 400 pounds of gingerbread, white chocolate, and marzipan. But the centerpiece is the official Christmas tree which honors our men and women in uniform and "features holiday cards created by military children."

According to whitehouse.gov, the cards were collected from United States military installations around the world...Medals, badges, and patches from all of the military branches are displayed on ornaments, historic military images are displayed with volunteer-made pinecone frames, and ribbons inspired by the Armed Forces colors represent the brave women and men who protect our Nation and defend our freedom."

FOOD FACT: The White House holiday décor this year also includes "a bounty of Bos!" With a playful nod to the First Dog, the tour route features five "Bo topiaries made from various materials like felt (35 yards of wool felt used), buttons (318 buttons in total), pom poms (750 pom poms used), and candy (12 marshmallows and 1,911 pieces of licorice).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dolley Madison Fresh Raspberry Flummery

So did you know that Dolley Madison had an insatiable sweet tooth and was particularly fond of such treats as Macaroons, Cinnamon Cakes, Gingerbread, Cranberry Sherbet and ice cream?

Flummery was another popular ninteeenth century dish that Dolley reportedly served at her many festive social gatherings at the White House. According to an article in the New York Times, dictionary writers are not kind to flummery and this “innocent pudding” is often described by lexicographers as a “bland custard” or “a sort of pap,” while Webster’s asserts that an alternative meaning of flummery is “something insipid or not worth having.”

Food historians say that the modern origins of flummery can be traced to a seventeenth century Welsh specialty prepared with oatmeal and boiled until dense. As this "goopy dish" lost popularity over the years, cooks gave the name flummery to those puddings that were “firmed up with almonds and gelatin.”

By the time flummery made its way to the United States, it had been transformed into a "pure, delicately-set fruit stew." If you’d like to whip up some flummery for your next dinner party or large social gathering, here is a simple recipe to try from the New York Times Magazine:

1 quart fresh raspberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water or milk
Juice of half a lemon
Heavy cream, for serving

Combine the berries, sugar and ½ cup hot water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is liquid. Strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Return the strained liquid to a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, blend the cornstarch with the cold water or milk. Stir this into the boiling berry liquid. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute. Serve with heavy cream and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: Famous for hosting elegant dinner parties and receptions, Dolley Madison’s name became associated with fine dining and entertaining. In the early nineteenth century, food companies and advertisers began using her name to suggest that any woman could entertain as well as she did. Some of the food companies named after her were The Dolly Madison Bakery and Dolly Madison Ice Cream. There was even a Dolly Madison Popcorn. And Dolly Madison snacking cakes are still widely available today!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

George Bush, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

Published late last year, George W. 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 political issues to review, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush didn't spend much time discussing 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. Here is a video of Obama's remarks:

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, December 12, 2011

George Washington's Ice House at Mount Vernon and Strawberry Ice Cream Baked in Warm Pastry

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

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

So did you know that 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 patriots encamped there were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

Another soldier there was Dr. Albigence Waldo, a surgeon from Connecticut,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Martin Van Buren, the Election of 1840, and the "Regal Splendor" of the Presidential Palace

Having witnessed the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s "levees" first hand, Martin Van Buren prohibited all food or drink from public receptions. Privately, however, he hosted many extravagant dinner parties at the White House.

Using gold plated spoons that James Monroe had purchased years earlier in France, Van Buren added the finest quality cut wine glasses, water bottles and goblets. He also purchased expensive European finger bowls in which he rinsed his fingers after a night of fine dining.

Shortly before the election of 1840, Charles Ogle, a Whig Congressman from Pennsylvania, rose to speak in the House of Representatives and launched into a

Thursday, December 1, 2011

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.