Monday, December 31, 2012

Andrew Johnson Hoppin' John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. Historians say that Johnson’s victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”

After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he probably consumed such traditional southern foods as Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck throughout the coming year. If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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...


Last year, the White House theme for the holiday season was "Shine, Give, Share," which offered "an opportunity to pay tribute to our troops, veterans, and their families throughout the White House." The official tour featured 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 was the official Christmas tree which honored our men and women in uniform and featured 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 also included "a bounty of Bos!" With a playful nod to the First Dog, the tour route featured 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 6, 2012

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 this holiday season, 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 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, November 28, 2012

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. And while no one knows today if President Fillmore ever ate them, he surely would have enjoyed these 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.

To read an excerpt of my new book click here

Sunday, November 11, 2012

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.

Thanks for stopping by THE HISTORY CHEF! To order my new book click here!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

James Madison, the Potomac Oyster Wars, and the Constitutional Convention

So you probably know that James Madison was one of the drafters of the Constitution and later helped spearhead the drive for the Bill of Rights, but what you might not know is that he also played a major role in negotiating an end to the Potomac Oysters Wars which indirectly helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention. This is how the story briefly goes:

In the seventeenth century, watermen in Maryland and Virginia battled over ownership rights to the Potomac River. Maryland traced its rights to a 1632 charter from King Charles I which included the river. At the same time, Virginia laid its claims to the river to an earlier charter from King James I and a 1688 patent from King James II, both of which also included the river.

In 1776, after more than a century of conflict, Virginia ceded ownership of the river but reserved the right to “the free navigation and use of the rivers Potowmack and Pocomoke." Maryland rejected this reservation and quickly passed a resolution asserting total control over the Potomac. After the Revolution, battles over the river intensified between watermen from both states.

To resolve this problem, leaders from Maryland and Virginia appointed two groups of commissioners which, at the invitation of George Washington, met at Mount Vernon in May of 1785. James Madison led the Virginia contingent and Samuel Chase led the Maryland delegation. Their discussions led to the Compact of 1785, which allowed oystermen from both states free use the river.

Peace prevailed until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland re-imposed harvesting restrictions. Virginia retaliated by closing the mouth of the Chesapeake and watermen from both states engaged in bloody gun battles which lasted, with periodic breaks, for more than a century.

Today, these battles are known as the Potomac Oyster Wars. They are important in their own right, but they have a larger historical significance because they revealed one of the main weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, which was that the federal government didn't have the power to control commerce among the states, a setup that was creating constant chaos and conflict.

With this problem in mind, Madison and the others who convened at Mt. Vernon in May of 1785 agreed to meet the following year at Annapolis to discuss the need for a stronger federal government. Not many delegates showed up and so they agreed to convene the following May in Philadelphia, which is, of course, where the Constitution was drafted.

And so NOW you know how James Madison and a little bivalve from the Potomac helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention!

FACT: Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the power to raise its own army, regulate commerce between the states, or coin money for the country. To pass a law, Congress needed the approval of nine out of the 13 states, and in order to amend the Articles it needed the approval of all 13 states, which made it nearly impossible to get anything done! The Articles also didn't provide for an Executive or Federal branch so there was no separation of powers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bill Clinton's Favorite Chicken Enchiladas

According to an article in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times, Bill Clinton has somehow become "an arbiter of international fine dining, conferring a sort of informal Michelin star just by showing up." And, if you travel enough, according to the article, "you will eventually hear a tip that goes something like: 'When you’re in Madrid, try Casa Lucio. Bill Clinton ate there with the King of Spain.' Or “Check out Le Pont de la Tour in London. Bill Clinton loves it.'"

So how, exactly, did Mr. Clinton, whose name still conjures up silly memories of Saturday Night Live skits involving greasy cheeseburgers and fries become known as “earth's No. 1 restaurant maven” overseas? Well...New York Times reporter David Segal explains it this way:

It’s widely (and correctly) assumed that he has good connections everywhere he visits, so he’s unlikely to wind up at a dud. More than most celebrities, he seems like a person who appreciates good food, and before he had heart surgery, he was known for his wide-ranging appetite.

And when Mr. Clinton visits a restaurant, everybody in the room knows it. Douglas Band, an aide who frequently travels with Mr. Clinton...says his boss introduces himself to every diner, as well as every waiter and every kitchen staff member. He will always pose for photographs and sign guest books [and someone] from his staff will send a thank-you note a few days later...

It’s also true that Mr. Clinton’s patronage in the United States has provided P.R. boosts for places like Il Mulino in Manhattan and Georgia Brown’s in Washington...But when it comes to Bill Clinton and overseas restaurants, the upside is on a far greater scale. Managers and owners from Beijing to Iceland and points between say an appearance by Mr. Clinton can be transformational, launching an obscure restaurant to fame...


Although Mr. Clinton might still enjoy an occcasional filet mignon while on the road, he follows a mostly vegetarian diet these days, and during his travels on behalf of Democratic candidates in recent years, he reportedly dined on such healthy menu items as Miso Barley Soup, Black Bean Burritos, and Cauliflower Potato Curry.

Of course, it has also been reported that he is particularly fond of chicken enchiladas and so it's perhaps not surprising that a healthful recipe for this dish appears in The Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook. If you'd like to serve up some Bill Clinton's Favorite Chicken Enchiladas for dinner tonight while watching his address at the Democratic National Convention, here is the simple and sinfully delicious recipe to try:

2 (4 oz) cans chopped green chillies, drained
1 garlic clove, minced
cooking oil
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes
2 cups chopped onion
2 tsps salt, divided
tsp oregano
3 cups shredded, cooked chicken
2 cups sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
cup cooking oil
15 corn or flour tortillas

In a large skillet over a medium-high heat, sauté the chillies and garlic in a small amount of oil. Drain the tomatoes, reserving cup of liquid. Break up tomatoes and add to skillet. Add the onion, 1 tsp salt, oregano, and reserved liquid. Simmer, uncovered, until thickened (about 30 minutes).

Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, sour cream, cheese, and remaining salt. In the same skillet over a medium-high heat, heat cup oil. Dip the tortillas in the oil until they become limp and drain well on paper towels. Fill tortillas with the chicken mixture; roll up and arrange side by side, seam side down, in a 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Pour tomato mixture over the enchiladas. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.

FOOD FACT: The Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook contains 250 recipes from the former president's lifelong friends, family members, celebrities, and White House staff and cabinet members. Some of the tasty and homey regional recipes include Muhammad Ali's Favorite Bread Pudding, Al and Tipper Gore's Tennessee Tarts, Bono's Black Velvet, Sophia Loren's Penne Alla Puttanesca, James Carville’s Jambalaya, Mary Steenburgen’s Garlic Cheese Grits, and Barbra Streisand’s Southern Lemon Icebox Pie!

FAST FACT: According to the William J. Clinton Foundation, "nearly one in three children and teens in the United States is already overweight or obese. In the past 20 years, childhood obesity rates have doubled and are now at epidemic rates." To combat this growing epidemic, the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation partnered in May 2005 to create the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The goal of the Alliance is to reduce the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity by 2015, and to inspire young people in the United States to develop lifelong healthy habits." For more information, click here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

George Washington and the Cherry Tree Myth

An early nineteenth century American book peddler, itinerant preacher and author, "Parson" Mason Locke Weems is best known today as the source of some of the most beloved if apocryphal stories about George Washington. The famous story of George and the Cherry Tree is included in Weems' masterpiece, The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington, which was originally published in 1800 (the year after Washington's death) and was an immediate best-seller.

Reprinted in ever more inventive editions over the next twenty-five years, it contained, according to historian Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the famous cherry tree myth" and other exaggerated or invented anecdotes that extolled Washington’s virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the young republic.

In telling his cherry tree story, Weems attributed it to "an aged lady,” who was reportedly a distant relative of George, and who, as a young girl, supposedly spent much time with him. This is how the fable unfolded:

"When George," said she, "was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it.

The next morning, [George’s father], finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."

“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”


Although plausible enough, historians generally agree that this quaint story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George was particularly fond of cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy highly versatile fruit.

Of course, then, as today, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this modernized dessert, which George surely would have loved had he had time to try it during his extraordinarily illustrious life:

Crust

1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold milk, cream or water

Filling

2 cups cherry preserves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, toss carefully with your hands to coat the butter cubes in flour. Pulse in the food processor several times until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Add the additional tablespoon of liquid if needed until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to shape it into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a shape a ½ inch wider than the tart pan you are using. Loosely fold the dough in half and transfer it to the tart pan.

Line the pan with the dough, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim any excess dough from the rim of the pan, leaving a blunt neat edge. Gather the trimmings into a ball (it should be about the size of a pingpong ball). Wrap the tart and the ball of dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator, and spread the marmalade evenly over the crust. Grate the chilled ball of pastry onto the filling, and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake on a rack in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature

FOOD FACT: According to fruit experts at the University of Georgia, the sweet cherry “originated in the area between the Black and Caspian seas of Asia Minor. Birds may have carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Cultivation probably began with Greeks, and was perpetuated by Romans. Sweet cherries came to the United States with English colonists in 1629 and were introduced to California by Spanish Missionaries." In the early 1800s, sweet cherries were moved west by pioneers and fur traders to their major sites of production in Washington, Oregon, and California. And, today, more than 4.2 billion pounds of sweet cherries are produced commercially each year!

Thanks for stopping by THE HISTORY CHEF! To check out my new book click here!

Monday, July 2, 2012

John Adams Gooseberry Fool

As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, John Adams was one of the fiercest advocates of the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular belief, the declaration wasn't signed by all of the delegates on July 4, 1776. Instead, it was initially approved on July 2, 1776. The delegates then continued debating and slightly revised it the following day and formally adopted it on the fourth of July. Most historians agree that the Declaration wasn’t signed by all the delegates (with a few holdouts) until nearly a month later, on August 2, 1776.

Nevertheless, on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he described these momentous events. This is what he wrote:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival...It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Although no one knows exactly what the delegates ate on those momentous days, it has been said that Adams was fond of Green Sea Turtle Soup, Indian Pudding and other foods of his New England youth. Gooseberry Fool, a traditional eighteenth century dish, was another Adam's family favorite. As an example of how national food preferences change over time, gooseberries were abundant in John's day but aren't widely available in the United States today.

So...if you can't find any gooseberries and don't have your own little patch, you can substitute blueberries or raspberries, whichever you prefer. Either way, this delicious and refreshingly sweet little treat would make a great addition to your Fourth of July festivities this week!

If you'd like to whip up a batch, here's a recipe to try from epicurious.com

3 cups pink or green gooseberries (or blueberries)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar

Pull off tops and tails of gooseberries and halve berries lengthwise. In a heavy skillet cook berries and granulated sugar over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until liquid is thickened, about 5 minutes. Simmer mixture, mashing with a fork to a coarse puree, 2 minutes more. Chill puree, covered, until cold, about 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat heavy cream with crème fraîche until it holds soft peaks. Add superfine sugar and beat until mixture just holds stiff peaks. Fold chilled puree into cream mixture until combined well. Fool may be made 3 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

Credit: Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumball

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Zachary Taylor, a Large Bowl of Cherries, and a Pitcher of Iced Milk

After participating in Fourth of July festivities at the Washington Monument on a blistering hot day, Zachary Taylor consumed a large bowl of cherries and pitcher of iced milk and suddenly fell ill with a terrible stomach ache. Within five days, he was dead.

At the time, the United States was embroiled in the bitter conflict over slavery and many people believed that  Taylor had been poisoned. Today, most historians agree that he died from cholera or acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.

Whatever the case, if Taylor were here with us today, he'd no doubt steer away from anything prepared with cherries. That's totally understandable, but it's no reason for us to do the same, especially when there are so many fabulous recipes for preparing fresh summer cherries, like this one for Cherry Cobbler from Emeril Lagasse:

Filling:

6 cups tart red cherries, pitted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Topping:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a saucepan combine filling ingredients and cook, stirring until bubbling and thickened. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish. Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until it is crumbly. Mix together egg and milk. Add to flour mixture and stir with a fork just until combined. Drop topping by tablespoonfuls onto filling. Bake for 25 minutes until browned and bubbly.

A LITTLE HISTORY: Before he became president, Zachary Taylor fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the second Seminole War before achieving fame in the Mexican-American War. On February 23, 1847, General Taylor led his troops against General Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista. When "the smoke finally cleared," Taylor's force of 6,000 had defeated a Mexican army of 20,000 and "Old Rough and Ready" was a national hero!

Credit: Oil Portrait of Zachary Taylor by Joseph H. Bush, 1849 (White House Historical Assocation)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

LBJ's Barbecue Diplomacy and a Brief History of Father's Day

Some historians say that the origins of Father’s Day in the United States can be traced to a young woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who reportedly came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Raised by her widowed father, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife after the birth of their sixth child, Sonora felt that her father should be honored in the same way that mothers were on Mother’s Day.   

Toward that end, a special Father’s Day observance was held on June 19, 1910. Although that celebration was a local affair, the idea of a national Father’s Day picked up steam when it was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, but it would take another thirty years before Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress. Then, in 1966, the first proclamation honoring fathers was issued by President Lyndon Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Today, of course, Americans celebrate Father's Day in a wide variety of ways, with perhaps the most traditional festivity being an old-fashioned, American-style barbecue. So...it seems only fitting this week to honor LBJ, who was well-known for his love of down-home, country barbecues at his beloved family ranch in Gillespie County, Texas.

Barbecuing, of course, has been used as a tool in American political campaigns and elections for more than a century, but no politician ever used “the conviviality and informality of cooking and eating outdoors” more than Johnson.” In fact, Johnson's first state dinner was a barbecue for 300 catered by Walter Jetton on December 29, 1963. According to historians:

When his staff realized it would be chilly that day, the sit-down part was moved indoors to Stonewall High School gymnasium, about two miles away. Workers did an admirable job of creating an outdoorsy feel with bales of hay, red lanterns, red-checkered table cloths, saddles, lassos, and mariachis. According to Lady Bird's diary, "there were pinto beans, delicious barbecued spareribs, cole slaw, followed by fried apricot pies with lots of hot coffee. And plenty of beer."

Although those particular recipes may have been lost to posterity, biographers say that some Johnson family favorites included Chipped Beef covered with Cream, Pedernales River Chili, and Beef Stroganoff. And Lady Bird reportedly enjoyed handing out the recipe for her famous homemade Barbecue Sauce.

If you’d like to add a little zip to your Father's Day celebration this weekend, here's her original recipe to try:

¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and Tabasco to taste.

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Yields 1 ½ cups.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, and Deep Fried Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana Sandwiches

Of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item has been requested more than any other. That item, more requested than the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution of the United States, is the photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands on the occasion of Presley's visit to the White House in 1970.

That most unlikley of meetings was initiated by Presley, who, according to historians at the the National Archives, sent Nixon a hand-written letter requesting a visit with the president and suggesting that he be secretly appointed a "Federal-Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This is what Elvis wrote:

Dear Mr. President

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do NOT consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out. I have no concern or Motives other than helping the country out.

So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials...

I am Glad to help just so long as it is kept very Private. You can have your staff or whomever call me anytime today, tonight, or tomorrow. I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men. That will be in January 18 in my home town of Memphis, Tennessee. I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this approach. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you're not too busy.

Respectfully,
Elvis Presley


Other than their brief meeting at the White House, Nixon and Elvis seemed to have little in common, with the exception of a deep love of their country and some rather unusual cravings and tastes. Nixon, for example, reportedly liked to slather ketchup on cottage cheese, and Elvis liked to eat such things as Fried Dill Pickles, Gelatin made with a Shasta Drink, and Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches Fried in Bacon Grease.

According to an article in the New York Times magazine, the King also had strange late-night cravings for Coconut Flakes with Mini Marshmallows; Peanut Butter and Cheese on Wonder Bread; Fool's Gold Loaf, which was a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and a pound of fried bacon; and "a version of the Fluffer Nutter, with peanut butter, bananas, Marshmallow Fluff and Wonder Bread rolled in crushed peanuts!"

While most of these gastronomic concoctions are enough to make even the most seasoned junk-food junkies reach for their TUMS, this recipe for Elvis Presley's Fried Peanut Butter Sandwich from Nigella Lawson is a slightly healthier alternative and might be worth trying "If You're Hungry Tonight."

2 slices white bread
2 tablespoons butter
1 small ripe banana
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

Place 2 pieces of white bread in the toaster on a light setting. Heat skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons butter. While the bread is toasting, in a small bowl, using a fork mash the ripe banana until it reaches a smooth consistency.

Using a knife, take both pieces of the toasted bread and spread 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, topping 1 side with the mashed banana. Place 1 slice of bread on top of the other forming a sandwich. Place sandwich in hot skillet browning each side, flipping with a spatula, about 2 minutes per side. Take out of skillet, slice on a diagonal and serve on a plate.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

A Brief History of the White House Easter Egg Roll

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 Abraham 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 First Family will host the 137th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 6th. According to the White House, this year’s theme is “#GimmeFive,” and more than 35,000 people will gather on the South Lawn to join in the celebrations. Keeping history alive, the event will feature sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations, and Easter classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, live music and storytelling. In addition to all of the fun, the day’s activities will encourage children to lead healthy, active lives in support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative.

FAST FACT: 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!

Friday, March 30, 2012

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 didn't 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!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

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 three-hour attack on Van Buren’s luxurious lifestyle. After describing the “Regal Splendor of the Presidential Palace,” Ogle turned his attention to Van Buren’s “kingly” dinner table.

Setting the scene for a packed gallery, Ogle dramatically proclaimed:

Mr. Chairman…Let us enter [the] palace, and survey its spacious courts, its gorgeous banqueting halls, its sumptuous drawing rooms, its glittering and dazzling saloons, with all their magnificent and sumptuous array of gold and silver…I cannot forbear…to read you a description of the great banqueting hall, commonly called the “East Room”…who can deny that this room, intended for the comfort of our democratic Chief Magistrate, is adorned with regal splendor far above any of the grand saloons at Buckingham Palace…or Windsor Castle…

In my opinion, it is time the people of the United States should know that their money goes to buy for their plain hard-handed democratic President, knives, forks, and spoons of gold, that he may dine in the style of the monarchs of Europe. … What, sir, will the honest [Democrat] say to Mr. Van Buren for spending the People’s cash [on] GREEN FINGER CUPS, in which to wash his pretty tapering, soft, white, lily fingers, after dining on Fricandeau de Veau and Omelette Soufflé?


Outraged, Democrats condemned Ogle’s speech and tried to show that he was the real aristocrat in the campaign. But the damage was done, and Harrison, at sixty-seven, became the oldest person elected to the presidency, a distinction he retained until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

FAST FACT: Ironically, it was Van Buren who born into a working class family while Harrison was from a wealthy political family and his father was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Source: Charles Ogle, "The Regal Splendor of the Presidential Palace" (1840)

Credit: Portrait of Martin van Buren by George P.A. Healy (White House)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Richard Nixon Family-Style Meatloaf

Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom was a former employee of the CIA, were arrested in what authorities would later describe as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." At dinner, Nixon enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here's a recipe to try here and here's the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf on lower shelf of oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is fully cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.


FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity *reportedly* unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.” Doh!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Herbert Hoover, a "Chicken For 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's 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 for every pot and two automobiles in every back yard,” but the Republican Party did run ads suggesting that this was what Americans could expect if he was elected.

As far as modern campaign slogans go, "A Chicken For 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 Americans were scrounging for food in the streets, Hoover and his wife "Lou" were entertaining on a scale not seen at the White House in years. According to culinary 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."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

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 proven mighty difficult to find 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 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.

FAST FACT: According to the White House website: Air Force One is maintained and operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, part of the White House Military Office. The Airlift Group was founded in 1944 as the Presidential Pilot Office at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For the next 20 years, various propeller driven aircraft served the President. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy became the first President to fly in his own jet aircraft, a modified Boeing 707. Over the years, several other jet aircraft have been used, with the first of the current aircraft being delivered in 1990 during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

What did Leonardo da Vinci Like to Eat?

How Leonardo da Vinci used rudimentary pigments in 1503 to create such subtle shadows and light on the Mona Lisa has long baffled art historians. Now, French researchers are using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to isolate and study each ultra-thin layer of paint and glaze da Vinci used to create the effect he was seeking, according to recent news reports.

By beaming x-rays on the Mona Lisa without removing it from the wall on which it is mounted in Paris' Louvre Museum, scientists found that da Vinci used a Renaissance painting technique known as sfumato, intricately mixing thin layers of pigment, glaze and oil to create the appearance of lifelike shadows and light. Scientists now believe that da Vinci used up to 30 layers of paint on his works.

While this may solve one mystery about the Mona Lisa, others remain, like: who is this enigmatic woman and why does she hold her subtle half-smile? To these questions we can add another: what did this mysterious woman and da Vinci like to eat?

According to one researcher who studied the culinary habits of fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, some Renaissance favorites were Risi e Bisi, Saffron Risotto with Duck and Mushrooms, and Spinach Soup with Hazelnuts. Although those recipes would be impossible to duplicate today, this one for Saffron Risotto with Mushrooms from the New York Times might give you a sense of how and what Leonardo da Vinci ate.

4 cups beef or chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/4 cup finely minced onions
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and sliced (see note)
1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Place stock in a saucepan and over medium heat bring to a simmer. Add saffron, stir, and simmer slightly. Meanwhile, in a larger saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in olive oil. When foam subsides, add scallions and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and yellow but not browned. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated.

Add rice to mushrooms, and cook, stirring to coat well, with butter and oil. Add approximately 3/4 cup of simmering stock to rice and mushrooms. Stir well and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until rice has absorbed most of stock. Continue adding stock to rice by half-cupful adding only after rice has absorbed previous addition.

As cooking continues, stir more frequently. After 25 minutes, all the stock should be absorbed, and rice should be tender but still chewy. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining butter and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately, passing the rest of the cheese.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ulysses S. Grant, the Transcontinental Railroad, and Santa Fe Broiled Sage 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 reportedly known for its Prairie Chicken and Broiled Sage Hen.

Although those railway recipes would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this simple and simply delicious 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..

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Friday, February 24, 2012

James Garfield, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the Founding Father of Vegetarianism

As a lawyer, professor, and duly ordained minister, James Garfield is the only president to have discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. The Theorem, of course, is named after Pythagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician. As you might recall from grade school, the theorem says that in a right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two right angle sides will always be the same as the square of the hypotenuse (the longest side).

Translated mathematically, the equation would read: A2 + B2 = C2. Let’s try it quickly here: If Side A is 4 inches long and Side B is 3 inches long, the equation would be: 4 x 4 = 16 and 3 x 3 = 9. Added together, 16 + 9 = 25. Now we simply find the square root of 25 and - voila! - we know that side C is 5 inches long!

So what in the world does the Pythagorean Theorem have to do with food? A lot, if you consider the fact that Pythagoras has been called the Founding Father of Vegetarianism. Until the mid-nineteenth century, when the term "vegetarian" came into use, people who didn't eat meat were often called “Pythagoreans.”

As a young man, James Garfield was a farmer in Ohio and probably wouldn't have called himself a Pythagorean, but he surely would have liked this healthy recipe for Ultimate Veggie Burgers from 101 Cookbooks if he tried it!

2 1/2 cups sprouted garbanzo beans OR canned garbanzos, rinsed
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 onion, chopped
Grated zest of one large lemon
1 cup toasted (whole-grain) bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine garbanzos, eggs, and salt in a food processor. Puree until the mixture is the consistency of a thick, slightly chunky hummus. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in the cilantro, onion, and zest. Add breadcrumbs, stir, and let sit for a couple of minutes so crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium low, add 4 patties, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes. Flip the patties and cook the second side for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

FAST FACT: James Garfield was one of our most intellectual presidents. Before going into politics, he was a professor of ancient languages at Hiram College in Ohio. He was also ambidextrous and biographers say that he would often show off his knowledge by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

James Hemings: Thomas Jefferson's Head Chef

Before departing for his diplomatic appointment as U.S. Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson decided to bring his teenage slave James Hemings with him for the “particular purpose” of mastering the art of French cookery.

Between 1785 and 1789, James apprenticed under famous French chefs and pastry cooks and became chef de cuisine in Jefferson’s residence on the Avenue Champs-Élysées, earning about $48 a year. Now, these were the tumultuous years leading up to the French Revolution and there was no slavery in France at that time, and so James could have claimed his freedom at any time, but for reasons that remain unexplained, he chose not to do so.

Instead, he returned to the United States and later became head chef at Monticello. When James later petitioned for his freedom in 1793, Jefferson agreed upon the following condition:“if the said James shall go with me to Monticello...and shall continue there until he shall have taught such persons as I shall place under him for the purpose to be a good cook...he shall be thereupon made free.”

To fulfill the terms of this manumission agreement, James taught his brother Peter all the recipes and cooking techniques he had learned in France, and, three years later, James became a free man.

No one knows exactly what became of James after that, but we do know one thing: after Jefferson was elected to the presidency in 1800, he asked James to be his head chef in Washington, D.C. James declined this post, however, and a Frenchman by the name of Honoré Julien was head chef at the President’s House during most of Jefferson’s two terms of office.

FAST FACT: Manumission is a fancy legal term for the freeing of a slave. In the United States, manumission of slaves was achieved by a variety of means, including state-ordered manumission and through private manumission agreements, like the one between Thomas and James.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ronald Reagan Macaroni and Cheese

On the evening of January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address from the Oval Office at the White House. In it, he spoke reverently of the past, of his accomplishments during his eight years in office, and of his vision of America’s promise.

Near the end of his address, Reagan turned his attention toward patriotism, freedom, and the future, and said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table” in the daily conversations between parent and child. This is what he said:

My fellow Americans...we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant...Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do...


After leaving office, Reagan and his wife Nancy quietly retired to a mansion on a private, tree-lined street in the exclusive community of Bel Air, California. Despite the many elegant State Dinners that he surely must have become accustomed to during his two terms of office, those who were close to the president say that he retained a childhood taste for Meatloaf, Hamburger Soup, and other simple foods of his youth.

One his "all-time favorites," however, according to White House Chef Henry Haller, was Macaroni and Cheese, so much so that Reagan requested that a dish of it be delivered to him while he was recuperating at a hospital after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt that took place on March 30, 1981, less than 100 days into his presidency.

“The dish was served in the manner the President prefer[ed],” Haller explained, “with the noodles well cooked and covered with a light cheese spiked with mustard.” If you’d like to serve up some of President Reagan’s Favorite Macaroni and Cheese for dinner tonight while talking to your kids about what it means to be an American, here is the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:

½ pound macaroni
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of paprika

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add 2-1/2 cups of the grated cheese.

In a small bowl, combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole. Pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch and the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entree accompanied by a hot green vegetable and a crisp salad, or as a side dish with Hamburgers or Meat Loaf.

FAST FACT: Also injured in the assassination attempt was White House Press Secretary James Brady who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, while a Secret Service Agent was shot in the chest and a Washington, D.C. police officer was hit near the spine. Historians at the Miller Center say that "as Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. According to Political Affairs Director Lyn Nofziger, Reagan was in good spirits, at one point teasing the medical staff, 'Please tell me you're Republicans.'"

Credit: Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho Del Cielo, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (1976)

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