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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