Friday, January 20, 2012

James Polk, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Food on the Range

So did you know that in 1848 James Polk signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War and gave most of present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Wyoming, and Utah to the United States?

With the addition of these vast tracts of land, more and more cowboys headed to the southwest, where they herded cattle north to market and sold them for beef. As they galloped along, cowboys would sing songs about food like "Trouble for the Range Cook" and "Starving to Death on My Government Claim."

"Git Along Little Dogies" is another classic cowboy tune. In it, a cowboy tells the dogies (the calves in the herd) that it’s their misfortune (and none of his own) that they will soon be sold at market. Maybe you’ve heard the lyrics:

As I walked out this morning for pleasure,
I met a cowpuncher a jogging along;
his hat was throwed back and his spurs was a jingling,
and as he advanced he was singing this song.

Yippee ti yi yo, get along little dogies
It's your misfortune and none of my own
Yippee ti yi yo get along little dogies
For you know that Wyoming will soon be your home...


It's early in spring that we round up the dogies,
And mark 'em and brand 'em and bob off their tails;
We round up our horses and load the chuckwagon,
And then throw them dogies out onto the trail.

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along, little dogies,
It's your misfortune And none of my own;
Whoopee ti yi yo, Git along, little dogies,
You know that Wyoming will be your new home.


As cowboys drove cattle north, cooks drove Chuck Wagons (which carried all of the food and supplies for meals) ahead of the herds to set up camp for the night. Meals on the range typically consisted of beef, hash, beans, chili peppers, coffee, biscuits, sugar, and dried fruit.

Like cowboys, cooks would sing snappy tunes about food while working hard on the range. In “Punchin’ Dough” a cook tells some bothersome and ungrateful cowboys that cooking is just as demanding as herding cattle:

Come, all you young waddies, I'II sing you a song
Stand back from the wagon, stay where you belong
I've heard you complaining' I'm fussy and slow,
While you're punchin' the cattle and I'm punchin' dough.

Now I reckon your stomach would grow to your back
If it was'n't for the cook that keeps fillin' the slack
With the beans in the box and the pork in the tub
I'm a-wonderin' now, who would fill you with grub?

When you're cuttin' stock, then I'm cuttin' a steak,
When you're wranglin' hosses, I'm wranglin' a cake.
When you're hazin' the dogies and battin' your eyes,
I'm hazin' dried apples that aim to be pies…


Meanwhile, as cowboys were devouring biscuits and beans on the range, President Polk was dining on rich French cuisine at the White House. But Polk was no stranger to grub. As a boy growing up on the North Carolina frontier, he reportedly ate Black Bear Steak and Barbecued Deer. Like other frontier folk, basic country fare, like Tenesseee Ham and Corn Pone, was what pleased Polk the most!

If you'd like to wrangle up some corn pone one of these days, here's a simple recipe to try from The Smokey Mountain Cookbook

1 tablespoon of shortening
3/4 cup of boiling water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon of salt

Melt shortening in heavy 8 or 9-inch skillet. Heat water to boiling point and pour immediately over corn meal and salt. Add melted shortening; stir to blend well. As soon as mixture has cooled enough to handle, divide into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a pone about 3/4 inch thick by patting between the hands. Place in pan and bake at 450°F for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lou Henry Hoover and the First Organized Girl Scout Cookie Drive in 1935

So did you know that Herbert Hoover’s wife "Lou" served as president of the Girl Scouts and helped coordinate one of the first Girl Scout Cookie Drives in 1935? Sixty five years later, in April of 2000, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum held an exhibit entiitled, American Women! A Celebration of Our History. One exhibit depicted Lou Hoover’s lifelong commitment to the Girl Scouts. This is how the placard read:

A woman nicknamed "Daisy" started the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. with 18 girls. And a tomboy called "Lou" helped the organization grow into its current membership of over 3.5 million! Lou Henry grew up enjoying the outdoor life, and was the first women to receive a degree in geology from Stanford. She traveled the world with her husband Herbert Hoover, and assisted him with his mining ventures and famine relief activities.

During World War I she met up with Juliette Low [Daisy], and was a Girl Scout for the next 25 years. As First Lady and national leader of the Girl Scouts, Hoover quietly aided people in need during the Depression, and was also the first to desegregate White House social functions.

Lou remained a Scout the rest of her life and led the first Girl Scout cookie drive in 1935. Juliette Low and Lou Henry Hoover brought together girls from the North and South, wealthy and poor, black and white, athletic and handicapped – instilling confidence that all women can develop their potential to be whatever they wish to be.


In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts all across the country baked their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. They then packaged their coookies in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker and sold them door-to-door for 25 to 35 cents a dozen.

Today, of course, there is a wide array of commercially-baked Girl Scouts cookies to choose from, including such traditional favorites as Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, and Thin Mints! If you'd like to whip up a batch of cookies with your kids today, here's the original recipe for Early Girl Scout Cookies® from The Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount for topping (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Woodrow Wilson, Prohibition, and the Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

At approximately 12:40 p.m. on January 15, 1919, in Boston’s Industrial North End, a fifty-five foot high steel storage tank containing more than two million gallons of molasses exploded, unleashing an immense wave of thick, viscous goo that swept through the city streets as fast as 35 miles per hour.

The wave – initially thirty feet high, according to some bystanders – exerted enough force “to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue structure and lift a train off its tracks.” The force of the blast and the ensuing tsunami also overturned dozens of cars and trucks in its path and "demolished several nearby buildings, including a fire station which was crushed by a huge chunk of the steel tank."

Witnesses later stated that, as the tank collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun, and that “the ground shook as if a train were passing by.” In his book, Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo described the disaster this way:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was…Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.

The next morning, the Boston Evening Globe ran a front-page story based on eyewitness accounts taken on that terrible day:

Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood began to crumple up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from under them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins, some dead and others badly injured.

In all, more than 150 people were injured and 21 children and adults were killed, mostly by crushing or asphyxiation. Fueled by the intense anti-immigrant sentiments that swept through the United States during the post-World War I Red Scare, owners of the distillery tried to pin the disaster on Italian anarchists, claiming that they had bombed the tank because they knew that the molasses was intended to be fermented to produce ethyl alcohol, a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time.

Although the exact cause of the disaster was never determined, no evidence of sabotage was ever found and experts generally attributed it to unseasonably warm temperatures combined with structural defects and poor maintenance of the tank.

So what does this have to do with President Woodrow Wilson and food? Well, by coincidence, the day after the disaster, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of intoxicating liquors. With Prohibition looming on the horizon, rumors began to circulate which held that the tank had been overfilled to enable the owners of the distillery to produce as much rum as quickly as possible before the law took effect.

This claim was later proven untrue due to the fact that the distillery didn't make rum and specialized instead in the production of industrial alcohol, which was exempt from the state prohibition laws in effect at the time, and would later be exempted from the Volstead Act, which was passed by Congress on October 27, 1919 over President Wilson's veto.

Regardless of the cause, more than one hundred lawsuits were filed against the owners of the tank, and litigation dragged on for six years, during which 3,000 witnesses testified. In the end, the court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered the company to pay nearly a million dollars in damages - a "bittersweet victory for survivors of one of the strangest disasters in American history."

FOOD FACT: Molasses was once used in the United States as the primary sweetener in cooking and baking. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink, New England colonists also used molasses "as an ingredient in brewing birch beer and molasses beer and in distilling rum." In the early 1700s, "rum made in New England became an essential element in a highly profitable Triangular Trade across the Atlantic. The colonists exported rum to West Africa in trade for slaves; the ships brought the slaves from Africa to the French West Indies, trading them for more molasses and sugar; these products were then shipped to New England to make more rum....When the cost of refined sugar dropped at the end of the nineteenth century...molasses lost its role as an important sweetener in the American diet."

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth, and the Debate over the Name of the Baby Ruth Bar

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

In 1931, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ruled in favor of the Curtiss Company and George Ruth's Home Run Bar was forced off the market. To support its ruling, the court explained that it was evident that George Ruth was trying to capitalize on his nickname at a time when sales of Baby Ruths were reportedly as high as $1 million a month.

Regardless of the legal outcome of the case, the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar continues to this day! And so NOW you know how Grover Cleveland's name became associated with the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar!

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