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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