Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Ike Runs the Country, I Turn the Pork Chops"

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower's wife Mamie was by his side every step of the way, delighting crowds with her quick wit and natural charm. Campaign songs were written about her and colorful buttons and posters proclaimed, “I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.”

Biographers say that one reason Mamie was so popular as First Lady was that she shared the country’s interests and middle-class values. She watched soap operas, played board games, and reportedly encouraged White House cooks to use boxed cake mixes and Jell-O.

Even her personal tastes reflected those of the nation. She was a fan of such hit shows as “I Love Lucy” and "The Milton Berle Show" and let it be known that she and Ike liked to take their dinner on trays while watching TV in the private family quarters at the White House. As First Lady, Mamie was proud of her role as a traditional housewife, and was famously quoted as saying, "Ike runs the country, the turn the pork chops."

But Mamie did occasionally break with tradition in her entertaining as First Lady. According to White House historians, she regularly decorated the State Dining Room each holiday season with Halloween skeletons, witches, jack-o-lanterns, St. Patrick's Day leprechauns and green ribbons.

The Eisenhowers also entertained more royalty and heads-of-state than most previous administrations. Among their guests were the emperor of Ethiopia; the presidents of Panama, Haiti, Turkey, Italy, and Ireland; the rulers of Greece, Nepal, and Denmark, as well as Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.

The highlight of the 1957 social season, however, was undoubtedly the round of festivities celebrating Elizabeth II’s first trip to Washington, D.C., shortly after she became Queen of England. In addition to hosting reciprocal state dinners and exchanging diplomatic gifts, the president later received a personal recipe from the queen for English Drop Scones.

Yet for all its glamour and excitement, the Queen’s visit came at a difficult time for Eisenhower. In September of 1957, racial tensions over desegregation had exploded in violence in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then came news in early October that the Soviet Union had orbited the first space satellite (Sputnick), causing many Americans to fear that the United States was losing both the "space race" and the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Eisenhowers’ charismatic personalities and traditional middle-class values allowed them to maintain the affection of an overwhelming majority of Americans throughout the 1950s and into their retirement.

Enter to Win Book Giveaway by clicking here

Friday, January 25, 2013

Franklin Roosevelt's Royal Hot Dog Fiasco

When Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in June of 1939, the significance of the invitation reportedly did not go unnoticed. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, "the United States and Great Britain had oftentimes experienced tense relations, but Roosevelt's invitation carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation.”

With Europe on the brink of war, Roosevelt realized the need to forge closer ties between the two democracies and he reportedly “planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people." His efforts paid off. According to historians at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Americans heartily welcomed England's royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city. In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.

On their second day, the King and Queen took in the sights of DC as they boarded the presidential yacht and sailed up the Potomac River to George Washington's Mount Vernon and to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After two days in Washington, the...royal couple accompanied the Roosevelts to their home in Hyde Park, New York [where]...they enjoyed the simpler things in life. In contrast to the formal State Dinner at the White House, dinner at the Roosevelt's home...was described to the press as a casual dinner between the two families.


Even more informal was the following day's event - an old-fashioned American-style picnic which included the following menu items: Virginia Ham, Smoked Turkey, Cranberry Jelly, Green Salad, Sodas, Beer and...Hot Dogs!

The next day, news of the picnic made the front page of the New York Times, under the headline, “KING TRIES HOT DOG AND ASKS FOR MORE.” While the King reportedly ate his hot dog by hand like an American, the Queen daintily cut hers with a knife and fork.

Although the royal visit was surely the high point of the Roosevelt's 1939 social season, the president and the king also discussed the dire political and military situation developing in Europe. Equally important to Roosevelt, however, was that the visit "changed the perceptions of the American people, which in turn allowed him to do more for Britain. When England declared war on Germany three months later, Americans, due in no small part to the King and Queen's visit, sympathized with England's plight. Britons were no longer strangers or the evil colonial rulers from the past but familiar friends and relatives with whom Americans could identify."

For their part, the Royal Couple was deeply appreciative of the Roosevelt’s efforts and of the outpouring of support from the American people. In a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, the Queen later wrote:

I must tell you how moved I have been by the many charming, sympathetic, and understanding letters which I have received from kind people in the United States. Quite poor people have enclosed little sums of money to be used for our wounded, our sailors, or mine sweepers. It really has helped us, to feel such warmth of human kindness and goodness, for we still believe truly that humanity is overall.

Sometimes, during the last terrible months, we have felt rather lonely in our fight against evil things, but I can honestly say that our hearts have been lightened by the knowledge that friends in America understand what we are fighting for. We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President's welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes - not to mention the hot dogs!


Although the picnic appeared to be a casual affair, much fuss had been made in advance of it. Almost a month before the event, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed concern about it in her newspaper column called "My Day." In an entry dated May 25, 1939, she wrote: Oh dear, oh dear, so many people are worried that the dignity of our country will be imperiled by inviting Royalty to a picnic, particularly a hot dog picnic! My mother-in-law has sent me a letter which begs that she control me in some way...Let me assure you, dear readers, that if it is hot there will be no hot dogs, and even if it is cool there will be plenty of other food, and the elder members of the family and the more important guests will be served with due formality.

Enter to Win Book Giveaway by clicking here

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thomas Jefferson, Ice Cream Baked in Pastry, and George Washington's Ice House at Mount Vernon

So did you know that one of George Washington’s favorite desserts was ice cream? In fact, he liked this soft, creamy treat so much that he had an ice house constructed near his Mount Vernon home so that he and his family and guests could eat ice cream often.

Historians say that Washington’s icehouse was located on a riverbank about 75 yards from the Potomac. To store ice, Washington’s slaves had to use chisels and axes to pull large chunks of ice from the frozen river during the wintertime and then haul them to the icehouse where they were stacked in layers and stored for use throughout the spring and summer.

Before constructing his ice house, Washington sought advice from his friend and fellow patriot Robert Morris, who had an ice house at his home at 6th & Market Streets in Philadelphia. In a letter to Washington, Morris provided a detailed account of how his ice house had been constructed:

My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 square, the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the water which drains from the ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain...the Walls of my Ice House are built of stone without Mortar...On these [walls] the Roof is fixed...I nailed a Ceiling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled the Space between the Ceiling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw so that the heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect...

The Door for entering this Ice house faces the north, a Trap Door is made in the middle of the Floor through which the Ice is put in and taken out. I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small pieces and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe. I tried Snow one year and lost it in June. The Ice keeps until October or November and I believe if the Hole was larger so as to hold more it would keep untill Christmas...


Although Morris didn't mention what he stored in his icehouse, we do know that the Washingtons used theirs to preserve meat and butter, chill wine, and make ice cream and other frozen delicacies for their many guests at Mount Vernon.

Of course, George wasn’t the only president who enjoyed ice cream. Accounts of it often appear in letters describing the many elegant dinner parties hosted by James and Dolley Madison, and the dish frequently appears in visitors' accounts of meals with Thomas Jefferson.

One particular guest wrote: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material inclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven."

If you'd like to whip up some ice cream contained in warm pastry for your next dinner party, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from puffpastry.com

1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package pastry sheets, 1 sheet, thawed
1 pint chocolate ice cream, softened
1 pint strawberry ice cream, soft
Chocolate fudge topping

Heat the oven to 400°F. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks. Place the pastries onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Split each pastry into 2 layers, making 6 in all.

Reserve 2 top pastry layers. Spread the chocolate ice cream on 2 bottom pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes. Top with another pastry layer and spread with the strawberry ice cream. Top with the reserved top pastry layers. Freeze for 30 minutes or until the ice cream is firm. Drizzle with the chocolate topping.

FAST FACT: In 1790, Robert Morris's house at 6th & Market Streets became the Executive Mansion of the United States while Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the nation. Morris' icehouse was used by President Washington and his household until 1797, and by President John Adams and his family from 1797 to 1800.

To learn about my new book from Simon & Schuster click here

Saturday, January 19, 2013

William Henry Harrison, Castor Oil, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis


William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a cold and stormy day. Standing in the freezing weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.

Having lasted only a single month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide much insight into his culinary preferences, but one thing is certain: his death caused a brief constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would merely be “acting” as President or would actually become President upon Harrison's death.

Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident...

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office?

After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying that he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become President. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th President of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president for the remainder of Harrison's term. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was ratified in 1967.

FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds have been used to treat human disease for thousands of years. In the food industry, castor oil is used in additives, flavorings, chocolate, and candies.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in office in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

To learn about my new book from Simon and Schuster click here

Friday, January 18, 2013

John Quincy Adams, the Corrupt Bargain, and the Art of Dinner Conversation

When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office in 1825, it was under a cloud of controversy. The election of 1824 had been a bitterly contested four-man race between Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Adams.

Since no candidate had won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson had won the most popular and electoral votes. Adams then quickly appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Outraged and feeling cheated out of the White House, Jackson and his supporters called the deal a “Corrupt Bargain.”

With these accusations hanging over his head, President Adams faced problems from the start. Aware of the fact that “two-thirds of the whole people” did not want him to be president, Adams promised in his Inaugural Address to make up for his lack of support with “a heart devoted to the welfare of our country.”

But his four years in office weren't easy ones. Although his intelligence, family background and experience should have made him a great president, John lacked the charisma needed to create a base of loyal supporters.

Nevertheless, he and his wife Louisa hosted many dinner parties at the White House, as required. But his cold personality had a chilling effect on others and guests seated near the president at dinner often said that he had a hard time engaging in casual conversation. Aware of his inability to make small talk, John wrote this in his diary:

I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, control, or to change it.

I am by nature a silent animal, and my dear mother’s constant lesson in childhood, that children should be seen and not heard, confirmed me irrevocably in what I now deem a bad habit. Conversation is an art of the highest importance, a school in which, for the business of life, more may perhaps be learnt than from books. It…consists more in making others talk than in talking. Therein has been, and ever will be, my deficiency – the talent of starting the game.


Like his father, John Quincy Adams was a very intelligent man, but he lacked personal warmth and his critics called him “a chip off the old iceberg!”

FAST FACT: Adams’ policies favoring a strong federal government angered many southern slave holders who feared that that any expansion of federal power might interfere with slavery. His Indian policies also cost him supporters. Like Jefferson and Monroe, Adams wanted to remove Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, but believed that the government should honor Indian treaties and purchase rather than forcibly or fraudulently take Indian lands.

Enter to Win Book Giveaway by clicking here

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ulysses S. Grant's Second Inaugural Ball

The menu for Ulysses S. Grant’s second Inaugural Ball reflects the opulence of the Gilded Age. A New York Times article dated March 5, 1873 contains a mind-boggling list of dishes and provisions served, including:

10,000 fried oysters; 63 boned turkeys; 75 roast turkeys; 150 roast capons stuffed with truffles; 15 saddles of mutton; 200 dozen quails; 300 tongues ornamented with jelly; 200 hams; 30 baked salmon, 100 chickens; 400 partridges; 25 boar’s heads: 3,000 ham sandwiches; 3,000 beef-tongue sandwiches; 1,600 bunches of celery; 30 barrels of salad; 2,000 pounds of lobster; 2,500 loaves of bread; 8,000 rolls; 24 cases of Prince Albert crackers and 1,000 pounds of butter.

If that weren't enough, dessert menu items included 300 charlotte russes; 200 moulds of blanc mange; 300 gallons of assorted ice creams; 400 pounds of mixed cakes; 25 barrels of Malaga grapes; 15 cases of oranges; 5 barrels of apples; 400 pounds of mixed candies; 200 pounds of shelled almonds; 300 gallons of claret punch; 200 gallons cof offee; 200 gallons of tea and 100 gallons of hot chocolate.

But the best laid plans can go awry, even for a president. The weather that evening was freezing and the temporary ballroom had no heat. Guests danced in their hats and overcoats, they ran out of hot chocolate and coffee, and perhaps most tragically, most of the decorative caged canaries (which were supposed to be happily chirping) froze!

Credit: Portrait of Ulysses S. Grant by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

Enter to Win Book Giveaway by clicking here

Monday, January 14, 2013

Richard Nixon Grapefruit Avocado Salad

As devout Quakers, Richard Nixon’s parents taught their four sons patience, courage, and determination, traits that Nixon would draw strength from during trying times in his life. He later recalled that he "gained his first taste for politics during debates around the family dinner table" and described “friendly pillow fights with his three brothers in the small upstairs bedroom they shared.”

Growing up on a small citrus farm in Yorba Linda, California, Nixon may have eaten graperuit often and Grapefruit-Avocado Salad was among the menu items served at his second Inaugural Luncheon on January 20, 1973. If you'd like to make a refreshingly colorful, slightly tangy Grapefruit Avocado Salad today, here's a simple recipe to try from Ina Garten at the Food Network:      

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 or 4 ripe Hass avocados
2 large red grapefruits

Place the mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Before serving, cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the seeds, and carefully peel off the skin. Cut each half into 4 thick slices. Toss the avocado slices in the vinaigrette to prevent them from turning brown. Use a large, sharp knife to slice the peel off the grapefruits (be sure to remove all the white pith), then cut between the membranes to release the grapefruit segments.

Arrange the avocado slices around the edge of a large platter. Arrange the grapefruit...and enjoy! 


Thanks for stopping by THE HISTORY CHEF! For a free excerpt of my new book from Simon and Schuster click here!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Andrew Jackson's First Inaugural Orange Punch

When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated on March 4, 1829, it was like "the homecoming of a hero." Thousands of his loyal supporters who felt that he had been cheated out of the White House four years earlier reportedly converged upon Washington like locusts, "eager to celebrate the long-delayed victory of their champion.”

According to culinary historian Poppy Cannon, Jackson's inauguration "sparked a celebration that did everything but set fire to the White House. Twenty thousand fervent fans poured into the building and little thought was given to the delicate French furniture, elegant draperies, and fine china...ice cream, punch, cakes and ices... were gobbled up as fast they appeared on long serving tables" and "class distinctions disappeared for the day as those in formal dress gobbled every bit as fast as woodsmen in coon caps."

In a letter to her sister, Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite, described the chaos of Jackson's inaugural festivities this way:

But what a scene did we witness! The Majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros, women, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity! No arrangements had been made, no police officers placed on duty, and the whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob...

Cut glass and china to the amount of several thousand dollars had been broken in the struggle to get the refreshments, punch and other articles had been carried out in tubs and buckets, but had it been in hogsheads it would have been insufficient...Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses, and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe…This concourse had not been anticipated...Ladies and gentlemen only had been expected at this Levee, not the people en masse. But it was the People's day, and the People's President, and the People would rule!

Another observer described the day's events this way:

Orange-punch by barrels full was inside, but as the waiters opened the door to bring it out, a rush would be made, the glasses broken, the pails of liquor upset, and the most painful confusion prevailed. To such a degree was this carried, that tubs of punch were taken from the lower story into the garden to lead off the crowds from the rooms.

Although no one knows exactly how those quick-thinking waiters prepared the punch that day, Jeff Felten of the Wall Street Journal scoured some ninteeenth century cookbooks and provided this adapted recipe for Inaugural Orange Punch that's very tasty and "easy to make by the bucketful" if you've got a mob to entertain on Inaugural Day!

3 parts fresh orange juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Mulled Orange Syrup*
1 part dark rum
1 part cognac
2 parts soda water

Mulled Orange Syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the peel from an orange and mulling spices (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.

Combine Mulled Orange Syrup and all other ingredients in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice. Addd a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass and enjoy!

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Luncheon

In November of 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most dramatic presidential elections in American history. Two and a half months later, on January 20, 1961, Kennedy was sworn in as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States and delivered his Inaugural Address on the terrace of the East Portico of the U.S. Capital. In it, he said:

...Fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago...

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge – and more.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man...


After delivering his address, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were escorted to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol for the traditional inaugural luncheon. According to Senate historians, menu items included cream of tomato soup with crushed popcorn; deviled crab meat imperial; New England boiled stuffed lobster with drawn butter; prime Texas ribs of beef au jus; string beans amandine and broiled tomatoes with grapefruit and avocado sections with poppyseed dressing.

Although the traditional inaugural luncheon at the Capital dates back to 1897 when the Senate Committee on Arrangements hosted a luncheon for President McKinley and several other guests, it didn't begin in its current form until 1953 when President Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, and fifty other guests dined on creamed chicken, baked ham, and potato puffs in the Old Senate Chamber.

Since then, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has organized a luncheon celebration at fourteen Presidential Inaugurations. Often featuring cuisine reflecting the home states of the new president and vice president, as well as the theme of the Inauguration, the luncheon program includes speeches, gift presentations, and toasts to the new administration.

FOOD FACT: According to historians, President Kennedy preferred orange juice, poached eggs on toast, crisp broiled bacon, milk and coffee at breakfast. For lunch, he enjoyed all kinds of soup, especially New England Fish Chowder. As for dinner, there were no particular favorites, although it has been said that he liked lamb chops, steak, turkey, baked beans and mashed potatoes. He also enjoyed corn muffins, and, for dessert, if he had any, it would "likely be something prepared with chocolate." Biographers say that Kennedy was a light eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinner time because "politics always took preference over food."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Warren Harding, the Roaring Twenties, and the Development of Finger Foods

Although kind and well-liked, Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history, and even he admitted to close friends that "the job was beyond him." Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some very capable and intelligent men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State and Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce.

Unfortunatley, Harding also surrounded himself with an "unpleasant group of dishonest cheats," who came to be known as "The Ohio Gang." According to historians at the Miller Center:

Warren’s close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty, whom he named attorney general, was one of the worst - and one of the slickest. He survived impeachment attempts by Congress and two indictments for defrauding the government in the disposal of alien property confiscated by his office from German nationals. Another schemer, Albert Fall, secretary of the interior, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for least $300,000 paid to him in bribes.


Whether Harding was aware of his advisors' crimes beforehand is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that he loved to play card games and drink whiskey with them upstairs at the White House in private defiance of Prohibition.

Describing the scene at one of Harding's card games that she encountered, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wrote: "the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey, cards and poker chips ready at hand – a general atmosphere of waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and spittoons alongside."

Meanwhile, as President Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of ordinary Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a popular term during Prohibition used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance to [a speakeasy], you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside who it was who sent you to the place. The term itself...may derive from the English "Speak-softly-shop," an underworld term for a smuggler's house where one might get liquor cheaply, its usage in this sense having been traced back to 1823.

But with the onset of Prohibition in America, speakeasies sprang up overnight, sometimes in shabby sections of town, but often in the best neighborhoods, and many of these establishments were actually fine restaurants in their own right. New York's "21" club was a speakeasy during this period and had two bars, a dance floor, an orchestra, and dining rooms on two floors...French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York for the first time in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."


It was during this period (often referred to today as the Roaring Twenties) that the custom of throwing cocktail parties at home also became popular. The rise of cocktail parties, in turn, inspired the development of finger foods, which worked well for tipsy partygoers who jiggled Gin Fizzes, Whiskey Smashes, and other cocktails while mingling with others in loud, crowded rooms.

Some popular finger foods of the Roaring Twenties include Lobster Canapés, Shrimp and Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. And food historian Poppy Cannon indicates that President Harding often served his favorite dish, Bratwurst with Saurkraut, at his many poker parties at the White House.

If you’d like to serve up some Bratwurst Rolls at your next party, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from epicurious.com

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (optional)
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans cheap beer
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
whole-grain mustard
dill pickle spears

Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire. Place the butter in a medium disposable foil roasting pan. Place the pan on the grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add the onions and garlic (if using). Cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add the beer and bring to a simmer. Place the pan on the low heat zone and keep the onion mixture warm.

Place the bratwurst on the grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until evenly charred, four to five minutes. Transfer the bratwurst to the onion mixture and let stand until ready to serve. With tongs, place the bratwurst in the rolls. Serve with the onions, mustard, and pickle spears.

FOOD FACT: Some of the mass-manufactured foods introduced during the Roaring Twenties include the Baby Ruth Candy Bar, Wonder Bread, Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drinks, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Welch's Grape Jelly, Popsicles, Hostess Snack Cakes, Kool-Aid, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and Velveeta Cheese!

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