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.

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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.

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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! 


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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" as twenty thousand of his loyal supporters, who believed he had been cheated out of the White House four years earlier, converged upon Washington, eager to celebrate the long-delayed victory of their champion.

According to food historian Poppy Cannon, Jackson's inauguration "sparked a celebration that did everything but set fire to the White House." Thousands of rowdy fans poured into the building and "little thought was given to the delicate French furniture, elegant draperies, and fine china" as ice cream, punch, cakes and ices were gobbled up as fast they appeared on long serving tables."

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, a writer for The Wall Street Journal scoured some ninteeenth century cookbooks and provided this adapted recipe for Inaugural Orange Punch that's "easy to make by the bucketful" if you've got a mob to entertain!

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. Add a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass and enjoy!

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!

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