Monday, February 25, 2013

William McKinley, the Spanish American War, and the Embalmed Beef Scandal

Okay, so this story is kind of repulsive and certainly won't make you hungry, but it's a part of food history so here goes:

In the weeks immediately following the Spanish-American War, stories began to surface about serious problems in the United States Army's food supply. In the ensuing federal investigation, General Nelson Miles testified that he had recommended to Secretary of War Russell Alger that cattle be purchased in Cuba and Puerto Rico so that American troops stationed overseas would have fresh beef to eat.

But for some reason this was not done. Instead, thousands of tons of canned beef were shipped from the mainland for our troops to eat. Soldiers later gave sickening descriptions of the beef, describing it as “putrefied,” “extremely nauseating” and totally “unfit for human use.”

Newspaper and magazine articles about the scandal stirred up so much public outrage that the Secretary of War resigned at President McKinley’s request. Although no other disciplinary actions were taken, some historians say that the “Embalmed Beef Scandal” contributed in part to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which prohibits the manufacture, sale, and distribution of adulterated food products.

The United States, of course, emerged from the Spanish-American War as a world power with an overseas empire that included not only Cuba and Puerto Rico but the Philippine Islands, as well. The rampant patriotism unleashed by the war was on ample display at a gala celebration held in McKinley’s honor during a tour of the South at the end of 1898 and on an extended trip to Boston two months later.

The highlight of the Boston trip was a "mammoth banquet" held at the Home Market Club in Mechanic’s Hall, where nearly 2,000 guests dined on salmon, capon, and fillet of beef after McKinley delivered an important speech in which he attempted to reconcile the United States’ anticolonial origins with the fighting then raging between Filipinos demanding independence and American forces determined to thwart them.

Near the end of his remarks, McKinley asked Americans to look beyond the "blood-stained trenches around Manila" into the future, when prosperity would have returned to the Philippines. At that time, the president declared, "Filipino children and their descendants "shall for ages hence bless the American republic because it emancipated and redeemed their fatherland, and set them in the pathway of the world’s best civilization."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hasty Pudding and the French and Indian War

So did you know that Hasty Pudding is mentioned in a verse in the patriotic song YANKEE DOODLE DANDY? A popular British song, its origins can be traced to the French and Indian War. It was later adopted in the United States and is the state anthem of Connecticut today. Maybe you remember the lyrics:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni'

Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy

Fath'r and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty puddin'

Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. The name of the war refers to the two main enemies of the British: the Royal French forces and the various American Indian tribes allied with them.

Heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the British, the French and Indian forces “collapsed in a massive defeat” in Quebec in 1759, and, in less than a year, the British controlled most of the North American frontier.

Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III sought to pay off by imposing taxes on sugar, coffee, wine, rum, tea, and other imports to the colonies. These taxes, along with other increasingly oppressive measures, united the colonists in opposition and set them down the path toward the Revolutionary War.

Now...Hasty Pudding most certainly wasn't a standard wartime ration, but, by the early eighteenth century, it was a common dish in England and the colonies, with its origins reaching back to the various pottages of the Middle Ages. According to the Oxford Companion to Food and Drink:

Hasty pudding, the simplest of all puddings, if it can be called a pudding at all, for it is no more than a porridge of flour and milk. Such a pudding should be made in little more time than it took to boil the milk, and it has no doubt been a popular emergency dish since the Middle Ages, if not earlier.

Sweetened, flavoured with spice or rosewater, and dotted with butter, hasty pudding can be quite palatable; and in fact in the 18th and 19th centuries in England it was esteemed as a delicacy...In the far north of England, and in Scotland, at least as early as the 18th century, the name came to be applied to a plain porridge of oats and barley, made with water as often as milk. In Victorian England...Hasty pudding was sometimes made with oatmeal, or with sago or tapioca. Milk was always used.

While recipes vary considerably, most early American versions were known as Indian Pudding because it was typically prepared with ground Indian maize and sweetened with maple sugar or molasses. If you'd like to whip up a batch of this classic American dish, here's a simple recipe to try from

6 cups of milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Scald the milk and butter in a large double boiler. Or heat the milk and butter for 5 or 6 minutes on high heat in the microwave, until it is boiling, then transfer it to a pot on the stove. Keep hot on medium heat. Preheat oven to 250°F. In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, and salt; stir in molasses. Thin the mixture with about 1/2 cup of scalded milk, then gradually add the mixture back to the large pot of scalded milk. Cook, stirring until thickened.

Temper the eggs by slowly adding a half cup of the hot milk cornmeal mixture to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Add the egg mixture back in with the hot milk cornmeal mixture, stir to combine. Stir in sugar and spices, until smooth.

At this point, if the mixture is clumpy, you can run it through a blender to smooth it out. Pour into a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 2 hours at 250°F. Allow the pudding to cool about an hour. It should be reheated to warm temperature if it has been chilled. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt, Muckrakers, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

So this story is kind of repulsive and certainly won't make you hungry for a juicy hamburger or steak, but it's a part of food history so here goes:

On June 30, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act which provided for federal inspection of meat products and prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated food products.

The Acts arose in part due to articles and exposés written by muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, whose popular 1906 novel The Jungle contains hair-raising descriptions of the ways in which meat was produced in Chicago slaughterhouses and stockyards.

Sinclair described how dead rats, putrid meat, and poisoned rat bait were routinely shoveled into sausage-grinding machines, how bribed inspectors turned a blind eye when diseased cows were slaughtered for beef, and how filth and guts were swept off the floor and then packaged as “potted ham.”

Muckraker, of course, is a term that is applied to those novelists and journalists who sought to expose the corruption of American business and politics in the early twentieth century. The term was first coined by President Roosevelt in a 1906 speech in which he compared writers like Sinclair to the “Man with the Muck-rake” (a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) who was so focused on "raking the filth at his feet” that he failed to look up and “behold the celestial crown.”

Similarly, Roosevelt argued that Sinclair and other muckrakers were so focused on the evils of American society that they failed to behold “the vision of America's promise.”