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 simplyrecipes.com:

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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, World War II, and "There's Not Enough Milk for the Babies"

On February 19, 1942, just two and a half months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which led to the internment of more than 125,000 Japanese-American citizens who were removed from their homes and detained in internment camps until the end of World War II.

The daily conditions of camp life are especially vivid in descriptions of the mass feeding of thousands of Japanese detainees. On May 11, 1942, Joseph Conrad of the American Friends Service Committee submitted a Progress Report to the federal government which read:

There's not enough milk for the babies in camp because the Army's contract for milk is with farmers in Oregon and even though there is plenty of milk in the neighboring towns begging to be used, red tape makes it impossible.

There hasn't been enough food to go around because there were [more] arrivals than were expected. Some have gone without meals several times. There has been no fresh vegetables; no fruit (and a large part of the population are children), no fresh meat, but plenty of canned food for those who were early in line to get it...


Meanwhile, as thousands of interned children were suffering from malnutrition, millions of homeless and unemployed Americans were starving during the Great Depression. To address this national crisis, Soup Kitchens began opening in large cities and small towns throughout the United States.

When soup kitchens first appeared, they were generally run by churches or private charities. But by the mid-1930s, when Roosevelt was in office, state and federal governments were also operating them.

Why soup? Throughout history, soup has been one of the primary foods consumed by poor and homeless people. If you think about it, this makes sense because soup is economical (it can be prepared with whatever scraps of food are available and can be stretched to feed more people by adding water). It is also quick and simple to make (only a pot is needed) and easy to serve (it requires only a bowl and spoon, or, "in a pinch, can be sipped").

Like many Americans during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor consumed economical foods like fried cornmeal mush and dry crackers with stew. According to White House chef Henrietta Nesbitt, soup was another Roosevelt family favorite:

There was never such a family for soups as the Roosevelts. All the years they occupied the White House we kept the big steel soup kettles singing in the White House - clear soup for dinner and cream soup for lunch. Pretty nearly every usable variety of fish, fowl, beast, mineral, vegetable, and contiment was used in our White House soups...

Give Mrs. Roosevelt a bowl of soup and a dish of fruit for lunch and she'd be off with recharged vitality on one of her trips...Cream of almond - L'Amande soup - was one of her special favorites. The President was partial to fish soups... Among the recipes his mother gave me was the one for clam chowder...Another of his favorites was the green turtle soup, and there was always a great fuss when it was made.


Today, green turtle soup is prohibited in the United States because most species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered. But you can try this simple and delicious recipe for Creamy Chicken Soup which Eleanor surely would have enjoyed before setting out on one of her "supercharged" afternoons.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 egg yolks, beaten
coarse Salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups diced cooked boneless, skinless, chicken breast
chopped fresh parsley

Add unsalted butter to stockpot. Melt over low heat. Stir in flour, and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in chicken stock. Heat over medium heat, almost but not boil. Add heavy cream and egg yolks to medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Ladle in ½ cup hot soup. Blend with whisk. Stir cream mixture into stockpot.Season with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. Add chicken meat and Simmer until heated through but not boiling. Serve hot in individual soup bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley.

FOOD FACT: In a 1942 New Republic article, Ted Nakashima described the daily conditions of camp life this way: The food and sanitation problems are the worst. We have had absolutely no fresh meat, vegetables or butter since we came here. Mealtime queues extend for blocks; standing in a rainswept line, feet in the mud, waiting for the scant portions of canned wieners and boiled potatoes, hash for breakfast or canned wieners and beans for dinner. Milk only for the kids. Coffee or tea dosed with saltpeter and stale bread are the adults' staples.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

As president, Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his political enemies dubbed him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the Constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored important Supreme Court decisions protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.

Popular in the South throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south. If you'd like to whip up a batch of Benne Wafers today, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from simplyrecipes.com.

1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper, silpat sheets, or lightly oil them. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

Beat brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

FAST FACT: As a soldier and general, Andrew Jackson was said to be as tough as "Old Hickory," which is a very tough wood. Sadly, Andrew’s father died before he was born and his mother and two brothers died before he reached the age of 15. Orphaned and alone, Andrew had to take care of himself from a very young age, which may explain why he became such a “tough” young man.

FOOD FACT: It has been said Benne (an African word for sesame) was brought from East Africa and planted throughout the South during the colonial period. Other foods brought from Africa in the seventeenth and eigteenth centuries include peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra, black-eyed peas and collard greens!

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

Friday, February 8, 2013

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 is 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.

Enter to Win Book Giveaway by clicking here

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ronald Reagan's Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

On the evening of January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address from the Oval Office at the White House. In it, he spoke reverently of the past, of his accomplishments during his eight years in office, and of his vision of America’s promise.

Near the end of his address, Reagan turned his attention toward patriotism, freedom, and the future, and said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table” in the daily conversations between parent and child. This is what he said:

My fellow Americans...we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.

So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant...Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do...


After leaving office, Reagan and his wife Nancy quietly retired to a mansion on a private, tree-lined street in the exclusive community of Bel Air, California. Despite the many elegant State Dinners that he surely must have become accustomed to during his two terms of office, those who were close to the president say that he retained a childhood taste for Meatloaf, Hamburger Soup, and other simple foods of his youth.

One his "all-time favorites," however, according to White House Chef Henry Haller, was Macaroni and Cheese, so much so that Reagan requested that a dish of it be delivered to him while he was recuperating at a hospital after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt that took place on March 30, 1981, less than 100 days into his presidency.

“The dish was served in the manner the President prefer[ed],” Haller explained, “with the noodles well cooked and covered with a light cheese spiked with mustard.” If you’d like to serve up some of President Reagan’s Favorite Macaroni and Cheese for dinner tonight while talking to your kids about what it means to be an American, here is the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:

½ pound macaroni
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of paprika

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add 2-1/2 cups of the grated cheese.

In a small bowl, combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole. Pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch and the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entree accompanied by a hot green vegetable and a crisp salad, or as a side dish with Hamburgers or Meat Loaf.

FAST FACT: Also injured in the assassination attempt was White House Press Secretary James Brady who suffered a gunshot wound to the head, while a Secret Service Agent was shot in the chest and a Washington, D.C. police officer was hit near the spine. Historians at the Miller Center say that "as Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. According to Political Affairs Director Lyn Nofziger, Reagan was in good spirits, at one point teasing the medical staff, 'Please tell me you're Republicans.'"

Credit: Ronald Reagan wearing cowboy hat at Rancho Del Cielo, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (1976)

Enter to Win Book Giveway by clicking here

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

George Bush and the Politics of Broccoli

At an outdoor press conference in 1990, President George H. W. Bush told reporters, "I do not like broccoli and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it and I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."

Needless to say, broccoli growers got a little “steamed” by the president’s comment. Within a week, broccoli growers in California had shipped ten tons of the flowery, green vegetable to the White House where it was donated to a local food bank to help feed the needy.

Ten years later, in February of 2001, President George W. Bush proved that "blood is thicker than diplomacy" at a news conference during a visit with Mexico's newly elected president Vicente Fox, whose family owns a large broccoli farm in Mexico. According to a news report, President Bush was asked by a reporter for his opinion of broccoli. After briefly hesitatating, he reportedly flashed a "thumb's down" sign and said, "Make it cauliflower."

So 41 and 43 are clearly not fond of broccoli, but if they try this simple and simply delicious recipe for Parmesan Roasted Broccoli from Ina Garten they might just change their minds!

4 to 5 pounds broccoli
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the broccoli florets from the thick stalks, leaving an inch or two of stalk attached to the florets, discarding the rest of the stalks. Cut the larger pieces through the base of the head with a small knife, pulling the florets apart. You should have about 8 cups of florets.

Place the broccoli florets on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Toss the garlic on the broccoli and drizzle with 5 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned. Remove broccoli from the oven and immediately toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice, pine nuts, Parmesan, and basil. Serve hot and enjoy!

Credit: Oil Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush by Herbert Abrams, White House Historical Assocation (White House Collection)

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

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.”