Friday, December 27, 2013

Andrew Johnson Hoppin' John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. Historians say that Johnson’s victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”

After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he probably consumed such traditional southern foods as Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck throughout the coming year. If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dickens Meets Tyler at the White House

One of the most famous guests to dine at the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival in the United States, Dickens was honored at a lavish ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few days later, Dickens met Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president:

He looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable.

Although Dickens seemed to like Tyler, he strongly disliked slavery. Describing a particular meal in Baltimore, Dickens wrote:

We stopped to dine at Baltimore, and…were waited on, for the first time, by slaves. The sensation of exacting any service from human creatures who are bought and sold…is not an enviable one. The institution exists, perhaps, in its least repulsive and most mitigated form in such a town as this; but it IS slavery; and though I was, with respect to it, an innocent man, its presence filled me with a sense of shame and self-reproach.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book entitled American Notes. In it, he criticized Americans for their poor table manners and disgusting habit of chewing and spitting tobacco. He also devoted an entire chapter to slavery in the United States.

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is perhaps Dickens’ most famous novel. Set in England, the main character is a nine-year old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of thin gruel a day. When Oliver asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he is dubbed a troublemaker and treated even more cruelly. Oliver Twist called attention to the problem of poor and starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Monday, December 2, 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; 8,000 scalloped oysters; 8,000 pickled 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 roasted chickens; 400 partridges; 25 stuufed boar’s heads; 2,000 head-cheese sandwiches; 3,000 ham sandwiches; 3,000 beef-tongue sandwiches; 1,600 bunches celery; 30 barrels of salad; 350 boiled chickens; 6,000 boiled eggs; 2,000 pounds of lobster; 2,500 loaves of bread; 8,000 rolls and 1,000 pounds of butter.

Dessert items inclued 300 charlotte russes; 200 moulds of wine jelly; 200 moulds of blanc mange; 300 gallons of assorted ice-cream; 400 pounds of mixed cakes; 25 barrels of Malaga grapes; 400 pounds of mixed candies; 200 pounds of shelled almonds; 200 gallons coffee; 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