Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ronald Reagan's Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

On 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 retired to a mansion on a private, tree-lined street in the exclusive community of Bel Air, California. Despite the elegant State Dinners that he had 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.'"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Grover Cleveland, Babe Ruth and the Debate over the Name of the Baby Ruth Bar

So did you know that Grover Cleveland's name is associated with a long-standing debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar? Some people say that this popular candy bar was named after Cleveland's infant daughter Ruth, who was endearingly referred to as "Baby Ruth." Others claim that it was named after the great baseball player Babe Ruth, who hit the peak of his fame shortly after the candy bar was introduced in 1920.

According to Babe Ruth Central, this is how the story goes:

Back in 1916, the Curtiss Candy Company was founded in Chicago. The company's first candy bar was called the "Kandy Kake". The product was not overwhelmingly successful, so Curtiss went about refashioning it. And, in 1920, the "Baby Ruth" candy bar was introduced to candy-craving consumers.

That would be a pretty simple story, if it ended there. But, of course, it didn't. Adults and kids back then, just like today, were confused by the name and thought it was a candy bar related to Babe Ruth. After all, even in 1921, Babe already had gained a lot of fame in the baseball world. He had hit 54 home runs in 1920 and 59 during the 1921 season. These were incredible records at the time and he was in newspapers all over the country. So, for many, Baby Ruth was Babe Ruth's candy, whether truth or not.


Despite widespread popular opinion that the candy bar was named after the Babe, the Curtiss Candy Company never swayed from its position that it was named in honor of Cleveland's daughter Ruth.

But...as many commentators have observed, Ruth died of diptheria in 1904, seventeen years "before Curtiss combined nougat, chocolate, caramel and peanuts into its chewy Baby Ruth." Moreover, Grover Cleveland left office in 1897, and, by the time the Baby Ruth bar hit the market in 1920, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft had all served as president, and Woodrow Wilson was just finishing his second term.

So why would the Curtiss Company name its candy bar after a long-deceased daughter of a former president? Well, many people believed that the company conveniently concocted the story to avoid having to pay royalties to Babe Ruth.

Whatever the case may be, the story doesn't end there. In 1926, Babe agreed to lend his name to a new candy bar called "Ruth's Home Run Candy Bar" that was manufactured by the fledgling George H. Ruth Candy Company. In response, the Curtiss Company filed a lawsuit to prevent the rival candy bar from being made, claiming that it infringed on their trademark established in 1919.

In 1931, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals ruled in favor of the Curtiss Company and George Ruth's Home Run Bar was forced off the market. To support its ruling, the court explained that it was evident that George Ruth was trying to capitalize on his nickname at a time when sales of Baby Ruths were reportedly as high as $1 million a month.

Regardless of the legal outcome of the case, the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar continues to this day! And so NOW you know how Grover Cleveland's name became associated with the debate over the name of the Baby Ruth bar!

FAST FACT: So did you know that Grover Cleveland is the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms. His first term was 1885-1889 and his second term was 1893-1897 which means he was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. So that's why President Obama is the 44th president even though there have only been 43 different presidents to date!

Monday, December 8, 2014

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 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 Washington 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 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.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

James Monroe, Virginia Spoon Bread, and the Long Winter at Valley Forge

While serving in the Continental Army, James Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington, fought at the Battle of Trenton, and endured the long winter at Valley Forge.

Among the soldiers at Valley Forge were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Another soldier encamped there was Dr. Albigence Waldo, a surgeon from Connecticut, whose diary provides perhaps the best account we have of conditions that winter at Valley Forge:

Dec. 21st., Preparations made for hutts. Provision Scarce...sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoiled with continual smoke. A general cry thro' the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, "No Meat !, No Meat !", the Distant vales Echo'd back the melancholly sound, "No Meat ! No Meat !"…What have you for our Dinners Boys?" Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir." At night, "Gentlemen the Supper is ready." What is your Supper, Lads? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir..."

Dec. 22nd., Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night, my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit's eyes, occation'd by a great Cold, and Smoke. What have you got for Breakfast, Lads ? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir." I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one…But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat..
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After the war, Monroe returned to Virginia and studied law under Thomas Jefferson, then served as governor of Virginia and was later appointed as U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a fondness for fancy French cuisine, but historians say that he retained a boyhood taste for Spoon Bread and other simple foods of his Virginia youth.

Because it has a consistency similar to pudding, Spoon Bread is usually served straight from the baking pan with a large spoon. If you'd like to whip up a batch today, here's a quick and simple recipe to try:

¾ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder

Combine cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add boiling water. Stir in melted butter.

In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add egg and milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture. Add baking powder and mix.

Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Serve straight from the baking dish with a spoon and enjoy!

FAST FACT: In Emmanuel Luetz’s famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm. Measuring 12 feet high and 21 feet long, it's on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.