During William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign, hard cider flowed so fast that he became known as the “Hard Cider Candidate.” To feed his many rowdy supporters, Harrison's cooks served an election dish called Burgoo which was made by dropping chopped vegetables into warm squirrel stew.
Hailing his victory over Tecumseh thirty years earlier, Harrison’s supporters came up with the slogan, TIPPICANOE AND TYLER, TOO!” With its shrewd and heavy use of slogans, poems, ditties, and songs, and organized picnics, rallies, bonfires, and parades, the Election of 1840 is considered to be the first modern American presidential campaign!
Of course, the custom of plying potential voters with food and drink has been practiced by politicians since George Washington's day. But it reached its zenith in the campaign of 1840, when Harrison and his lieutenants "wined and dined the populace throughout the West."
The first step, according to historian Poppy Cannon, was to erect a log cabin, then "invite all eligible males to a feast of cornbread, cheese, and hard cider." Little by little, the feasts became more elaborate, "culminating in a spread in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which 30,000 hungry voters were served 360 hams, 20 calves, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 8,000 pounds of bread and 4,500 pounds of Burgoo."
Perfected in Kentucky and popular throughout the western territories, Burgoo was the perfect election dish since it could be easily expanded to feed large crowds simply by adding more water, vegetables and squirrel meat to it. Although squirrel was once deemed essential to this classic American dish, most modern recipes, like this one for Kentucky Burgoo from Emeril Lagasse, call for beef, lamb and chicken.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank, trimmed of excess fat
2 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, quartered
4 cloves peeled garlic
1 medium fresh hot red pepper, quartered
Water, to cover
1 (3 to 4 pound) whole chicken or hen, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups medium diced carrots
1 cup medium diced green bell peppers
1 pound baking potatoes, like russets, peeled and medium diced
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh green beans, strings removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
8 fresh cornbread muffins, hot
8 fresh biscuits, hot
In a large, heavy pot, over medium heat, add the oil. Season the beef and lamb with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the meat, in batches, for a couple of minutes on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, cloves, and pepper. Cover with water. (about 3 to 4 quarts). Bring to boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until tender, about 3 hours.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. During the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking, add the chicken. Remove the meat, chicken and vegetables from the pan, set aside and cool. Discard the vegetables. Add the remaining vegetables and brown sugar to the pot of hot liquid. Continue to cook for 1 hour.
After the meat has cooled, cube the beef and lamb into 1-inch pieces. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard. Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the cubed meat and chicken to the vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Re-season if necessary. Ladle the stew into serving bowls. Serve with hot cornbread or biscuits. Garnish with parsley.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND: “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!” was originally a song written for Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler. Harrison was known as “Old Tippecanoe” for his military victory over the Shawnee chieftan Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Thirty years later, Whigs used Harrison’s nickname in a campaign song that portrayed Harrison as a “simple, homespun hero” in contrast to the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren, who was depicted as a wealthy elitist. Here are some of the lyrics:
Sure, let 'em talk about hard cider
and log cabins too
't'will only help to speed the ball
for Tippecanoe and Tyler too
and with him we'll beat Little Van, Van
Van is a used up man
and with him we'll beat Little Van…
Although Harrison wasn't born in a log cabin, he was the first to use one as a symbol to suggest that he was a man of humble origins. Other candidates followed his example, making the idea of a log cabin (and a non-wealthy background) a recurring theme in presidential elections for the next half century.
Credit: William Henry Harrison, oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.)