Friday, January 30, 2015

Ulysses S. Grant, the Transcontinental Railroad, and Santa Fe Broiled Sage Hen

After the Civil War, peace between the North and South made it possible for the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad to be completed. In 1863, the Union Pacific began laying track in Omaha, Nebraska, heading west. At the same time, the Central Pacific started laying track in Sacramento, California, heading east.

Work in the beginning was slow and difficult, as you can imagine. After less than 25 miles of track had been laid in California, the Central Pacific faced the daunting task of laying tracks over terrain that rose 7,000 feet in less than a hundred miles. To conquer the sheer embankments, workers, the vast majority of whom were Chinese immigrants, were lowered by rope from the top of cliffs. While dangling in mid-air, they chipped away at the granite with picks and axes and then planted explosives to blast tunnels through the cliffs.

On October 10, 1865, Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, submitted a progress report to President Ulysses S. Grant:

A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more
profitable and congenial employment in mining and agricultural pursuits, than in railroad work. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise within the time required by the Acts of Congress...

Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents…in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents…furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants that ...the [company] will be able to procure during the next year not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force, the Company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it within the time required by the Acts of Congress, but so as to meet the public impatience.


Four and a half years later, the two tracks finally met and the final “Golden Spike” was driven in with great ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. By the end of the century, four more railways crisscrossed the United States. By then, most trains had luxury dining cars where first class passengers like President Grant dined on superb regional fare. The Baltimore and Ohio, for example, was famous for fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay while the Santa Fe was known for its Barbecued Prairie Spring Chicken and Broiled Sage Hen.

Although those railway recipes might be mighty difficult to find today, you can try this one for Lemon Sage Roasted Chicken from Bon Appetit.

4 chicken breast halves with skin and bones
8 very thin lemon slices, seeded
12 fresh sage leaves
Olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450°F. Slide fingertips under chicken skin to loosen. Arrange 2 lemon slices and 3 sage leaves under skin on each breast; smooth skin over to enclose. Place chicken on rimmed baking sheet; brush with oil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon lemon juice over each breast; sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup broth onto sheet around chicken.

Roast chicken until brown and cooked through, basting once or twice with pan juices, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Place baking sheet directly atop 2 burners; add remaining 1/2 cup broth. Using back of fork, mash any garlic on baking sheet into broth and pan juices. Boil over high heat until broth reduces almost to glaze, scraping up browned bits, about 4 minutes. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

FAST FACT: For every track of mile laid, railroads were granted a certain sum of money and 20 square miles of free land. The transcontinental railroad brought rapid economic growth to the nation, as farming, cattle-ranching and other agricultural businesses rapidly developed along the main lines.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

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 attacked 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 forcibly 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? Well, 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's 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 with dry crackers and 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 recipe for Creamy Chicken Soup which Eleanor surely would have enjoyed before setting off 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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

George Washington Cherry Cobbler

An early nineteenth century American book peddler, itinerant preacher and author, "Parson" Mason Locke Weems is best known today as the source of some of the most beloved if apocryphal stories about George Washington. The famous story of George and the Cherry Tree is included in Weems' masterpiece, The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington, which was originally published in 1800 (the year after Washington's death) and was an immediate best-seller.

Reprinted in ever more inventive editions over the next twenty-five years, it contained, according to historian Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the famous cherry tree myth" and other exaggerated or invented anecdotes that extolled Washington’s virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the young republic.

In telling his cherry tree story, Weems attributed it to "an aged lady,” who was reportedly a distant relative of George, and who, as a young girl, supposedly spent much time with him. This is how the fable unfolded:

"When George," said she, "was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it.

The next morning, [George’s father], finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."

“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”


Although plausible enough, historians generally agree that this quaint little story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George absolutely LOVED cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy, highly versatile fruit.

Of course, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, candies, puddings, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this one, from THE TODAY SHOW:

Crust

1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold milk, cream or water

Filling

2 cups cherry preserves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, toss carefully with your hands to coat the butter cubes in flour. Pulse in the food processor several times until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Add the additional tablespoon of liquid if needed until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to shape it into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a shape a ½ inch wider than the tart pan you are using. Loosely fold the dough in half and transfer it to the tart pan.

Line the pan with the dough, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim any excess dough from the rim of the pan, leaving a blunt neat edge. Gather the trimmings into a ball (it should be about the size of a pingpong ball). Wrap the tart and the ball of dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator, and spread the marmalade evenly over the crust. Grate the chilled ball of pastry onto the filling, and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake on a rack in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature

FOOD FACT: According to fruit experts at the University of Georgia, the sweet cherry originated in the area between the Black and Caspian seas of Asia Minor. Birds may have carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Cultivation probably began with Greeks, and was perpetuated by Romans. Sweet cherries came to the United States with English colonists in 1629 and were introduced to California by Spanish Missionaries. In the early 1800s, sweet cherries were moved west by pioneers and fur traders to their major sites of production in Washington, Oregon, and California, and today more than five BILLION pounds of cherries are produced commercially each year! Now, THAT'S a lot of cherries!

Friday, January 9, 2015

James Garfield, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the Founding Father of Vegetarianism

As a lawyer, professor, and duly ordained minister, James Garfield is the only president to have discovered a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. The Theorem, of course, is named after Pythagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician. As you might recall from grade school, the theorem says that in a right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two right angle sides will always be the same as the square of the hypotenuse (the longest side).

Translated mathematically, the equation would read: A2 + B2 = C2. Let’s try it quickly here: If Side A is 4 inches long and Side B is 3 inches long, the equation would be: 4 x 4 = 16 and 3 x 3 = 9. Added together, 16 + 9 = 25. Now we simply find the square root of 25 and - voila! - we know that side C is 5 inches long!

So what in the world does the Pythagorean Theorem have to do with food? A lot, if you consider the fact that Pythagoras has been called the Founding Father of Vegetarianism. Until the mid-nineteenth century, when the term "vegetarian" came into use, people who didn't eat meat were often called “Pythagoreans.”

As a young man, James Garfield was a farmer in Ohio and probably wouldn't have called himself a Pythagorean, but he surely would have liked this healthy recipe for Ultimate Veggie Burgers from 101 Cookbooks if he tried it!

2 1/2 cups sprouted garbanzo beans OR canned garbanzos, rinsed
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 onion, chopped
Grated zest of one large lemon
1 cup toasted (whole-grain) bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine garbanzos, eggs, and salt in a food processor. Puree until the mixture is the consistency of a thick, slightly chunky hummus. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in the cilantro, onion, and zest. Add breadcrumbs, stir, and let sit for a couple of minutes so crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium low, add 4 patties, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes. Flip the patties and cook the second side for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

FAST FACT: James Garfield was one of our most intellectual presidents. Before going into politics, he was a professor of ancient languages at Hiram College in Ohio. He was also ambidextrous and biographers say that he would often show off his knowledge by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other. Now THAT'S impressive!!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley and Deep Fried Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana Sandwiches

Of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item "has been requested more than any other." That item, more requested than the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution, is the picture of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands during Presley's visit to the White House in 1970.

That most unlikley of meetings was initiated by Presley, who, according to the National Archives, sent Nixon a hand-written letter requesting a visit with the president and suggesting that he be secretly appointed a "Federal-Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This is what Elvis wrote:

Dear Mr. President

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do NOT consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out. I have no concern or Motives other than helping the country out.

So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials...

I am Glad to help just so long as it is kept very Private. You can have your staff or whomever call me anytime today, tonight, or tomorrow. I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men. That will be in January 18 in my home town of Memphis, Tennessee. I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this approach. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you're not too busy.

Respectfully,
Elvis Presley


Other than their brief meeting at the White House, Nixon and Elvis had little in common, with the exception of a love of their country and some unusual culinary cravings and tastes. Nixon, for instance, liked to slather ketchup on cottage cheese, and Elvis liked Deep Fried Dill Pickles, Gelatin made with a Shasta Drink, and Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches Fried in Bacon Grease.

According to this article in the New York Times magazine, the King also had strange cravings for Coconut Flakes with Mini Marshmallows; Peanut Butter and Cheese on Wonder Bread; Fool's Gold Loaf, which was a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and a pound of fried bacon; and "a version of the Fluffer Nutter, with peanut butter, bananas, Marshmallow Fluff and Wonder Bread rolled in crushed peanuts." Oh my!

While most of these concoctions are enough to make even the most seasoned junk-food junkies reach for their TUMS, this recipe for Elvis Presley's Fried Peanut Butter Sandwich from Nigella Lawson is a slightly healthier alternative and might be worth trying "If You're Hungry Tonight."

2 slices white bread
2 tablespoons butter
1 small ripe banana
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

Place 2 pieces of white bread in the toaster on a light setting. Heat skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons butter. While the bread is toasting, in a small bowl, using a fork mash the ripe banana until it reaches a smooth consistency.

Using a knife, take both pieces of the toasted bread and spread 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, topping 1 side with the mashed banana. Place 1 slice of bread on top of the other forming a sandwich. Place sandwich in hot skillet browning each side, flipping with a spatula, about 2 minutes per side. Take out of skillet, slice on a diagonal and serve on a plate.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

James Polk, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Food on the Range

So did you know that in 1848 James Polk signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War and gave most of present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Wyoming, and Utah to the United States?

With the addition of these vast tracts of land, more and more cowboys headed to the southwest, where they herded cattle north to market and sold them for beef. As they galloped along, cowboys would sing songs about food like "Trouble for the Range Cook" and "Starving to Death on My Government Claim."

"Git Along Little Dogies" is another classic cowboy tune. In it, a cowboy tells the dogies (the calves in the herd) that it’s their misfortune (and none of his own) that they will soon be sold at market. Maybe you’ve heard the lyrics:

As I walked out this morning for pleasure,
I met a cowpuncher a jogging along;
his hat was throwed back and his spurs was a jingling,
and as he advanced he was singing this song.

Yippee ti yi yo, get along little dogies
It's your misfortune and none of my own
Yippee ti yi yo get along little dogies
For you know that Wyoming will soon be your home...


It's early in spring that we round up the dogies,
And mark 'em and brand 'em and bob off their tails;
We round up our horses and load the chuckwagon,
And then throw them dogies out onto the trail.

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along, little dogies,
It's your misfortune And none of my own;
Whoopee ti yi yo, Git along, little dogies,
You know that Wyoming will be your new home.


As cowboys drove cattle north, cooks drove Chuck Wagons (which carried all of the food and supplies for meals) ahead of the herds to set up camp for the night. Meals on the range typically consisted of beef, hash, beans, chili peppers, coffee, biscuits, sugar, and dried fruit.

Like cowboys, cooks would sing snappy tunes about food while working hard on the range. In “Punchin’ Dough” a cook tells some bothersome and ungrateful cowboys that cooking is just as demanding as herding cattle:

Come, all you young waddies, I'II sing you a song
Stand back from the wagon, stay where you belong
I've heard you complaining' I'm fussy and slow,
While you're punchin' the cattle and I'm punchin' dough.

Now I reckon your stomach would grow to your back
If it was'n't for the cook that keeps fillin' the slack
With the beans in the box and the pork in the tub
I'm a-wonderin' now, who would fill you with grub?

When you're cuttin' stock, then I'm cuttin' a steak,
When you're wranglin' hosses, I'm wranglin' a cake.
When you're hazin' the dogies and battin' your eyes,
I'm hazin' dried apples that aim to be pies…


Meanwhile, as cowboys were devouring biscuits and beans on the range, President Polk was dining on fancy French cuisine at the White House. But Polk was no stranger to grub. As a boy growing up on the frontier, he reportedly ate Black Bear Steak and Barbecued Deer. Like other frontier folk, basic country fare, like Tenesseee Ham and Corn Pone, was what pleased Polk the most!

If you'd like to wrangle up some corn pone one of these days, here's a simple recipe to try from The Smokey Mountain Cookbook

1 tablespoon of shortening
3/4 cup of boiling water
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon of salt

Melt shortening in heavy 8 or 9-inch skillet. Heat water to boiling point and pour immediately over corn meal and salt. Add melted shortening; stir to blend well. As soon as mixture has cooled enough to handle, divide into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a pone about 3/4 inch thick by patting between the hands. Place in pan and bake at 450°F for about 50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!