Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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 most of those who survived lost just about everything they owned. As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South.

As president, Andrew 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, and historians say that his 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 consumed such traditional foods as Hush Puppies, 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 and prosperity throughout the coming year.

If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John for your New Year's festivities this week, 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 pot, add 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 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. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner

One of the most famous guests to visit 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.

Some 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. I thought that, in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book American Notes. But of all of his books, perhaps none are more well-known than A Christmas Carol, which was published in 1843, one year after Dickens visited the White House. Among all of its famous food oriented scenes, none are more memorable than the one depicting the Cratchit family Christmas dinner. Maybe you remember it:


Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped.

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim...beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!


No recipes are included in the book, of course, but The Food Channel recreated the Cratchit's Christmas dinner and "the more bountiful feast at the merry gathering" at the home of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew. If you'd like to bring some Dickens Christmas spirit to your family dinner this holiday season, here's a fabulous recipe for Duchess Potatoes:


3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and softened
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, light beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Fill a large pot with cold water, add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and boil until tender. While the potatoes are still hot add cream, 3 tablespoons butter, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold in the remaining butter until pieces are evenly distributed.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer potato mixture to piping bag fitted with 1/2-inch star tip (you can use a gallon size baggie with snipped off corner) and pipe eight 4-inch wide mounds of potatoes on baking sheet. Spray the tops of the potatoes lightly with butter flavored cooking spray and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is another classic Dickens novel that's filled with many memorable food-related scenes. 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, he is dubbed a trouble maker 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.