Friday, March 8, 2019

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a cold and stormy day. Standing in the freezing weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.

Only lasting a month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide insight into his culinary habits, but one thing is certain: his death caused a constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would be “acting” as President or actually become President upon Harrison's death.


Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states: In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident... 

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office?

After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become president. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th president of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1967.


FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds have been used to treat human disease for thousands of years.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Richard Nixon, Watergate, and Family-Style Meatloaf


Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom was a former employee of the CIA, were arrested in what authorities would later describe as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." At dinner, Nixon enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here's a recipe to try here and here's the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf on lower shelf of oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is fully cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.


FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue. Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.” Doh!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ulysses S. Grant Simple Cinnamon Rice Pudding

"The inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 did more than usher into the Presidency an honored war hero," according to historian Poppy Cannon, it launched an era of opulence in the White House "the United States had not seen before and has seldom seen since." Culinarily speaking, however, Grant’s first few months in office could hardly be described as extravagant. When the 46-year-old military hero moved into the White House, he brought with him a quartermaster from his army days to serve as cook.

To her credit, Grant’s wife Julia refrained from complaining at first, but when it became clear that the "chef" viewed the White House dining room as little more than “an enlarged mess hall,” she replaced him with an Italian steward named Valentino Melah, who had catered for some of the finest hotels in New York and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a twenty-nine course banquet at the Grant White House, Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper columnist, wrote:

In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the "first course," which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it.


It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert...[which] is inaugurated by...a rice pudding [that] would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follow confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate...


Although Grant enjoyed partaking in such opulent banquets, he retained a taste for more basic fare, no doubt shaped by his old soldier's days. One of his favorite breakfasts consisted of "broiled Spanish mackerel and steak, fried apples with bacon, buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee." At lunch and dinner, he enjoyed such simple meals as roast beef with wheat bread and boiled hominy, and for dessert, if he had any, nothing ever pleased him as much as "simple rice pudding."

Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this recipe from simplyrecipes.com or this one for Cinnamon Rice Pudding that's great to serve at breakfast or as a light dessert:


2 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a saucepan, bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10 minutes or so, until thickened. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!