Friday, January 13, 2023

Lou Henry Hoover and the First Organized Girl Scout Cookie Drive in 1935!


So did you know that Herbert Hoover’s wife "Lou" served as president of the Girl Scouts and helped coordinate one of the first Girl Scout Cookie Drives in 1935? Sixty five years later, in April of 2000, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum held an exhibit entitled, American Women! A Celebration of Our History. One exhibit depicted Lou Hoover’s lifelong commitment to the Girl Scouts. This is how the placard read:

A woman nicknamed "Daisy" started the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. with 18 girls. And a tomboy called "Lou" helped the organization grow into its current membership of over 3.5 million! Lou Henry grew up enjoying the outdoor life, and was the first women to receive a degree in geology from Stanford. She traveled the world with her husband Herbert Hoover, and assisted him with his mining ventures and famine relief activities.

During World War I she met up with Juliette Low [Daisy], and was a Girl Scout for the next 25 years. As First Lady and national leader of the Girl Scouts, Hoover quietly aided people in need during the Depression, and was also the first to desegregate White House social functions.

Lou remained a Scout the rest of her life and led the first Girl Scout cookie drive in 1935. Juliette Low and Lou Henry Hoover brought together girls from the North and South, wealthy and poor, black and white, athletic and handicapped – instilling confidence that all women can develop their potential to be whatever they wish to be.


In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts all across the country baked their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. They then packaged their coookies in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker and sold them door-to-door for 25 to 35 cents a dozen.


Today, of course, there is a wide array of commercially baked Girl Scouts cookies to choose from, including such traditional favorites as Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, and Thin Mints! If you'd like to whip up a batch of cookies with your kids today, here's the original recipe for Early Girl Scout Cookies® from The Girl Scouts of the United States of America.


1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount for topping (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

James Garfield, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the Founding Father of Modern 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 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 19th century, when the term "vegetarian" came into use, people who didn't eat meat were often called “Pythagoreans.”

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


2 1/2 cups 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 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. 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: Garfield was one of our most intellectual presidents. Before going into politics, he was a professor of ancient languages. He was also ambidextrous and would often show off his knowledge by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other. Now THAT'S impressive!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Andrew Johnson New Years Day 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, November 21, 2022

A Brief History of the Annual Turkey Pardon


There are competing claims as to when the annual White House tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving turkey began. Some say it dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's young son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey named "Jack" that had been sent to the Lincolns to be part of their Christmas dinner.

Others claim that the tradition began during Harry Truman's administration. Although it's true that the National Turkey Federation has been providing holiday turkeys to the White House since 1947, when Truman was in office, there's no evidence to prove that this story is true. This is what the Truman Library offered on the issue:

The Truman Library has received many requests over the years for information confirming the story that President Truman "pardoned" a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, thus initiating a Presidential tradition that continues to this day.

The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.


While President John F. Kennedy spared a massive 55-pound turkey's life on November 19, 1963, just three days before his assassination, he didn't use the word "pardon." Instead, the bird had a sign hanging around its neck that read, "GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!" which prompted Kennedy to quip, "Let's just let him keep growing."

The first president to actually use the word "pardon" in reference to a holiday turkey was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was already heading to a local petting zoo.


Which brings us to President George H.W. Bush, who was apparently the first president to intentionally "pardon" a turkey. At the National Turkey Presentation Ceremony in 1989, Bush light-heartedly remarked: "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy - he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now - and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

Although it's difficult to confirm exactly when this White House tradition began, we do know where some of the more recently pardoned turkeys have been sent after receiving their presidential reprieves. From 1989 until 2004, the fortunate fowls were sent to live out their natural lives at Frying Pan Farm in Virginia.

The venue changed in 2005, however, when Disneyland was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. That year, a lucky turkey named "Marshmallow," and his alternate, "Yam," were taken by police escort to the airport and then flown first class to California. According to the Associated Press:

Marshmallow became the Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade, and the sign above his float read "The Happiest Turkey on Earth." The turkeys then retired to a coop at the park's Big Thunder Ranch, where three of the pardoned birds...still live. Florida's Disney World got the birds from 2007, when they arrived on a United Airlines flight that was renamed "Turkey One."

In 2010, the venue changed yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama pardoned was sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, it was reportedly "be driven to his pen in a horse-drawn carriage and be greeted with a trumpet fanfare."


A spokeswoman for Mount Vernon said that it was appropriate that the turkey go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and he raised wild turkeys at Mount Vernon.

Although she didn't say how the Washington's preferred to serve their Thanksgiving birds, the Mount Vernon Inn offers a daily lunch menu that includes a "Colonial Turkey Pye" which is described as "a turkey stew served with mixed vegetables and topped with a homemade buttermilk biscuit."

While it might be difficult to obtain a copy of that particular recipe, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Turkey Pot Pie if you need something to do with your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving or this one from Pillsubry.com:


1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 (11-ounce) cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
1 large turkey skinned, cooked, boned and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
2 cup cooked butternut squash, diced
2 cup cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long.
On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes.

Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Election of 1828 and Andrew Jackson's First Inaugural Orange Whiskey Punch!


When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office in 1825, it was under a dark cloud of controversy. The election of 1824 had been a bitterly contested four-man race between Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Adams.

Since no candidate had won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes. Adams then quickly appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Outraged and feeling cheated out of the White House, Jackson called the deal a “Corrupt Bargain" to "cheat the will of the people."”


With these accusations hanging over his head, Adams faced problems from the start and his four years in office weren't easy ones. Although his intelligence, family background, and experience could and should have made him a great president, he lacked the charisma needed to create a base of loyal supporters.

Not surprisingly, he lost the election of 1828 in a landslide, and when Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1829, twenty thousand of his loyal supporters, who believed he had been cheated out of the White House four years earlier, descended "like locusts" upon Washington, eager to celebrate the long-delayed victory of their champion.

According to culinary historian Poppy Cannon, Jackson's inauguration "sparked a celebration that did everything but set fire to the White House." Thousands of rowdy fans crammed into the building and "little thought was given to the delicate French furniture, elegant draperies, and fine china" as ice cream, ices and cakes "were gobbled up as fast they appeared on long serving tables."


In a letter to her sister, Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite, described the chaos of Jackson's inaugural festivities this way:

But what a scene did we witness! The Majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob, of boys, women, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity! No arrangements had been made, no police officers placed on duty, and the whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob...

Cut glass and china to the amount of several thousand dollars had been broken in the struggle to get the refreshments, punch and other articles had been carried out in tubs and buckets, but had it been in hogsheads it would have been insufficient...

Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses, and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe…This concourse had not been anticipated...Ladies and gentlemen only had been expected at this Levee, not the people en masse. But it was the People's day, and the People's President, and the People would rule!


Another observer described the day's events this way:

Orange-punch by barrels full was inside, but as the waiters opened the door to bring it out, a rush would be made, the glasses broken, the pails of liquor upset, and the most painful confusion prevailed. To such a degree was this carried, that tubs of punch were taken from the lower story into the garden to lead off the crowds from the rooms.

Although no one knows how those waiters prepared the punch that day, you can get some great whiskey tips from eatdrinkfrolic.com and The Wall Street Journal scoured some ninteeenth century cookbooks and provided this recipe for Inaugural Orange Punch that's easy to make by the bucketful if you've got a mob to entertain on election day!


3 parts fresh orange juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Mulled Orange Syrup*
1 part dark rum
1 part cognac
2 parts soda water

Mulled Orange Syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the peel from an orange and mulling spices (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.

Combine Mulled Orange Syrup and all other ingredients in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass and enjoy!

Monday, October 31, 2022

A Brief History of Trick-or-Treating


Trick-or-treating has been a popular American Halloween tradition for nearly a century, but its origins remain unclear. Ancient Celtic festivals, early Roman Catholic holidays, medieval practices, and even British politics all lay claim as possible antecedents of the present-day practice of trick-or-treating.

Ancient Origins of Trick-or-Treating

Some say that the origins of the practice of trick-or-treating might lie in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The following day, November 1, marked the new year. On the Celtic calendar, this day signaled the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter, an uncertain and frightening time that was often associated with death.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that on Samhain the barrier between the living and dead was blurred more so than on any other night and that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth as they transitioned to the otherworld. On the night of Samhain, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and pay homage to the dead.


In some Celtic celebrations of Samhain, villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away spirits while banquet tables were prepared and offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. In later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be another possible antecedent of trick-or-treating.

Early Christian and Medieval Antecedents

In the first few centuries of the first millennium, Christianity spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, a time to honor all martyrs and saints. The night before (October 31) was known as All Hallows Eve, which eventually became Hallowe’en and finally Halloween.

In 1000 A.D., the church designated Nov. 2 as All Souls Day, a day when the living prayed for the souls of the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated in ways similar to Celtic commemorations of Samhain. People lit bonfires, dressed in customs as saints and devils, and masqueraded in parades.

Poor families would also visit the homes of wealthier families who would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in exchange for their promise to pray for the souls of the family's dead relatives. This practice, known as “souling,” was later taken up by children who would go from home-to-home and be given “treats” such as food, money, and ale.


A similar Scottish and Irish practice known as guising – children disguising themselves in costumes and roaming door-to-door for treats – is another possible antecedent of trick-or-treating. The main difference is that in souling children promised to say a prayer for the dead in return for their “treat” whereas guisers would sing a song, recite a poem, or perform some sort of “trick” for their treat, which traditionally consisted of fruit, coins, or nuts.

Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations

Still another antecedent might be the British custom of children wearing masks and carrying effigies while begging for pennies on Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night), an annual commemoration of the foiling of the so-called Gunpowder Plot of 1605. On November 5, 1606, Fawkes was executed for his role in the Catholic-led conspiracy to blow up England's parliament building in an attempt to remove the Protestant King James I from power.

The original Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated immediately after his execution. Communal bonfires were lit to burn effigies and the symbolic "bones" of the Catholic pope. By the early nineteenth century, effigies of the pope had been replaced by those of Guy Fawkes and children would roam the streets carrying an effigy or "Guy" and ask for "a penny for the Guy."

A New American Tradition


Although some early American colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, the rigid Protestant belief systems of New England Puritans meant that they had no place for such pagan and Catholic celebrations as Samhain and All Souls Day, or even Halloween itself. In the southern colonies, however, where larger, more ethnically diverse European communities had settled, there are some accounts of Halloween festivities meshing with Native American autumn harvest celebrations.

In the mid-1800s, large numbers of new immigrants, especially the nearly two million Irish immigrants fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize Halloween. Borrowing from English and Irish traditions, children would dress in costumes and go door-to-door asking for food or money.

As Halloween grew in popularity, it was celebrated with bonfires, ghost stories, divination games, costume parties and pranks. By the 1920s, juvenile pranks had gotten out of hand and often resulted in the destruction of private property, sometimes amounting to more than $100,000 in damages each year in some major metropolitan cities.

The deepening Depression exacerbated the problem, with Halloween pranks often devolving into vandalism, assaults, and sporadic acts of violence. One theory holds that it was the excessive “pranks” on Halloween that led to the widespread adoption of an organized, community-based trick-or-treating tradition in the 1930s. This trend was abruptly curtailed, however, with the outbreak of World War II. Children were forced to refrain from trick-or-treating because of sugar rationing and pranksters were told that their actions would “hurt the war effort” and be considered “sabotage.”


With post-war prosperity and the baby boom, trick-or-treating was revived and quickly became a standard practice for millions of children in the cities and newly-built suburbs. No longer constrained by sugar rationing, major American candy companies capitalized on this lucrative trend, launching national ad campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. If trick-or-treating had once been an intermittent practice, it was now a popular American tradition. Today, Americans spend more than $12 billion annually on Halloween, making it the nation's second largest commercial holiday.

Adapted from my article published on THE HISTORTY CHANNEL'S website history.com

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Watergate and Richard Nixon 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 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 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," he 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 for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is 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!

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Road to American Independence: From the Sugar Act to the Boston Tea Party and Beyond!

So did you know that sugar, coffee, tea and other basic foods played a role in some of the key events that led to the American Revolutionary War? Because volumes could be written about each of these events, I decided to compile a timeline to make this fascinating part of food history a bit easier to digest:

1760 - King George III ascends to the British throne.

1763 - The Treaty of Paris is signed ending the French and Indian War. Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III and the British Parliament decided to pay off by imposing taxes on the colonies.

1764 - On April 5, the Parliament passed the Sugar Act which lowered the rate of tax placed on molasses but increased taxes placed on sugar, coffee, and certain kinds of wines. At the time, most colonists agreed that Parliament had the right to regulate trade, as it had done with the Molasses Act of 1733. But the Sugar Act was specifically aimed at raising revenue which was to be used to pay for the maintenance of British troops stationed in the colonies. Although most colonists were accustomed to being taxed by their own assemblies, they strongly objected to being taxed by Parliament, where they were not represented. It was during angry protests over the Sugar Act that the famous cry, "No taxation without representation" was often heard.

1765 - In May, the Quartering Act was passed which required colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - On March 22, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which placed a tax on newspapers, pamphlets, contracts, playing cards, and other products that were printed on paper. Unlike the Sugar Act which was an external tax (e.g., it taxed only goods imported into the colonies), the Stamp Act was an internal tax levied directly upon the property and goods of the colonists. The Stamp Act forced the colonists to further consider the issue of Parliamentary taxation without representation. Outraged and united in opposition, patriot leaders convened in October at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and called for a boycott on British imports.


1766 - Bowing to the pressure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but, on the same day, passed the Declaratory Act which asserted Parliament's authority to make laws binding on the colonists “in all cases whatsoever.”

1767 - A series of laws known as the Townshend Acts are passed which impose taxes on glass, paint, tea, and other imports into the colonies. One of the most influential responses to the Acts was a series of essays by John Dickinson entitled, "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania." Articulating ideas already widely accepted in the colonies, Dickinson argued that there was no difference between "external" and "internal" taxes, and that any taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament for the sake of raising a revenue were unconstitutional.

1768 - British warships arrive in Boston Harbor to enforce custom laws. So now there's a bunch of young British soldiers in red coats dragging loaded cannons and guns and thousands of outraged American patriots. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

1770 - Nothing too terrible. Until the cold, snowy evening of March 5. That’s when a rowdy crowd of colonists started harassing British soldiers on duty in front of the Custom House in Boston. Tensions intensified as the crowd grew and colonists began throwing snowballs at the soldiers, daring them to open fire. Then, one British soldier was hit in the face with a stick. Shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, three American colonists were dead, including Crispus Attucks, a former slave who worked on a whaling ship, and two others later died from their injuries. Outraged, Sam Adams calls the British soldiers “bloody murderers” and labels the event “The Boston Massacre.”


1773 - After that, British soldiers are ordered to leave Boston. Tensions settle down for a while. But, in 1773, Parliament makes another REALLY. BAD. MOVE. In an effort to save the struggling British East India Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act. This act did not place any new taxes on tea. Instead, it eliminated tariffs placed on tea entering England and allowed the company to sell tea directly to colonists rather than merchants. These changes lowered the price of British tea to below that of smuggled tea, which the British hoped would help end the boycott. But that's NOT what happened!

1773 - Instead, at around midnight on December 16, a group of colonists led by Samuel Adams disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded three British ships that were docked in Boston Harbor. Armed with axes and tomahawks, the men chopped open 342 crates and dumped 46 tons of British tea -- that's the weight of 400 baby elephants! -- into the harbor. As news of the "Boston Tea Party" spread, patriots in other colonies staged similar acts of resistance.


1774 - When news of the Boston Tea Party reached London, King George became enraged and threw a fit. Calling it “violent and outrageous,” he viewed it as a complete rejection of British rule, and he vowed to punish Massachusetts swiftly and severely. At the king's request, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts (also called the Intolerable Acts) which closed Boston Harbor to commerce until the colonists had paid for the lost tea, drastically reduced the powers of self-government in the colonies, and provided for the quartering of British troops in the colonists' houses and barns.

At that point, patriot leaders had had enough and agreed to convene in Philadelphia to come up with a plan of action. And, in September, Samuel Adams and his younger cousin John Adams set out from Boston to the first Continental Congress.

Meanwhile, down in Virginia, George Washington was preparing for the Continental Congress, as well. One of the few patriot leaders with military experience (he was a general in the French and Indian War), Washington was widely-respected and committed to the American cause. “If need be,” he promised, “I will raise one thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston.” It was under these explosive circumstances that the FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774.


There were fifty-six delegates from twelve colonies, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. After heated debate, the delegates declared the Intolerable Acts to be an illegal violation of the rights of American colonists. They also decided it was time to start boycotting all British imports again. Most important, it was agreed that the colonies should start raising and arming militias (groups of citizen soldiers) should war break out with Britain.

1775 - Now the stage was set for a major showdown, and things started happening fast. King George announced to Parliament that the colonies were in “a state of rebellion” and that “blows must decide” who would control America. By early April, 1775, General Gage was in command of an army of 3,000 soldiers in and around Boston, with thousands more on the way. On April 19, 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. When the smoke cleared, more than 200 American and British forces had been killed.

In June, 1775, the Second Continental Congress unanimously voted to appoint George Washington as General and Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army.

1776 - Throughout early 1776, some Americans hoped to avoid war with Britain. But, on July 4, 1776, Congress formally approved the Declaration of Independence, and soon, British forces arrived in New York Harbor, bent on crushing the American rebellion!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

JFK, LBJ and a Brief History of Father's Day


Some historians say that the origins of Father’s Day can be traced to a young woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who reportedly came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Raised by her widowed father, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife after the birth of their sixth child, Sonora felt that her father should be honored in the same way that mothers were on Mother’s Day.

Toward that end, a special Father’s Day observance was held on June 19, 1910. Although that celebration was a local affair, the idea of a national Father’s Day picked up steam when it was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, but it would take another thirty years before Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress. Then, in 1966, the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued by Lyndon Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Although it’s hard to say what Johnson ate on that particular day, it’s likely that the Texan native requested a family barbecue. Barbecuing, of course, has been used as a tool in American politics since the early nineteenth century, but no politician ever used “the conviviality and informality of cooking and eating outdoors” more than Johnson.


But the most important barbecue ever planned for the LBJ Ranch never took place. This is what happened:

It was scheduled for November 23, 1963, when President Kennedy, Johnson, and their entourages were planning to dine beneath the oaks on the Pedernales. But a few hours before they were to board the choppers from Dallas to Johnson City, on November 22, Kennedy was assassinated two cars in front of Johnson as they drove in a motorcade.

A month later, the Johnson family retreated to the ranch on Christmas Eve. West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard was scheduled to visit the President to discuss the Soviet threat, the Berlin Wall, and other important matters. Rather than return to Washington for a formal State Dinner, Lyndon invited Erhard on down to what historians claim was the first official Presidential barbecue in history. Yes, Johnson's first state dinner was a barbecue for 300 catered by Walter Jetton on December 29, 1963.

When his staff realized it would be chilly that day, the sit-down part was moved indoors to Stonewall High School gymnasium, about two miles away. Workers did an admirable job of creating an outdoorsy feel with bales of hay, red lanterns, red-checkered table cloths, saddles, lassos, and mariachis. According to Lady Bird's diary, "there were beans (pinto beans, always), delicious barbecued spareribs, cole slaw, followed by fried apricot pies with lots of hot coffee. And plenty of beer."


Although those recipes may have been lost to posterity, some Johnson family favorites included Pedernales River Chili, Chipped Beef with Cream, Beef Stroganoff, Tapioca Pudding, and Lady Bird enjoyed handing out her recipe for Barbecue Sauce. If you’d like to add a little zip to your Father's Day celebrations this weekend, here's a great recipe to try and here's Lady Bird's original recipe:


¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

Friday, April 8, 2022

A Brief History of the Easter Egg Roll at the White House from Dolley Madison to the Obamas

According to whitehouse.gov, some historians claim that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll on White House grounds while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. What is clear, however, is that, beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, a group of party-poopers in Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. Fortunately, the tradition was revived in 1878 when First Lady Lucy Hayes invited children of all ages to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to this article in Time Magazine:

Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event. Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.

In 2009, the Obamas hosted the 138th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, March 28, when more than 35,000 people joined them on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional egg roll.


And while the menu for that year's White House Easter Brunch wasn't released, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that menu items in 2008 included Honey Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Sauce, Eggs Benedict, spinach salad, waffles, sauteed asparagus, biscuits and cheese grits. If you'd like whip up some Eggs Benedict for your Easter brunch this year, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:


1 teaspoon vinegar
4 eggs
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins

Hollandaise sauce:

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and hot
Salt and pepper
Paprika and chopped parsley

In large skillet, bring 2 inches of water and vinegar to a boil. Crack one egg into a glass. Reduce water to a simmer and pour egg into water. Add remaining eggs and cook for 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain. In a non-stick skillet heat the bacon until warm. Toast the English muffins until golden.

For sauce: Place yolks, water and lemon juice into blender. Blend for 1 minute. With blender running, pour butter through open hole of lid. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble: Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and the chopped parsley.

FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll was held at the White House every year in the 20th century except during World War I, World War II, and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find and Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the Easter Bunny in the festivities. Years earlier, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her famous pet racooon Rebecca!

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

George Washington Sweet 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 25 years, it contains, according to Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the 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 famously unfolded:

"When George 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, most historians generally agree that this quaint story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George was particularly fond of cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy highly versatile fruit.

Of course, then, as today, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this recipe for cherry cobbler, which George surely would have loved had he had time to try it during his extraordinarily illustrious life:


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. 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.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from 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 until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, December 20, 2021

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, 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 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 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 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 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 starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A Brief History of the White House Turkey Pardon


As it often is with political history, there are competing claims as to when the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving Day holiday turkey began. Some say it dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's young son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey named "Jack" that had been sent to the Lincolns to be part of their holiday dinner.

Others claim that the tradition began during Harry Truman's administration. Although it's true that the National Turkey Federation has been providing holiday turkeys to the White House since 1947, when Truman was in office, there's no evidence to prove that this story is true.

While President John F. Kennedy spared a turkey's life on November 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, he didn't use the word "pardon." Instead, the bird had a sign hanging around its neck that read, "GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!", which prompted Kennedy to quip, "Let's just keep him going."

The first president to actually use the word "pardon" in reference to a holiday turkey was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was already heading to a local petting zoo.


Which brings us to President George H.W. Bush, who was apparently the first president to intentionally "pardon" a turkey. At the National Turkey Presentation Ceremony in 1989, Bush light-heartedly remarked: "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy - he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now - and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

Although it's difficult to confirm exactly when this White House tradition began, we do know where some of the more recently pardoned turkeys have been sent after receiving their presidential reprieves. From 1989 until 2004, the fortunate fowls were sent to live out their natural lives at Frying Pan Farm in Virginia.

The venue changed in 2005, however, when Disneyland was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. That year, a lucky turkey named "Marshmallow," and his alternate, "Yam," were taken by police escort to the airport and then flown first class to California. According to the Associated Press:

Marshmallow became the Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade, and the sign above his float read "The Happiest Turkey on Earth." The turkeys then retired to a coop at the park's Big Thunder Ranch, where three of the pardoned birds...still live. Florida's Disney World got the birds from 2007, when they arrived on a United Airlines flight that was renamed "Turkey One."

In 2010, the venue changed yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama pardoned was sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, it was reportedly "be driven to his pen in a horse-drawn carriage and be greeted with a trumpet fanfare."


A spokeswoman for Mount Vernon said that it was appropriate that the turkey go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and he raised wild turkeys at Mount Vernon.

Although she didn't say how the Washington's preferred to serve their Thanksgiving birds, the Mount Vernon Inn offers a daily lunch menu that includes a "Colonial Turkey Pye" which is described as "a turkey stew served with mixed vegetables and topped with a homemade buttermilk biscuit."

While it might be difficult to obtain a copy of that particular recipe, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Turkey Pot Pie if you need something to do with your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving or this one from Pillsbury.com:


1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 (11-ounce) cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
1 large turkey skinned, cooked, boned and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
2 cup cooked butternut squash, diced
2 cup cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long.
On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes.

Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and the Thanksgiving Day Date-Change Fiasco

So did you know that in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving Day forward by a week? Rather than allow the holiday to fall on its traditional date, the last Thursday of November, Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring that the holiday would instead be celebrated a week earlier.

Why did he make such a seemingly random decision in the midst of the Great Depression? Well, his reason was economic and intended to extend the Christmas shopping season. According to the Wall Street Journal:

There were five Thursdays in November that year, which meant that Thanksgiving would fall on the 30th. That left just 20 shopping days till Christmas. By moving the holiday up a week to Nov. 23, the president hoped to give the economy a lift by allowing shoppers more time to make their purchases and—so his theory went—spend more money...

In an informal news conference in August announcing his decision, FDR offered a little tutorial on the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, he noted, meaning that it was not set by federal law. According to custom, it was up to the president to pick the date every year.

It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, that that date became generally accepted, Roosevelt explained. To make sure that reporters got his point, he added that there was nothing sacred about the date...


Just as he had done with his controversial "Court Packing" plan of 1937, Roosevelt badly misjudged public opinion. Outraged protests began in Plymouth, Massachussetts, the place of the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621, but quickly spread to other circles.

PRESIDENT SHOCKS FOOTBALL COACHES: Many Games are Upset by Thanksgiving Plan, read a banner headline in the New York Times. And even in the staunchly Democratic state of Arkansas, the football coach of Little Ouachita College threatened: 'We'll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.'"


Of course, some collegiate coaches and athletic directors were more diplomatic. In a letter to the president's secretary, Philip Badger, Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control at New York University wrote:

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of Nov. 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day...As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President's proposal.


Outside of the collegiate football arena, public sentiments also ran heavily against Roosevelt's plan, as evidenced by a national Gallup poll which found "that 62% of Americans surveyed disapproved of the date change." And, as opposition grew, some state governors "took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation."

According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! [And so] family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

By 1941, most retailers also disapproved of Roosevelt's plan, and even the federal government conceded that the date change had not resulted in any boost in sales. And so, on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Joint Resolution 41 making Thanksgiving a national holiday and mandating that it be observed on the fourth Thursday in November of each year.

FAST FACT: According to the Library of Congress, when "Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November."