Saturday, February 26, 2011

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 entiitled, 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 is 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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, and "The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906"

So this story is kind of repulsive and certainly won't make you crave a juicy hamburger or steak, but it's a part of food history so here goes:

On June 30, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act which provided for federal inspection of meat products and prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated food products.

The Acts arose in part due to articles and exposés written by muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, whose popular 1906 novel The Jungle contains hair-raising descriptions of the ways in which meat was produced in Chicago slaughterhouses and stockyards.

Sinclair described how dead rats, putrid meat, and poisoned rat bait were routinely shoveled into sausage-grinding machines, how bribed inspectors turned a blind eye when diseased cows were slaughtered for beef, and how filth and guts were swept off the floor and then packaged and sold as “potted ham.”

Muckraker, of course, is a term that is applied to those novelists and journalists who sought to expose the corruption of American business and politics in the early twentieth century. It was President Roosevelt who first coined the term in a 1906 speech in which he compared writers like Sinclair to the “Man with the Muck-rake” (a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) who was so focused on "raking the filth at his feet” that he failed to look up and “behold the celestial crown.”

Similarly, Roosevelt argued that Sinclair and other muckrakers were so focused on the evils of American society that they failed to "behold the vision of America's promise.”

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

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 attack on 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 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? 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 is 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 and dry crackers with 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 and delicious recipe for Creamy Chicken Soup which Eleanor surely would have enjoyed before setting out 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, February 15, 2011

Dolley Madison's Wednesday Squeezes

When James Madison and his wife Dolley moved into the President's House, the room that Thomas Jefferson had used as an office became the State Dining Room. The adjacent parlor (today’s Red Room) was "redecorated in sunflower yellow, with sofas and chairs to match" and "outfitted with a piano, a guitar, and a portrait of Dolley.” One room over, the smaller but more formal elliptical salon was "decorated in the Grecian style" with cream-colored walls.

Together, these three rooms with their interconnecting doors became the venue for Dolley Madison’s legendary “Drawing Rooms,” or "Wednesday Squeezes," which often attracted as many as three hundreds guests and were the most popular social event in town!

Dressed in brightly colored satins or silks and often donning a feathered headpiece or bejeweled turban, Dolley cheerfully greeted and mingled with guests as they enjoyed a festive evening of refreshments, music, and lively conversation. Mrs. Madison also presided over elaborate dinner parties where she delighted guests with such unusual dessert items as pink pepperment ice cream baked in warm pastries.

The Madisons continued to entertain this way until "their brilliant social whirlwind" went up in flames during the War of 1812. On August 24, 1814, while James was away getting a report on the war, Dolley was supposedly awaiting forty dinner guests. Around three o’clock, word was received that British troops had defeated American forces at nearby Blandensburg and were marching toward the capital.

Before fleeing to safety, Dolley quickly gathered what she could, including important documents of her husband’s and Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington. When British soldiers entered the Executive Mansion later that day, they supposedly devoured the lavish dinner that had been left behind. They then piled up furniture, scattered oil-soaked rags in all of the rooms, and lit the President’s House afire!

Although the British quickly evacuated the capital, the months that followed were not happy ones for the Madisons. Many Americans criticized them for abandoning the President’s House and for “allowing the destruction of the most visible symbol of the young republic.”

At their temporary residence, Dolley started up her Wednesday Squeezes again, but “the spirit was gone.” Then came word of General Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans and the mood of the country was again jubilant. Although a peace treaty had been signed weeks earlier, the Battle of New Orleans transformed “Mr. Madison’s War” (which had been condemned until then as an unnecessary folly) into “a glorious reaffirmation of American independence.”

Source: Barry Landau, The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy (NY, Harper Collins: 2007)

Credit: Dolley Madison, oil on canvas, by Gilbert Stuart

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lucy Hayes Famous Homemade Angel Cake

Historians say that “Everything in Moderation” was the motto of Rutherford B. Hayes. He reportedly drank “one cup of coffee at breakfast” and “one cup of tea at lunch.” Dinner was often chicken or steak followed by a slice of his wife Lucy’s famous homemade Angel Cake.

It has been said that Angel Food Cake got its name because "it is so white, light, and fluffy it must be the food of angels.” Although no one knows who created or named this cake, we do know that recipes with the name "Angel Food" began appearing in American cookbooks in the late nineteenth century – around the same time that mass-produced cake pans hit the market!

If you'd like to bake one of these delightfully light and fluffy cakes, here is a simple recipe to try from the Food Network's ever-energetic Alton Brown

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, orange extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry). Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

FOOD FACT: According to Food Timeline compiler Lynne Olver, recipes for cakes similar to Angel Food (calling only for egg whites) were known by other equally descriptive names, such as Silver Cake and Snow Drift Cake. The latter recipe was included in an 1881 cookbook entitled What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. According to Olver, Mrs. Fisher was the first freed American slave to author a cookbook in the United States.

Credit: Portrait of Lucy Hayes by Daniel Huntington, White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Elizabeth Monroe Baked Apple Charlotte

From all accounts, the dinner parties hosted by James and Elizabeth Monroe were very formal affairs. Large dinners had an especially “cold air,” according to novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who was frequently invited to dine at the Monroe White House. Describing a particular dinner, Cooper wrote:

The whole entertainment might have passed for a better sort of European dinner party, at which the guests were too numerous for general or very agreeable discourse and some of them too new to be entirely at ease. Mrs. Monroe arose at the end of dessert, and withdrew…No sooner was his wife’s back turned than the president reseated himself, inviting his guests to imitate the same action. After allowing his guests sufficient time to renew in a few glasses...he arose, giving the hint to his company that it was time to join the ladies. In the drawing room, coffee was served and everyone left the house before nine…

Cooper didn't comment on what was served at that particular dinner, but the Monroes were known for serving many elaborate French dishes which they had become accustomed to during their years in Paris while James served as U.S. Minister to France. Still, biographers say that James retained a childhood taste for Spoon Bread, Chicken Pudding and other simple foods of his youth.

Apple Charlotte was another Monroe family favorite, so much so that Elizabeth reportedly passed a recipe for it along to Martha Washington, who added it to her enormous recipe collection. Although Elizabeth's Apple Charlotte would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this quick and delicious version that was prepared on the Food Network by Paula Dean.

1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoons mace
5 Granny Smith apples, pared, cored and sliced thin
3 fresh lemons, zested
6 tablespoons butter, cold
1 stick butter, melted
1 loaf French bread shredded into crumbs, reserve 1 cup

In a bowl, add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. Mix together. Reserve 1 cup of mixture to be used for topping. In a separate bowl, mix together apples and lemon zest.

Cover the bottom of Dutch oven pan with bread crumbs and bits of butter. Layer bottom with some sliced apples and brown sugar with a few pats of butter on top. Repeat with another layer until the pan is filled.

For the top layer, combine reserved cup of bread crumbs, melted butter and 1 cup reserved mixture. Sprinkle on top and top with more butter. Bake for 30 minutes until the golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!

FAST FACT: James Fenimore Cooper is most well known for his historical novels known as The Leatherstocking Tales, featuring a frontiersman named Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French and Indian War and was made into a popular movie starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Credit: Elizabeth Monroe, oil on canvas, by John Vanderlyn

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Barack Obama, the 2010 Super Bowl Champions, and Gulf Coast Cooking at the White House

Last April, President Obama welcomed the New Orleans Saints in an East Room ceremony where he congratulated the owners, coaches, and players on their electrifying 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl The President then made a few remarks on why so many Americans had a soft spot for the Saints:

Look, I’m a Bears fan. I’m not going to lie. But this was a big win for the country -- not just for New Orleans -- because five years ago, this team played its entire season on the road. It didn’t have a home field. The Superdome had been ruined by Hurricane Katrina. The heartbreaking tragedies that unfolded there when it was used as a shelter from that terrible storm lingered all too fresh in a lot of people’s minds.

And back then, people didn’t even know if the team was coming back. People didn’t know if the city was coming back. Not only did the team come back -– it took its city’s hands and helped its city back on its feet. This team took the hopes and the dreams of a shattered city and placed them squarely on its shoulders. And so these guys became more than leaders in the locker room -– they became leaders of an entire region. And the victory parade that we saw earlier this year made one thing perfectly clear, that New Orleans and the New Orleans Saints are here to stay.

After his remarks, the players took a tour of the White House kitchen, where offensive tackle Zach Streif gave White House chef Sam Kass a few pointers on "Gulf Coast Cooking" while whipping up a zesty batch of Gulf Shrimp with Honey Mustard Bourbon sauce. If you're looking for a great dish to make this Super Bowl Sunday, you can't go wrong with this simple and simply delicious recipe for Zach's Gulf Shrimp and Andouille Skewers from the legendary New Orleans restaurant Commander's Palace.

For the mustard:

1/4 cup Creole mustard or other whole grain mustard
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon chipotle Tabasco sauce

Shrimp and sausage:

1 pound large Gulf shrimp peeled, deveined and tails left on
12 ounces andouille or other hot sausage cut to the same thickness as the shrimp
2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Prepare a medium high fire on a grill or grill pan. Alternately thread the shrimp and sausage on the skewers. Rub both sides with oil and season with Creole seasoning. Place skewers on the grill and cook for 2 minutes each side until shrimp are pink and cooked through and sausages are browned. Baste the skewers with the spicy bourbon mustard during the last 30 seconds of cooking. Serve warm and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, President Obama hosted a Super Bowl party in the White House Family Theatre, where he and his guests tried out special 3D effects glasses as they watched the Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly defeat the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 27-23. And when it came time for Super Bowl snacks, the president rolled up his sleeves and personally served healthy Oatmeal Raisin cookies to his invited friends and guests.

FAST FACT: More than 110 million people are expected to tune in to the Super Bowl this Sunday. When they're not busy watching the game between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, viewers will be bombarded by more than a hundred commercials for everything from Dr. Pepper, Doritos, Taco Bell, and Bud Light to life insurance, clothing, and cars. But these commercials don't come cheaply: each thirty second ad reportedly costs a whopping $3,000,000!