Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner

One of the most famous guests to visit the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival in the United States, Dickens was honored at a lavish ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allan Poe.

Some days later, Dickens met Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president:

He looked somewhat worn and anxious, -- and well he might: being at war with everybody, -- but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable. I thought that, in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is another classic Dickens novel that's filled with many memorable food 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.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Brief History of the White House Turkey Pardon, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama


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 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 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."

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 19, 2019

Golfer-in-Chief: Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops


While Donald Trump's round of golf with Tiger Woods this year made national headlines, Tiger's round with Barack Obama in 2013 also caused quite a stir. Although scores remain top secret, what's not so secret is that many American presidents have been avid golfers.

According to Don van Natta’s First Off the Tee, 14 of the last 17 presidents have been serious golfers and how they played the game reveals a lot about their character. Dwight Eisenhower played more than 800 times during his eight years in office and had a putting green installed on the South Lawn of the White House.

A member of Augusta National Golf Club, Ike broke 80 on a dozen occasions and the Eisenhower Pine, once located on the 17th hole, was named after him. Ike hit the tree so many times that, at a club meeting in 1956, he proposed that the tree be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club’s chairman adjourned the meeting rather than reject the request.

John F. Kennedy was a serious golfer but didn't want to be seen playing because he wanted to contrast his image with Ike’s reputation of “golfing his way through the presidency.” JFK and his aides reportedly made a lot of hay out of Ike's constant playing, and dubbed him "Duffer in Chief.”


As for LBJ, van Natta says that he “really tore it up” on the course and would take 300, sometimes 400 swings, in a round. "He just wanted the feel of one perfect shot," van Natta notes, "and if it took 400 swings to do it, he was going to do it. He was the president and nobody was going to get in his way."

Ronald Reagan only played the game about a dozen times while in office, but he loved putting around the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One.


But nowhere does golf run deeper than in the Bush family bloodline.

George H.W. Bush's maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1920. A single-digit handicapper, he donated the Walker Cup, the trophy awarded to the winning team in the biennial matches between leading amateur golfers from the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland. And 41’s father, Senator Prescott S. Bush, was a scratch golfer who served as president of the USGA in 1935.


As for Clinton, Van Natta says he "followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then...started taking these do-over shots, gimme putts and, at the end of the 18 holes, it took him about 200 swings to score an 82."

And as for Barack Obama, an article in Time magazine notes that he took up golf “as a relaxing alternative to basketball...but now that his game is out of the closet, it is clear that he duffs in much the same way that he tries to govern.” Wellington Wilson, Obama’s longtime golf buddy, was quoted as saying, “You can really tell a person's personality by the way he plays golf. He just goes with the flow. Not too high. Not too low."


And while it's hard to know if Donald Trump chose to just "go with the flow" with Tiger Woods last year, we do know that Obama attended a Black Caucus Dinner in Washington D.C. after his match with #MacDaddySanta, then flew to California for a fundraiser at the ritzy Fig and Olive restaurant in West Hollywood.

According to obamafoodroma.com, celebrity guests included Jack Black, Jamie Foxx, Danny DeVito, and Quincy Jones. Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin were also on hand for the festivities, where guests reportedly shelled out a whopping $17,900 each for dinner.

So what kind of meal comes with such a price tag? Well, one guest revealed that appetizer options included:

jamón ibérico and a fig Gorgonzola tartlet, while entree options included striped bass filet en papillote with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion, and saffron served with Arbequina olive oil mashed potato & chives; free range organic chicken breast with grilled zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomato, cipollini onion, roasted fig, Parmesan polenta, and marinated red bell pepper; and rosemary lamb chops, grilled then smoked a la minute with Herbs de Provence, goat cheese, and chive gnocchi.

Sounds delish, but since most of us don't have a spare $18k to drop on dinner, here's a fabulous and more affordable recipe for Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops from epicurious.com:


3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 3 teaspoons dried
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 1-inch-thick loin lamb chops, fat trimmed

Mix first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Place lamb chops in single layer in 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Pour marinade over. cover with foil and refrigerate 4 hours, turning lamb chops occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). When coals turn white, drain chips, if using, and scatter over coals. When chips begin to smoke, season lamb with salt and pepper and place on grill. Cover; grill shops to desired doneness, basting often with marinade, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to platter and serve.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Dolley Madison Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream


Legend has it that in the early nineteenth century, a freed slave named Sallie Shadd went into her family’s catering business in Wilmington, Delaware. Sallie supposedly achieved fame there for a fabulous new dessert sensation she created with frozen cream, sugar, and fruit.

When Dolley Madison heard about this new dessert, she supposedly traveled to Delaware to try it - and she must have loved it because a "magnificent pink dome of ice cream" was served at President Madison’s second Inaugural Ball in 1813, and ice cream often appeared as a dessert on the White House menu during her husband's two terms of office.


If you'd like to whip up some Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream this week, here's a fabulous recipe to try from epicurious.com:

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: an ice-cream maker and an instant-read thermometer

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest. Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking.

Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, overed, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.


While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard. Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Abraham Lincoln Kentucky Corncakes

Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were great animal lovers and allowed their four young sons to keep all sorts of pets on White House grounds. Among other animals, Abe and his family had three cats, a dog named Fido, rabbits, horses, and two rambunctious billygoats named Nanny and Nunko.

Another was a wild turkey named Jack with whom Lincoln’s youngest son Tad played with daily. When it came time for Jack to be sacrificed for a holiday dinner, Tad supposedly begged his dad to spare the turkey’s life, and, to this day, the White House maintains the tradition of “pardoning” a wild turkey each holiday season!

Although it’s a "tad" early to be thinking about preparing your next holiday dinner, you can whip up a batch of Kentucky Corncakes, which are a great side dish at just about any meal and were a Lincoln family favorite. If you’d like to make some Kentucky Corncakes today, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:

1 cup roasted cornmeal (fine ground yellow cornmeal)
1 cup self-rising flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
3 ounces corn oil
2 cups fresh corn kernels

Place cornmeal, flour, and sugar in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, corn oil, and fresh corn and mix together. Fold mixtures together. Place 4 ounces of pancake mix onto a hot griddle. Cook on medium high heat for 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve warm with lots of butter and honey enjoy!

FAST FACT: According to historians at the Miller Center, the Lincoln family's routine in the White House reflected "the presence of their sons, the demands of war, and the highly complex and many-sided character of Abraham and Mary. [T]he day went from breakfast together as a family at 8:00 in the morning, reunion again for dinner at 8:00 in the evening, and then bedtime. Until little Willie's death in 1862, the two younger sons demanded a good deal of attention, and both parents gave them ample attention, although Lincoln grew more distant as the war progressed and occupied much of his day."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Andrew Johnson Hoppin John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and most of those who survived lost just about everything they owned. As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South.

As president, Andrew Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate, and historians say that his victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”


After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he consumed such traditional foods as Hush Puppies, Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the coming year.

If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John for your New Year's festivities this week, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large pot, add ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Although those railway recipes would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this simple and simply delicious recipe for Lemon Sage Roasted Chicken from Bon Appetit.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

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.Goegre

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

George Bush, Barack Obama and the Politics of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

George Bush's memoir Decision Points has been described by the New York Times as "an autobiography focused around 'the most consequential decisions' of his presidency and his personal life from his decision to give up drinking in 1986 to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to his decisions regarding the financial crisis of 2008." According to the Product Description of the book:

President Bush brings readers inside the Texas Governor’s Mansion on the night of the hotly contested 2000 election; aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America’s most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq; and behind the Oval Office desk for his historic and controversial decisions on the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues that have shaped the first decade of the 21st century...

With so many momentous issues to review, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush didn't bother to mention his favorite foods, but...in an interview with Oprah Winfrey during the 2000 presidential campaign, he did say that his favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly on white bread.
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Eight years later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again made national headlines. Responding to charges that his economic policies were socialistic in nature, Barack Obama ridiculed his opponent John McCain for constantly resorting to trivialities and distractions:

Now, because he knows that his economic theories don't work, he's been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book. Lately he's called me a socialist for wanting to roll-back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. I don't know what's next. By the end of the week he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
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Although neither Bush nor Obama mentioned how they prefer their PB&Js to be made, we do know that John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal pioneer, was the first person to receive a patent for the process of making peanut butter in 1895. According to Andrew Smith's Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, early peanut butters had several problems:

The first was that peanut oil has a melting point below room temperature. Gravity separated the oil, which then oxidized and turned rancid. Likewise, salt added to the peanut butter separated and crystallized. Grocers received peanut butter in tubs or pails and were advised to use a wooden paddle to stir it frequently...

During the early years of the twentieth century, William Norman, an English chemist, invented a method of saturating unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, thus preventing them from turning rancid. In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield...applied these principles to peanut butter [and] developed a process to prevent oil separation and spoilage in peanut butter...The result was a semisolid peanut butter [that]...was thick and creamy and did not stick to the roof of the mouth as much as previous products.



Selecting the name "Skippy" for his product, Rosefield introduced creamy and chunky-style peanut butter in 1932. Three years later, the company inaugurated its first wide-mouth peanut-butter jar, which quickly became the industry standard. And in less than twenty five years, peanut butter had "evolved from a hand ground delicacy to a mass-produced commercial commodity sold in almost every grocery store in America."


FOOD FACT: Florence Cowles' 1928 cookbook Seven Hundred Sandwiches includes dozens of creative recipes for peanut butter sandwiches, including: Peanut Butter and Egg Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cabbage Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Prune Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cherry Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cheese Sandwich, and Peanut Butter and Olive Sandwich made with Mayonnaise on Rye. Oh my!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Zachary Taylor, the Fourth of July, and a Basket of Cherries and Two Pitchers of Iced Milk


After participating in Fourth of July festivities at the Washington Monument on a blistering hot day, Zachary Taylor devoured a large basket of cherries and downed two pitchers of iced milk and suddenly fell ill with a terrible stomach ache. Five days later, he was dead.

At the time, the United States was embroiled in the bitter conflict over slavery and many people believed that  Taylor had been poisoned. Today, most historians agree that he died from cholera or acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.

Either way, if Taylor were here with us today, he'd no doubt steer away from anything prepared with cherries. That's understandable, but it's no reason for us to do the same, especially when there are so many fabulous recipes for preparing fresh sweet and sour summer cherries, like this one for Cherry Cobbler from Emeril Lagasse or this one from tinynewyorkkitchen.com :


Filling:

6 cups tart red cherries, pitted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Topping:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a saucepan combine filling ingredients and cook, stirring until bubbling and thickened. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish. Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until it is crumbly. Mix together egg and milk. Add to flour mixture and stir with a fork just until combined. Drop topping by tablespoonfuls onto filling. Bake for 25 minutes until browned and bubbly.

A LITTLE HISTORY: Before he became president, Taylor fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the second Seminole War before achieving fame in the Mexican-American War. On February 23, 1847, Taylor led his troops against General Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista. When the smoke finally cleared, Taylor's force of 6,000 had defeated a Mexican army of 20,000 and "Old Rough and Ready" was a national hero!


Credit: Oil Portrait of Zachary Taylor by Joseph Henry Bush, 1849 (White House Historical Assocation)

Monday, July 1, 2019

John and Abigail Adams Gooseberry Fool


As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, John Adams was one of the fiercest advocates of the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular belief, the declaration wasn't signed by all of the delegates on July 4, 1776. Instead, it was initially approved on July 2, 1776. The delegates then continued debating and slightly revised it the following day and formally adopted it on the Fourth of July. Most historians agree that the Declaration wasn’t signed by all the delegates (with a few holdouts) until nearly a month later, on August 2, 1776.

Nevertheless, on July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, describing these momentous events. This, in part, is what he wrote:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival...It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.


Although no one knows what the delegates ate on those momentous days, biographers say that Adams was fond of Green Sea Turtle Soup, Indian Pudding and other simple foods of his New England youth. Gooseberry Fool, a traditional eighteenth century British and early American dish, was another Adams family favorite.

As an example of how national foodways change over time, gooseberries were abundant in John's day, but aren't widely available in the United States today. So, if you can't find gooseberries in your local grocery store, you can use blueberries or raspberries. Either way, this delicious, nutritious, and refreshingly sweet little treat would make a great addition to your Fourth of July festivities this week!


If you'd like to whip up some Gooseberry Fool today, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from epicurious.com

3 cups pink or green gooseberries (or blueberries)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar

Pull off tops and tails of gooseberries and halve berries lengthwise. In a heavy skillet cook berries and granulated sugar over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until liquid is thickened, about 5 minutes. Simmer mixture, mashing with a fork to a coarse puree, 2 minutes more. Chill puree, covered, until cold, about 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat heavy cream with crème fraîche until it holds soft peaks. Add superfine sugar and beat until mixture just holds stiff peaks. Fold chilled puree into cream mixture until combined well. Fool may be made 3 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

Credit: Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumball

Monday, June 10, 2019

Taylor Swift, the NFL, and the Launch of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Campaign

On September 8, 2010, Michelle Obama and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign and NFL PLAY 60 were teaming up to fight childhood obesity and help kids lead healthier, more active lives.

The announcement was made at Woldenberg Park in New Orleans during the NFL PLAY 60 Youth Football Festival, part of the NFL’s celebration to kick off the 2010 season. After her remarks, the First Lady took part in football drills, along with students from a local elementary school and former NFL players. Lending support on the sidelines was former country singer turned mega-pop-star Taylor Swift decked out in a patriotic blue and white polka dotted sundress.


Earlier in the day, Mrs. Obama gave a speech in which she encouraged kids to “Play 60” and join her in competing for the President’s Active Lifestyle Award. To earn an award, children need to "engage in physical activity for 60 minutes every day, five days a week, for six weeks." And to show everyone just how much fun it can be, Mrs. Obama sportingly pledged to work toward earning her own award. This is what she said:

I’m going to do it. And I want kids across the country to join me. Actually, I want all you all to join me. Don't just leave it on the kids. I want you all to join me. So in a couple weeks -- I'm not sure when it’s going to start -- starting soon, I'm going to be recording my progress online, so if I start falling behind, I want everyone to be checking on me and make sure that I'm not slacking. Send me emails to shame me into staying on track. So I’m excited about it, and I think it’s something that’s very doable. And the thing is, is that if your kids see you doing it -- your grandparents, uncles, teachers -- they’re going to be engaged.

At the launch of the Let's Move! campaign, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating "the first ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity to conduct a review of every single program and policy relating to child nutrition and physical activity."


According to the Let's Move! website, the Task Force’s recommendation focuses on the four pillars of the First Lady's campaign: empowering parents and caregivers; providing healthy food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable foods; and increasing physical activity.

Of course, the First Lady also emphasizes healthy, organic foods at the White House, as demonstrated by the Obama's fabulous kitchen garden, the first at the White House since the Roosevelt's Victory Garden that was planted during World War II.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

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 forcibly removed from their homes and detained in internment camps on the West Coast 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 men, women and children. 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 with dry crackers and stew. According to White House chef Henrietta Nesbitt, soup was another Roosevelt family favorite:

There was never such a family for soups as the Roosevelts. All the years they occupied the White House we kept the big steel soup kettles singing in the White House - clear soup for dinner and cream soup for lunch. Pretty nearly every usable variety of fish, fowl, beast, mineral, vegetable, and contiment was used in our White House soups...

Give Mrs. Roosevelt a bowl of soup and a dish of fruit for lunch and she'd be off with recharged vitality on one of her trips...Cream of almond - L'Amande soup - was one of her special favorites. The President was partial to fish soups... Among the recipes his mother gave me was the one for clam chowder...Another of his favorites was the green turtle soup, and there was always a great fuss when it was made.


Today, green turtle soup is prohibited in the United States because most species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered. But you can try this simple and economical recipe for Chicken Rice Soup from the Food Network courtesy of Ree Drummond or this one for Creamy Chicken Soup:
.

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 butter to stockpot. Melt over low heat. Stir in flour, and stir 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 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, May 14, 2019

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed as president that his enemies called him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored an important Supreme Court decision protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.


Popular in the south throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south.

If you'd like to whip up a batch of Benne Wafers today, here's a a recipe to try from CookinCanuck.com and here's another one that's simple to make and tastes simply delicious!


¾ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix until well-combined. Stir in the sesame seeds and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Credit: Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Warren Harding, Prohibition and Finger Foods

Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history and he even admitted that the job was beyond him. Some observers say that his "claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.'" Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some highly intelligent and capable men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State and Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce.

Unfortunately, Harding also surrounded himself with an "unpleasant group of dishonest cheats," who came to be known as the Ohio Gang. According to historians at the Miller Center:

Warren’s close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty, whom he named attorney general, was one of the worst - and one of the slickest. He survived impeachment attempts by Congress and two indictments for defrauding the government in the disposal of alien property confiscated by his office from German nationals. Another schemer, Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for least $300,000 paid to him in bribes.



Whether Harding was aware of his advisors' crimes is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that he played card games and drank whiskey with his advisors upstairs at the White House in private defiance of Prohibition.

Describing the scene at one of Harding's card games that she encountered, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wrote: "the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey, cards and poker chips ready at hand – a general atmosphere of waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and spittoons alongside."

Meanwhile, as Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a term used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages.

According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance, you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside who it was who sent you to the place. The term itself...may derive from the English "Speak-softly-shop," an underworld term for a smuggler's house where one might get liquor cheaply, its usage in this sense having been traced back to 1823.

But with the onset of Prohibition, speakeasies sprang up overnight, sometimes in shabby sections of town, but often in the best neighborhoods, and many of these establishments were actually fine restaurants in their own right. New York's "21" club was a speakeasy during this period and had two bars, a dance floor, an orchestra, and dining rooms on two floors...French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."



It was during this period (referred to today as the Roaring Twenties) that the custom of throwing cocktail parties at home also became popular. The rise of cocktail parties, in turn, inspired the development of finger foods, which worked well for tipsy guests who jiggled Gin Fizzes, Whiskey Smashes, and other popular cocktails while mingling with others in loud, crowded rooms.

Some popular finger foods of the era include Lobster Canapés, Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. For his part, Harding often served Bratwurst Rolls and Frankfurts with Saurkrauet at his cocktail parties at the White House.

If you’d like to serve up some Bratwurst Rolls at your next cocktail party, here's a simple and delicious recipe from epicurious.com:

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans beer
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
whole-grain mustard
dill pickle spears

Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire. Place the butter in a medium disposable foil roasting pan. Place the pan on the grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add the onions and garlic (if using). Cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add the beer and bring to a simmer. Place the pan on the low heat zone and keep the onion mixture warm.

Place the bratwurst on the grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until evenly charred, four to five minutes. Transfer the bratwurst to the onion mixture and let stand until ready to serve. With tongs, place the bratwurst in the rolls. Serve with the onions, mustard, and pickles.

FOOD FACT: Some mass-manufactured foods introduced during the Roaring Twenties include the Baby Ruth Bar, Wonder Bread, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hostess Snack Cakes, Kool-Aid, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and Velveeta!

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.