Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Lyndon Baines Johnson's Barbecue Diplomacy 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.

Stay safe and be well!! And Happy Father's Day to all you fabulous dads out there!!

Friday, January 29, 2021

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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Andrew Jackson's Inaugural Orange Whiskey Punch


When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office in 1825, it was under a 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, quickly threw his support to Adams, even though Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes. Adams then 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 March, 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, negros, 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 adapted recipe for Inaugural Orange Punch that's "easy to make by the bucketful" if you've got a mob to entertain today!


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!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf 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!