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Wednesday, 25 July 2012 15:28

The Presidents’ Cookbook

The Presidents’ Cookbookby Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks

 

Funk & Wagnalls, 1968

ISBN 978-545 pages + Presidential pen and ink caricatures $22.50

 The Presidents Cookbook

Party politics aside, there’s one thing that over two centuries of elected officials who have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can agree on: the enjoyment of a well cooked and satisfying meal. The Presidents’ Cookbook, released in 1968, is a vintage gem that invites readers into the White House dining room to break bread with every president from George Washington to LBJ. And what a treat that is!

Often referred to as life in a fish bowl, America’s First Families have been the precedent-setting hosts of many a social gathering revolving around excellent food, exemplary service, and cognizance not only of foreign dietary customs but sensitivity to the protocol of smart seating arrangements for fostering good will. As early as 1789 when the first official White House chef was hired, George and Martha took pains to craft an ad that would attract only the finest candidates:

A COOK is wanted for the family of the President of the United States. No one need apply who is not perfect in the business, and can bring indubitable testimonials of sobriety, honesty and attention to the duties of the station.

The common assumption that our founding fathers were simple meat ‘n’ potatoes folks who noshed on whatever they could kill or grow is quickly dispelled in the opening chapters. Jefferson, for instance, took advantage of his years overseas to enthusiastically collect recipes and fine wines for what would be considered radically eclectic dinner parties by the standards of the day. Records reveal that during his stint as president, his wine bill alone exceeded $10,000. Dolley Madison, of course, is legendary for making sure that no one ever went home hungry and was known to use any occasion—even a casual drop-in visitor—as a good reason to see that her kitchen whipped up memorable refreshments. Widower Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson may have had a backwoods upbringing but wasted no time embracing the soufflés and crème brûleé served up by the French chef whom John Quincy Adams couldn’t take with him when he left office.

Anecdotes abound throughout the lively text, providing little-known insights on presidential taste buds (Ulysses S Grant liked his steaks burned to the consistency of charcoal), regional influences on the preparation of menus (Zachary Taylor’s fondness for Creole cuisine), decorating trends (Caroline Harrison’s decision to have a china cabinet installed and display all of her predecessors’ dinner plates), the consumption of spirits (Harding and his wife Flo deemed themselves exempt from Prohibition), and cost-cutting measures to set an example for the rest of the country (Mamie Eisenhower declared that leftovers—no matter how small— were not to be thrown out).

It’s not just the history buffs who will be entertained by these chapters, however. Ten or more recipes have been resurrected from each administration and, for the most part, utilize modern ingredients (just in case you were worried you’d have to run out and bag an elk or fry up a couple chipmunks), easy measurements, and utensils and cookware that are on hand in most kitchens. The names alone are worth a look:

Golden Alligator Spring House Cake

Williamsburg Buns

Mugwump in a Hole

Confederate Apple Pie Without Apples

Corn Chowder with Bear’s Paw Popcorn

Rutledge Tavern Squash Pie

Capitolade of Chicken

Sailors in Hammocks

Pineapple Fairy Fluff

Daniel Webster’s Punch

Fat Rascals

Fiddlehead Fern Salad

The most surprising revelation? Presidents throughout history seem to have supported something that contemporary nutritionists have been saying all along: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. For those who love to plan parties around brunch (and that goes for baby and bridal showers, too), there’s no shortage of waffle, pancake, muffin, and crumb cake recipes as well as fruit cobblers, punches, and pies for every season.

It’s also interesting to note how early administrations prided themselves on strict punctuality when it came to mealtimes. For Martha Washington, this not only applied to when her guests sat down for a White House supper (Democrats were never high on her invitation list) but when they were expected to leave and go back to their own homes. At one particular dinner party, she rose from her place and bluntly announced, “The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede him.”

Much more direct, one thinks, than stifling yawns or trying to artfully nudge guests toward the front door after a long evening.

As of this writing, The Presidents’ Cookbook is out of print. Used copies, however, can be found at Amazon as well as used bookstores and would make a wonderful addition to the shelf of anyone who loves presidential trivia as much as they love culinary adventures.

 

Reviewer Christina Hamlett, a former actress and, is an award winning author and script coverage consultant for the film industry. Her credits to date include 22 books, 118 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear throughout the world. She and her gourmet chef husband, Mark Webb, reside in Pasadena, California.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:13

Politics & Pot Roast

Politics & Pot Roast By Sarah Hood Solomonpoliticspotroast

Glenn Foden Illustrator

Bright Sky Press, Albany, Texas 2006.ISBN-10: 1931721793

$24.95

 

The editor requested that I review this book during the 2006 campaigns but I was involved in them and the week after the election I was in no mood to review any book with politics in the title, even a cookbook. One political commentator has observed that with the announcement of sundry that they are running for president or exploring running for president the next election has begun. For the commentator it was a matter of joy. For the rest of us it is a matter of pain to have the campaigning staring all over again a mere two months after the last national election. Now I have the time to review Politics & Pot Roast and the presidential aspirants of all parties have made it election season again. So the book is topical again.

Americans do not like politics and easily ignore it in the good country in which we live. According to the numbers most eligible people take a pass on voting. Many of us enjoy eating. Some of us like to eat. Fewer still buy and read cookbooks.

The author has provided us some interesting recipes over the 200 plus years of the presidency because the focus of the book is favorite foods and recipes of the presidents of the United States including the current incumbent. All presidents are included so there is no political, let alone partisan, bias to the book.

Ms. Salomon reports that the inspiration for her book was a simple dinner party that she held for thirty women at her home in Washington, D.C. She started with U.S. Grant Roman Punch. “The dishes were labeled with their names and creators, which kept the conversation lively.” Perhaps, the Roman Punch had something to do with the energy of the conversation. It contains sherbet improved with rum, Cointreau and Champagne. Just enough sugar to hide the alcohol.

Her approach to the book was to use original recipes, if available, such as Elizabeth Monroe’s Rose Syrup. If they were not available, she tried to make connections between the Presidents and the chosen dishes. Ms. Salomon used state dinner menus and contemporary cookbooks for recipes. She modernized old ones to reflect modern techniques and conventions of recipe writing, although including the old recipe to allow the reader to fashion a version of the dish. This is surely for the good when old recipes she includes describe measurements qualitatively not quantitatively, such as, “enough” flour or bake “until enough.”

The book is interesting for the light it sheds on food tastes throughout the last 200 years. Even the President who had staff and the White House kitchen was subject to the inconveniences of the foods, techniques and appliances then in use. Be thankful that you have temperature controls and a range that is instantly on as opposed to having to light a wood fire to build up heat while preparing the food to be cooked.

This book is fun and meant to be so. The author wrote so the recipes can be used for cooking. In addition, the accompanying text and illustrations cause grins, chuckles and a laugh or two as well. One of my favorites was the reference to, and quotation of, the Etiquette Rules for State Dinners taken from The White House Cook Book, 1887. “One’s teeth are not to be picked at the table; but if it is impossible to hinder it, it should be done behind the napkin.” Oh yes, there is an appropriate cartoon by the illustrator. Too bad there is no reference to mobile phone and personal assistant device (Blackberry) use at meals, state dinner or not.

The author opens another possibility for a fun evening at dinner in your home. Gather a mixed group of partisans both Democrat and Republican. Prepare dishes from this book favored by presidents of both parties and label them so. Provide a score sheet, which includes each dish and spaces for rating and commenting on them. Ask the gathering to rate the dishes. You will have insights into the quality of the food and of the senses of humor of the guests. See how the Reagan admirer liked a Jimmy Carter recipe. Did the Clinton fans enjoy their Nixon Omelettes? The possibilities are there. What are the hosts communicating when they serve LBJ Chili to anyone?

Politics & Pot Roast has good recipes, interesting history and good humor as well.

 

Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.