President 25: William McKinley
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
Breakfast food is the best. Why must it be placed at the most aggressive time of the day? What a cruel joke. As the wisest of sages, Oscar Wilde, once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, and unless you are a marathon runner with an unrelenting training schedule there is no need to keep the first meal so early. So let’s make it a civilized brunch shall we? No ‘pagne, no gain.
The McKinleys were breakfast food people who loved the incredible edible egg (scrambled and fried), bacon, sausage potatoes; the whole nine yards. They worked their way through large portions and stuck to solid hearty fare when feeding their own family. There was some discussion during McKinley’s Presidential campaign about whether his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, would be strong enough to properly perform her First Lady hostess duties. She suffered from epilepsy and had had a public seizure at her husband’s inaugural ball when he became Governor of Ohio. Despite her health, she impressed the public by attending dinners and actually enjoying them. She always sat next to the President, despite custom dictating that she sit at the other end of the table, so he could tend to her if an episode did come on. When one did, the devoted husband would gently place a white napkin gently over her face until it had passed, removing it after and carrying on as nothing had happened. His love for his wife and his general good nature did not go unnoticed, with Senator Mark Hanna (whose heavenly hash recipe is mentioned below) once said, “President McKinley has made it pretty hard for the rest of us husbands here in Washington.”
As the last President of the Victorian era, McKinley did embrace formal affairs and lavish menus on occasions when one-upmanship was warranted. The largest menu on record was the President’s 71 course dinner for 80 some guests, with the President of Hawaii as the guest of honor (note: Hawaii was annexed in 1898). I, Ailsa, the bottomless pit, don’t even think I could manage 71 courses. There are other McKinley receptions on record that have similarly large meals. The social butterflies of the time, though they did all appreciate McKinley’s good nature and excellent company seemed to be over these endless receptions that had become so customary throughout the Victorian era. Of course, they all grumbled while still competing for the next dinner invitation. There is nothing like the fear of missing out.
So this week we are going to pay homage to one of the McKinley’s most loved morning meals. Red flannel hash is a Victorian breakfast classic that fell by the wayside. Its name is said to have come from a scorned wife, who tossed her husband’s red flannel pajamas in a potato hash to punish him for his bad behavior. When he actually enjoyed the taste of his betrayal, she substituted the fabric for beets and she kept on serving it for breakfast. Bizarre at best, these food tales do make the experience more enjoyable. Senator Mark Hanna (quoted above), also from Ohio, had a hash recipe that took Washington by storm during the McKinley administration and was equally loved by the Roosevelts who came after. His “heavenly hash” had corned beef, potatoes, and onions (no beets) and was topped with a fried egg. We have merged the two for a gloriously pink dish that would cheer up even the most sober of brunch tables.
Hash with Beets (“Red Flannel Hash”)
Better Meals for Less Money, Mary Green 1917
1 ½ cups corned beef (optional)
2 cups cooked potatoes
½ cup cooked beets
1 teaspoon grated onion
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup stock or water
2 Tbsp beef drippings
Have meat, potatoes, and beets coarsely chopped; add seasonings and stock; melt fat in frying pan, and when very hot, add hash; cook slowly until a rich brown crust is formed; fold and serve on a hot platter. If meat is very fatty, use less fat in frying pan.
I went vegetarian. Use an extra-large glug of olive oil in the frying pan.
I also used a food processor and grated the potatoes and beets. I like a consistent texture
Top it with a fried egg for the Senator Hanna spin. I used quail eggs.
Serve with a spicy herb yogurt: 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 small tub plain Greek yogurt, pepper, salt, chopped mint, parsley, and red chili flakes.