Election season is ramping up; you can almost smell it in the air… and it doesn’t smell like freshly baked cookies. We will spend the coming months debating every issue on the planet in order to carefully select our next fearless leader. Like every important decision, this is best done on a full stomach. With that in mind, let’s delve into the stacks of White House cookbooks and original culinary tidbits hidden in the Library of Congress. Each week, we will bring back old recipes (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and learn a little bit about the indulgences and struggles of Presidential tummies throughout the ages.
With each post, I will site the particular cookbook with a splash of historical context (don’t worry—no lectures here). Ultimately, my hope is to arm us with enough tasty throwbacks to keep us sane and well-fed when the attack ads take over. God Bless the Belly and God Bless the United States of America.
George Washington (April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797)
It seems our nation’s unrestrained obsession with celebrity has been with us since the very beginning. George and Martha topped the “hottest celebrity couple” list at the start of his Presidency in 1789, and that is a real accomplishment considering the President’s lack of teeth (he did have animal and human bone dentures fitted). Folks waited to see what social schedule the first “First” family would establish and when they could just casually drop by for tea. Turns out it was a very reasonable arrangement, much to the disappointment of colonial social butterflies.
During Washington’s times in office (which was split between New York and Philly), official dinners were held on a Thursday and Martha’s receptions on a Friday. Though remembered as polite hosts, their occasions were not overly lavish, lest they be mistaken for the kings that came before them. In a letter to George William Fairfax (June 26th, 1786), one of his bffs, George notes that his:
“Manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out by it. A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always welcome… those who expect more will be disappointed…”
Now this is a bit of an exaggeration, with records showing Presidential dinners complete with ham, roast beef, fruits of all varieties, and bottles of wine (Madeira was his favorite), but they were by no means over the top compared to some that came after him. When it came to retiring at Mount Vernon, George and Martha had had enough of people constantly visiting, and, it seems, really enjoyed as many quiet meals as possible. Martha Washington’s recipes are documented in her cookbook, now named Martha Washington’s Rules for Cooking: Used Everyday at Mount Vernon which has some great Virginia classics and plenty of soft options for the toothless in your life.
Martha Washington’s Crab Pie
Blue crabs are absolutely the tastiest crabs on the planet (says the biased Virginia girl). This is, in part, because it takes a serious time investment to get glean enough meat to feed a model. This mammoth effort makes every bite taste that much better. Martha agreed, and crab was one of her favorite things on the menu. Her “crab pie” or stuffed crab recipe is easy and perfect for entertaining someone special, as it will cost a penny or two.
Boil the crabs for twenty minutes; then pick out the toes (claws) and body; mix grated bread, pepper, and salt. Add beaten egg and mix all and fill the shells. Put a bit of butter on each and cook before the fire until brown – be careful not to burn.
-Martha Washington, “Martha Washington’s Rules for Cooking: Used Everyday at Mount Vernon (those of her Neighbors: Mrs. Jefferson, Mrs. Madison, Mrs. Monroe, 1732)”
-If you don't want to boil and pick crabs, just use lump meat from your local seafood counter and put mixture in single serving oven proof dishes if shells are not available (1/2 cup lump meat per serving). If you do use fresh crab, pick the claws (best part) and body. It will take at least two crab's meat per stuffed one.
-Per crab, use 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
-For a more decadent taste, add a spoonful of mayo and a good shake of Old Bay seasoning to the mix.
-Instead of fire, cook them in the broiler at 500 F till brown on top (around 10 mins).
*Something to note about most recipes from yester year: they are often quite brief as anyone using a recipe at the time would generally be schooled at the “basics”. These recipes served as reminders and general guidelines for folks who knew (or kind of knew) what they were doing. For each recipe, I will include the original, as well as my two suggested additional ingredients below it that can make it just a little better.
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