When Presidents Used Food for Votes
He may have been the shortest serving president, by William Henry Harrison's burgoo certainly filled voters' stomachs.
Editors Note: The following recipe, initially published as part of our Presidential Palates series, is also—as mentioned below—an excellent use of all that leftover turkey.
William Henry Harrison (March 4, 1841 - April 4, 1841)
The amount of times I have heard “If you don’t wear a jacket, you will get your death of cold” from my mother is mind boggling. I can almost hear it in my sleep. William Henry Harrison, the hard-drinking wilderness man (or we thought he was), left his jacket and hat at home on his Inauguration Day and spent almost two hours delivering his address. He then came down with pneumonia and by April 4 was dead. Moral of the story kids: Wear a coat in winter or at least a beer jacket.
Though his presidency was the shortest in history, his campaign (and slogan) is one of the most memorable. Running on “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” the former general rallied support from Whigs who embraced his rugged persona and military wins in the West. Well, if Facebook or Google were around, he would have been in real trouble. Harrison was actually born to a prominent family, was raised on Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, and was educated in classics and medicine. Nevertheless, between his use of rustic log cabins to hold his rallies and keeping the voters’ stomachs full at the polls, he outplayed incumbent Martin Van Buren.
Imagine if you could still feed folks on Election Day: the Trump caviar blinis stand, Cruz hot chocolate served in red cups covered in hardcore religious imagery, and Sanders granola with that extra crunch. Back in the day, people traveled over the mountains and through the woods (quite literally) to cast their ballots. With all this travel came the need to eat and politicians saw an opportunity. These freebies started in Washington’s day and reached a whole new level during Harrison’s campaign. In Wheeling, West Virginia, 30,000 voters were fed. Burgoo, the perfect dish to make en masse, was one of the items on the menu.
Burgoo is to Kentucky as Brunswick stew is to Virginia and gumbo is to Louisiana. It is a “throw it in the pot” phenomenon and recipes call for everything from the normal proteins to squirrel (which is traditional), bear, and pigeon. Some say the name comes from a mispronunciation of the French word burgout, or from ragout. The bottom line is that it is delicious and a great way to use up your leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. I have included two recipes below, one from 1904 and one from 1907. I used the second and added a roasted peanut gremolata for some zest and a chicken skin chip for extra crunch (both optional, of course). It freezes like a dream and is perfect for the jacketless who have landed themselves a cold.
*Note: Next week we will have a very exciting Thanksgiving edition!
Mrs. Garrad’s Kentucky Burgout. (1904)
1½ gallons of water,
1 teacup of pearl barley,
1 quart of tomatoes,
1 quart of corn,
1 quart of oysters,
1 pint of sweet cream,
¼ pound of butter,
2 tablespoons of flour,
Season to taste.Boil the squirrels and birds in the water till tender and remove all the bones. Add barley and vegetables and cook slowly for 1 hour. Ten minutes before serving add the oysters and cream with butter and flour rubbed together. Season and serve hot."-The Blue Grass Cook Book, Minnie C. Fox, 1904
“In the bottom of a large pot some peppers are thrown; then potatoes, tomatoes, and corn are added; then half a dozen nicely dressed prairie chickens are thrown into the pot, and also half a dozen of the fattest farm yard chickens are added; then a couple dozen soft-shell crabs and three or four young squirrels. Enough clear spring, or well water is poured into the cauldron barely to float the varied contents, and then the fire is started. The contents must be allowed to simmer for six hours, and an old superstition is that it must be stirred with a hickory stick in order to give it the best flavor.”
-The Boston Cooking School Magazine, Nov. 1907
To start, I omitted the squirrels. I can almost guarantee D.C. squirrels do not taste good, nor are they nutritious. In their place, I added 4 strips on thick cut bacon, chopped.
I also used crab meat instead of soft shell, added at the end to keep it together, and used barley instead of potatoes.
Instead of building a fire in your home, I suggest using a large crockpot on low for 6-8 hours. I used: four chicken breast, 1 large can of diced tomatoes (28oz), the kernels of two ears of corn, ½ cup barley, and plenty of chicken stock (enough to float the contents as directed).
This will need lots of seasoning (salt, pepper, tabasco, a bay leaf, all of the above). Be generous.
My Roasted Peanut Gremolata
2 cloves of minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1 tsp lemon zest
a drizzle of olive oil
Mix the garlic, parsley, crushed peanuts, and lemon zest together
Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the mixture, refrigerate till use
To make a turkey or chicken skin chip: If you have skin saved from an already cooked bird, crisp even further in a 400F oven. Drain on a paper towel.