As we move closer to the 4th of July and look forward to all the delicious food that will be served throughout the holiday weekend, it’s good to remember the important part that food has played in our nation’s history; from the Boston Tea Party to the coalition building ice cream socials held at the White House by President James Madison’s wife, Dolly.
In honor of its crucial role, today we’ve decided to focus on the foods enjoyed (or endured) by four Presidents whose lives began or ended on Indpendence Day.
The presidents are John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe; three Presidents who all died on the Fourth of July. The final President is Calvin Coolidge, the only U.S. President to actually be born on the 4th of July.
Before the modern smallpox vaccine was invented, getting an innoculation was a somewhat risky and highly inconvenient process (though far less risky and inconvenient than contracting the disease itself, which had a high mortality rate).
However, those intending to undergo the smallpox innoculation process, had to plan weeks in advance for the interruption caused by the sickness that invariably followed.
A few days after being innoculated, patients took to their beds as their bodies were wracked by fevers and body aches followed by weakness. After about a week or two of this, most felt well enough to resume their normal lives, although it was common for patients to be quarrantined for as much as a month after the innoculation.
Adding to the inconvenience, was the fact that most doctors required their prospective smallpox innoculees to prepare their systems for the ordeal by taking such popular cathartic remedies as mercury, senna, and castor oil the week before they were innoculated.
Even worse, before the innoculation, and for weeks afterward, most patients were restricted to a very limited diet of milk, bread, pudding, and rice.
As it says in John Adams: A Life by John E. Ferling:
“John (Adams) began his tribulations at home on a Sunday in April…he retreated to his room with his brother Peter Boylston, who also was to be innoculated.
For a week they stayed indoors, sticking to their meager preparatory diet, taking mercury tablets and smoking ipecacuanha, an exotic plant that possesed emetic, diaphoretic, and purgative properties.
…when he was discharged by the infirmary in May, John celebrated with a meal of two and one-half dozen oysters, washed down with Malaga, a strong, sweet dessert wine.”
Ipecacuanha is the fun plant whose root is now used to make syrup of ipecac, a medicinal remedy used to induce vomiting, so you can imagine what a relief it must have been to John Adams when he no longer had to assault his system with it. (Not to mention the mercury!)
I’ll bet he must have fantasized about those oysters a thousand times while he was stuck in quarrantine.
When you think of French cooking, you might think of such dishes as foie gras, coq au vin, and bouillabaisse but do you ever think of macaroni and cheese?
Now widely considered to be as American as apple pie, in Thomas Jefferson’s day, macaroni and cheese was the exotic dish that Jefferson helped popularize when he brought back a macaroni machine (and a recipe) from France.
“Thomas Jefferson returned from Europe with a recipe for homemade noodles…his writings even included drawings and a detailed description of a pasta machine that shaped the dough into tubes. Following a visit to a cheese dairy, Jefferson brought back notes on cheese making, and had Parmesan shipped to Virginia from Italy.”
Blessed with a keen intellect, an inventive mind, and an appreciation for good food and wine, Jefferson wrote during a stay in Aix, “I am now in the land of corn, wine, oil, and sunshine. What more can man ask of heaven?”
A joyous occasion, weddings are usually a time for people to gather and celebrate with their families and friends as they encourage the newlyweds to officially start their new lives together. Not so with the Monroe family.
During her reign as the wife of James Madison, fourth President of the United States, Dolley (also spelled Dolly) Madison is still considered by historians to have been the most charming and welcoming First Lady in White House history, which made her a tough act for her successor Elizabeth Monroe to follow.
So she didn’t, passing most of her duties to her oldest daughter Eliza Monroe instead.
Hiding behind an elaborate web of protocol and her mother’s presumed invalidism, Eliza set a highly formal, (some might say funereal) tone to their White House entertaining with invitations strictly rationed and many formerly welcome White House guests feeling thoroughly snubbed.
Needless to say, when it was time for baby sister Maria Hester Monroe and her fiance Samuel Gouverneur to marry, any half-hearted attempts to resurrect the party spirit failed.
As author Doug Wead says here on WhiteHouseWeddings.com:
“When older sister, Eliza Monroe Hay, learned that the young lovers were busily making plans and that a Russian diplomat had actually inquired when diplomats might ‘pay their respects,’ Eliza was roused to action. Claiming that affairs of state and protocol trumped any of the young couple’s wedding ideas she successfully took charge of the event. By the time Eliza was finished, ‘not even the cabinet was invited.’
Samuel Gouverneur would deeply resent this wound to his young bride. Shouldn’t she be allowed to make her own decisions and invite whom she wished? But with the reclusive First Lady approving each move, Eliza prevailed. The wedding of Maria Hester Monroe became yet another casualty in their ongoing war with Washington.
Eventually, with the likely interference of the President himself, arrangements were finally made for two wedding receptions the week following the ceremony, but the senior Monroe women gleefully succeeded in bumping the despised diplomatic corps out of these as well.”
On the night of the newlyweds’ first wedding ball, host and war hero Commodore Stephen Decatur seemed strangely preoccupied…for a very good reason.
As Doug Wead goes on to write:
“(Decatur) had rashly accepted a duel with a navy rival whom he had been disparaging for years as a coward. His opponent, he believed had avoided the War of 1812 by hiding in Europe. The following Wednesday, the two men lay on the ground next to each other, both wounded…the mortally-wounded body of Stephen Decatur would be carried back to that very drawing room where the newlyweds celebrated and within hours he would die.”
And you thought your parties had awkward moments!
In these days of junk and convenience foods, it’s all too easy to romanticize the past and assume that everyone in “the good old days” was a naturally talented cook and baker who knew their way in the kitchen, but this was definitely not the case.
As it says in the book, Presidential Wives by Paul F. Boller:
“…(Grace Coolidge) was no great shakes with baking, as she freely admitted. To tease her, (Calvin) Coolidge sometimes dropped her biscuits to the floor and stamped his foot as they landed to emphasize the weight.
…the first time she made apple pie, the crust was so tough that neither of them could get the pie down at dinner. But when two friends dropped by for a visit that evening, Coolidge insisted they have some dessert and out of politeness, they managed to get through the pie. When they finished it, he twinkled, “Don’t you think the Road Commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?”
Calvin Coolidge was the son of a farmer and cheesemaker. In 1890, The Plymouth Cheese Factory was established by Calvin Coolidge’s father (as well as several other farmers) to make a special kind of granular curd cheese from the milk of their cows. Still in operation today in Plymouth, Vermont, The Plymouth Cheese Factory is known for the 3000 pounds of artisanal cheeses it produces each month.
Please join us tomorrow to read our newest Fish For Friday Recipe: Melt in Your Mouth Creamy Crab Croquettes on HuggingtheCoast.Com.
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