Monday, April 5, 2010

Looking at Lincoln's Life Through the Food He Ate

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. I decided to celebrate his 200th anniversary year by publishing a blog with one recipe a week for the time between his birth and his death on April 15, 1865. Each recipe has a short essay about events in his life and I've made each of the recipes so they are relatively easy to make in a modern kitchen.

The list below each picture is a kind of index to the essays and recipes. Please scroll down to find them. TO FIND INDIVIDUAL RECIPES:
You may simply scroll down through all the dishes 
Look in the lower righthand corner "Blog Archive." 
Click on the arrow pointing to "2009" and then click on the arrow next to the month and the recipe titles will appear. 
A click through there on the posting title will take you to each recipe. 


Recipes for February 2009
February 8 A Birthday Cake for Abraham Lincoln
Pioneer Cake with Dried Apples

February 15 Abe Lincoln and Kentucky Pumpkins
Pumpkin Butter

February 22 Gingerbread Men
Abe Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men

Recipes for March 2009
March 1 Chicken Cooked in the Army
Bacon-Basted Militia Chicken

March 8 New Salem Biscuits
Saleratus [baking soda] Biscuits

March 15 Political Barbecue Chicken
Oven-Cooked Slow Barbeque

March 23 Mary Todd’s Courting Cake
French Almond Cake

March 29 Cookies and Lincoln’s Springfield Home
1851 Cookies

Recipes for April 2009
April 6 The Comfort of Cornbread
Epicure’s Cornbread

April 13 Cakes Named for Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln Cake

Saturday, February 13, 2010

President's Day Special Price--$9.95

Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans.
Book is now available at regular price of $14.95
and $6.95 as a Kindle title.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Lincoln Mystery Among the Cakes

I stumbled on a mystery while researching Lincoln’s life during this 200th anniversary year of his birth, and ended up writing a book to solve it.

In 1831, 22-year-old Abraham Lincoln spent a month in New Orleans. Yet, Lincoln never wrote or said a word about his visit to what was most sophisticated American city of the day. My novel Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans explores this mystery, dramatizing how those experiences challenged the unsophisticated Lincoln and set the platform for his life and career.

Link to Amazon listing for Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans.

More about the story: John Roll, an irrepressible 17-year-old Sangamon Town, Illinois lad, begins his narration of the saga. “This has been the best year of my life. They’ll be adventures ahead, but I can’t think any will be as good as the ones I’ve had heading down to New Orleans with Abe Lincoln.”

Roll describes how Lincoln, his stepbrother, and cousin were hired by mysterious and flamboyant Denton Offutt to build a flatboat on the banks of Illinois’ Sangamon River and then take a load of farm goods down the Mississippi River. Abe impresses Sangamon Town citizens with his wit and bravery as he saves two boys from drowning in the freezing river. Later Lincoln demonstrates his ingenuity when he devises a way to save the cargo and the boat when it hangs up on a dam at New Salem.

Along their journey and in New Orleans Lincoln and Roll interact with boatmen, merchants, slave owners, free persons of color, musicians, actors, librarian, even a doctor – a cross-section of America. They take a ride on one of the nation’s first railroads, visit the theater, and encounter a slave auction, eventually coming back upriver on a steamboat. The impressionable, curious Lincoln comes to terms with the complexities of the day and considers his future in this rollicking adventure.

Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans is based on true events and historic sources.

I’ve found more delicious cake recipes during this anniversary year, too.

This cake from an 1852 recipe highlights the challenges of mid-19th century cooking, there are times when eggs are scarce or expensive. In 1858 Springfield January eggs cost four times as much as they would in April, when more hens were laying more frequently. Frugal homemaker Mary Lincoln might have resorted to just such a recipe.

Cake Without Eggs

1/2 cup butter
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup cream
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 cup currants

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cream the butter and add the sugar. Gradually add cream. Stir in half the flour and spices. Then add buttermilk or sour milk. Stir in the currants last. Pour batter into a well greased and floured tube pan. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. About 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 of an hour. If you bake cake in 3 loaf pans it will take about an hour.

Copyright 2010, Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Abraham Lincoln Thanksgiving: Part 2

This was a day for slow cooking and consideration.

I followed Miss Leslie's directions in her 1845 cookbook. Stuffed the craw of our heritage Bourbon Red turkey with a forcemeat dressing seasoned with lemon peel, pepper, sweet marjoram and nutmeg. Dusted it with flour and then began basting with butter and drippings as it roasted. Parsnips and carrots pan roasted, too. The mushroom sauce -- no turkey should be eaten without it -- was simply made. A long, slow simmer is the key to bringing out the rich earthy flavors from the few ingredients.

Did Mary Lincoln cook the 8 pound turkey she purchased in January 1859 following these instructions, too? She might not have been able to get mushrooms in January in Springfield, but parsnips and carrots would have been there. All I can say is that we all agreed it was the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. Everything seasonal, local and fresh. This is the way food would have tasted in the 19th century.

Abraham Lincoln concluded his 1863 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation with the hopes that the nation would soon be restored to the "full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union." His words continue to speak to us today.

1845 Mushroom Sauce

16 ounces fresh white button mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper -- or to taste.
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons flour

The night before you make the sauce, slice about 1/4 of the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt to draw out their juices. The next day, cut off the stems of the remaining mushrooms and slice into quarters. If there are small ones, you may keep them whole. Combine the mushrooms with the cream and milk in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the salted mushrooms and the accumulated juices. Cook over very low heat until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce is a light beige color. Mash the butter with a fork and work the flour into it until if forms a paste. Stir this by bits into the mushroom mixture. Continue stirring as the sauce thickens. If sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for two or three days. Good with other meats and vegetables.

Abraham Lincoln Thanksgiving: Part 1

Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers crop shares of vegetables, fruits and meats from local family farms. When I saw the 19th century Bourbon Red heritage turkey would be available for Thanksgiving, I was delighted. There could be no better way to celebrate Lincoln in the 200th anniversary year of his birth. For while communities had celebrated fall Thanksgivings during much of the 19th century, his 1863 proclamation made it a true national holiday. Lincoln called upon his “ fellow citizens in every part of the United States and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands to set aside the fourth Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving.”

I picked up our 8-pound Bourbon Red Tuesday afternoon. I had picked up my 1845 copy of Miss Leslies’s Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches much earlier. For while the staff at Cooks of Crocus Hill suggest brining these lean birds, I decided to use the cookbook Mary Lincoln owned to come as close as I can to the preparation of her era.

Bird safely stowed in the truck, I stopped at Kowalski’s market to pick up the rest of the fixings: cranberries, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, light cream and a few herbs and seasonings. The bread for the forcemeat stuffing was rising and should be ready to bake when I walked in the door.

Thanksgiving morning has dawned. We’re aiming for a mid-afternoon dinner. Cranberry sauce and forcemeat are ready and vegetables have been peeled and cut. Soon the real cooking will start and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve cooked more turkeys than I care to count. Usually the preparation is close to foolproof. This year there are a lot of different ingredients and techniques to put me to the test.

At least I know the cranberry sauce is good. Check Twitter updates --

1845 Cranberry Sauce

1 12- to 16-ounce package fresh cranberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar

Wash and sort cranberries. Combine with water in a heavy sauce pan. Cover and cook over low to medium heat until berries pop and the mixture becomes jam-like. Be sure to lift cover and stir from time to time so the sauce does not stick and burn. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar melts into the jam. Remove from heat and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cakes Named for Abraham Lincoln

Nearly every summer evening beginning in 1862, Abraham Lincoln left the White House and rode, either on horseback or in a carriage, up hill out of the city’s miasmal air to the presidential summer cottage. Secretary of War Stanton also occupied a cottage there, on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, about three miles northeast of the center of Washington. The Lincoln family stayed at the peaceful retreat into the fall before moving furniture and household goods back into the White House for the winter.

On his daily round trip, Lincoln passed poet Walt Whitman’s house, and the two men frequently nodded at in greeting. Whitman described Lincoln in his journal and letters. “June 30, 1863. I noticed him last evening about half-past 6 . . . . He looks more careworn than usual, his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin – a curious looking man, very sad.”

The Lincolns were in residence at the White House on April 10, 1865, as the news spread throughout the city of General Lee’s April 8 surrender to General Grant bringing with it the end of the war. A great crowd walked through rain and mud from the Navy Yard to the White House lawn, picking up more and more people and even the Quartermaster’s band along the way. Nearly three thousand in number, they called for the president to come out. He spoke briefly and called upon the band to “play ‘Dixie.’ One of the best tunes I’ve ever heard.” He concluded his appearance calling for three cheers for “General Grant and all under his command” and another three cheers for the Navy.

The following evening Abraham Lincoln made his last public address. Speaking again from the upper windows of the White House, he called for reconciliation with the southern states. “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.”

Three days later President and Mrs. Lincoln went to a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. In the middle of the play John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot Abraham Lincoln. He was carried across the street into the home of Mr. William Petersen and laid in a small bedroom on the first floor. At seven thirty-three on the morning of April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln’s great heart stopped beating.

Walt Whitman wrote:
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d – and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

People all over the nation mourned Lincoln’s death. Some even hung their homes with black crepe as though a member of their family had died. There were mourning ribbons and badges, portraits, articles and books. Nineteenth century cookbooks brought forth a bakery case full of cakes paying homage to the martyred president. These cakes joined those named for Presidents Washington and Madison, and other political figures on both sides of the Civil War. Many of the published recipes for Lincoln cakes pass along the simple recipe that first appeared in Godey’s Ladies Magazine in 1865: “2 eggs, 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup butter, one of sweet milk, three of flour, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, half teaspoon soda and one of lemon essence.” Others are more like light fruitcakes. This recipe from 1876 is particularly tasty.

Lincoln Cake
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 ounces raisins
4 ounces currants
2 ounces candied citrus peel
4 ounces almonds
1/2 cup flour additional for dredging the fruits
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a large tube pan. Mix the 3 1/2 cups flour, baking soda and spices and set aside. Mix the dried fruits, peel and nuts with 1/2 cup flour and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour and spice mixture, then the milk, the second third of the flour, the brandy and finally the last third of the flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture. Pour batter into pan, filling it about three-quarters full, and bake until a skewer or thin knife stuck in the center comes out clean, approximately one hour and fifteen minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.