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.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Comfort of Cornbread

When Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, he reached out the southern states considering secession from the union. “We are not enemies, but friends.” He closed his inaugural address with a call to unified patriotism. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln hoped he was buying time to solve the problems with the rebelling states, but the first thing he received when he entered his office was a letter from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter stating the garrison would run out of supplies in a month or six weeks. Lincoln said later “of all the trials I have had since I came here, none begin to compare with those I had between the inauguration and the [April 13] fall of Fort Sumter.”

He was besieged at all hours by people who wanted to be appointed to offices in the new Republican government, while trying to manage a looming war. He said of those days that he was “like a man so busy renting rooms at one end of his house that he has no time to put out a fire burning in the other.”

It is no wonder that photographs taken between 1861 and 1865 show him becoming more and more thin as his months in office and at war took their toll.

Both Abraham and Mary Lincoln grew up eating cornbread. It was a comfort food for Mary, one of the foods she craved while living some of her widowed years in France. Abraham Lincoln is said to have enjoyed cornbread in the White House as well. This recipe, adapted from 1846, is sturdy. It is all corn, unsweetened and doesn’t rise very much while baking. It is tasty served warm and makes a nice base for any kind of creamed meat dish.

Epicure’s Cornbread
1 egg, separated
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon soft butter
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks and set aside. Put cornmeal, salt, baking soda and soft butter in a medium mixing bowl. Carefully pour boiling water over all and stir to mix. Combine the sour milk and egg yolk. Add to cornmeal mixture and stir well. Gently fold in the beaten egg white. Spoon batter into a well greased 9-inch round baking pan. Bake until firm in center, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cookies and Lincoln’s Springfield Home

In 1844 successful lawyer Abraham Lincoln moved into the one-and-a-half story home at the corner of 8th and Jackson Streets in Springfield with his wife Mary and their young son, Robert. The family lived there for seventeen years until they left for the White House on February 11, 1861. At that farewell Lincoln spoke eloquently of his years in Illinois and Springfield: “Here I have lived from my youth until now I am an old man. Here the most sacred ties of earth were assumed; here all my children were born; and here one of them lies buried. . . . To you, dear friends, I owe all that I have, all that I am.”

By all accounts the family was a lively one. The Lincolns added a full second story to the home to accommodate the growing family of boys. Eddie, born in 1846, died just before of his fourth birthday in 1850. Two other boys grew up in Springfield. Willie was born in December 1850 and Tad in April 1853. Neighbors spoke of both Abe and Mary spoiling their sons and of the house being overrun with children and pets. Lincoln pulled the boys in a wagon on the streets of Springfield. He read them stories and tussled with them in the White House. Sadly, only Robert Lincoln survived into adulthood. Willie caught typhoid fever and died in Washington on February 20, 1862. Tad died of tuberculosis in Chicago when he was 17.

Neighbor children recall Mary Lincoln making cookies for them. These simple, easily made cookies from 1851 are tasty and suitable for grabbing by the handful by boys rushing through the kitchen on the way out to play. The National Park Service offers a virtual tour of the Lincoln’s Springfield house:

Basic 1851 Cookies
1/3 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 2/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Stir in half the flour and the baking soda. Mix until smooth. Gently stir in the milk and when completely blended, add remaining flour. Stir in the nuts, if desired. Drop by teaspoons on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake until tops are a golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Cookies puff up while baking and sink a bit as they cool. Yield: about 5 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mary Todd’s Courting Cake

Mary Todd moved to Springfield, Illinois in October 1839 from Lexington, Kentucky. Two months shy of her twenty-first birthday, Mary was starting a new life in the home of her married sister, and, just maybe, looking for a husband among the politicians, lawyers and strivers in the newly designated state capital. Abraham Lincoln settled in Springfield two and a half years earlier. He arrived in the town of 1,500 in April 1837 riding a horse borrowed from a New Salem friend. He was 28 years old, a lawyer in practice with John Todd Stuart, Mary Todd’s cousin, and a member of the Illinois State Legislature. By the time Mary Todd arrived in town the population had increased to nearly 2,500. The Stuart & Lincoln law practice was busy and he spent his free time in a variety of activities. Lincoln presented serious lectures to the Young Men’s Lyceum. He went fishing in the streams surrounding Springfield with friends and their sons and he escorting their daughters and sisters to concerts, plays and other social events about town. Lincoln encountered Mary Todd at a cotillion in December 1839. “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way,” he said asking for a dance. After the evening Mary remarked to a family member. “And he certainly did.”

Todd family tradition suggests Mary made an almond cake similar to this one during their courtship and after they were married. Lincoln is said to have called it “the best cake I ever ate.” There are several versions of this white almond cake. I based my adaptation on an 1828 recipe that said to allow two days to make the cake as the almonds need to be blanched, peeled and pounded into a powder the day before baking. With modern kitchen equipment and ingredients, this cake is ready in an hour or so. The original recipe called for both sweet and bitter almonds. The former are the kind we buy today. Poisonous bitter almonds are no longer sold. However, almond extract is made from those nuts, treated to be safe.

French Almond Cake
4 grade A large eggs, separated
1/2 cup granulated sugar, pulverized
3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
3 ounces blanched slivered almonds, very finely crushed or chopped
to pieces about 1/16th of an inch
1/4 cup flour, sifted three times

Important Tips: There are a few tricks to making this cake successfully. Nineteenth century white sugar came in a compressed cone. Cooks snipped off what they needed with sugar shears and then pulverized it into fine crystals. I put the half cup of granulated sugar in a plastic bag and pulverize it by pressing my rolling pin over it a few times. The resulting finer sugar blends more easily with the egg yolks. The stiffly beaten egg whites provide this cake’s structure. It is lightest when baked until light brown in an ungreased angel food tube cake pan, then turned upside down until it is completely cool. I have baked it in an antique tube pan with fluted sides. To get it out successfully, I greased just the bottom of the pan (top of cake), turned it upside down to cool completely and then gently pressed against the cake, pulling it away from the sides. You can grease and flour the sides of the baking pan and cool the cake right-side up. But the resulting cake, while delicious, will not be nearly as light.

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large (3 quart) bowl whip the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. In a medium (2 quart) mixing bowl beat the egg yolks until they are thick and have turned into a light yellow color. This could take as long as five minutes. With the mixer running, begin adding the sugar about a tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the sugar is fully incorporated and the batter is thick. Stir in the extracts and then the almonds. Stir in the flour. With a flexible rubber spatula, fold about one third of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk batter to lighten it up. Then gently fold this lightened batter into the remaining egg whites. Bake until the cake is firm and lightly browned on top, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Political Barbecue Chicken

Barbecues are the bread and butter of Midwestern politics. Abe Lincoln attended scores. At one, held at the Urbana Agricultural Fair in 1858, Lincoln was met by a committee of ladies and escorted to a seat at the head of the table as honored guest before his speech. The table was filled with an abundance of barbecued food.

As the story goes, he looked around the area and saw a old woman standing not far away looking intently at him. He immediately recognized her as a waiter and dishwasher at the hotel in Urbana whom everybody knew as Granny. He said to her. “Why Granny, have you no place? You must have some dinner. Here, take my place.”

The old lady answered. “No’m, Mr. Lincoln, I just wanted to see you. I don’t want any dinner.” Lincoln rose from his seat at the head of the table and insisted she take his seat. He then took his turkey leg and biscuit and sat at the foot of a nearby tree while Granny Hutchinson filled the place at the head of the table and ate her dinner as he had insisted.

Day long political barbeques featured hogs, turkeys and sides of beef cooked for hours over low coals or even in pits. This recipe uses smaller chicken thighs so the slow cooking is accomplished in an hour or two, depending on the size of the thighs, while keeping the flavor of a mid-1800s barbeque.

Oven-Cooked Slow Barbeque
5 pounds chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup mild molasses
additional 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
Wash the thighs and pat dry, removing the skin if desired. Mix salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly over the chicken then brush both sides with a light coating of molasses. Place in a single layer, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. When ready to cook, gently wipe the chicken pieces with a damp cloth. Most of the molasses will come off, leaving just the barest layer and that which has soaked into the meat. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up. Place a wire cake rack on the sheet to hold the chicken up off the bottom surface. Mix the additional half-teaspoon salt with one cup warm water. Baste the chicken with this salted water and bake, basting and turning about every 20 minutes until chicken is deliciously browned and cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. You may cook these thighs on a grill with a very low fire as well. Basting, turning and watching carefully as molasses has a tendency to burn.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Salem Biscuits

Lincoln arrived in New Salem, Illinois in early summer 1831. Denton Offutt, another newcomer to the area, hired him to run a small store and help with the grist mill, powered by the Sangamon River.

In March 1832, Lincoln declared his candidacy for representative to the Illinois General Assembly. In his “Communication to the People of Sangamo County” he addressed the need for “internal improvements” -- roads, cleared waterways and “rail roads.” He drew upon the year’s experiences, making a comprehensive analysis of the situation. “I have given as particular attention to the state of the water in this river, as any other person in the country.” Lincoln, 23 years old, was poised for the possibility of loss. “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. . . I have no other so great as to be esteemed by my fellow men . . . I am young and unknown to many of you. . . . if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.” Losing this election, he was elected for the next term in 1834.

Offutt ground both corn and wheat at the mill. As pioneering settlements became villages and towns, farmers began growing more wheat. Wheat breads, such as biscuits, took their place on tables where just a few year earlier cornmeal was the only bread ingredient. “Saleratus” is an early form of baking soda and worked with the sour milk to make a light, chewy and delicious biscuit.

Saleratus [baking soda] Biscuit
2 teaspoons vinegar
2/3 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine vinegar with milk, stir and set aside to sour, about 5 minutes. Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add butter to boiling water to melt and then stir into the flour mixture. Then add the sour milk. Stir with a fork and then knead briefly. You may need to add a bit more milk or flour to make a dough that is firm enough to work and not sticky. Break off pieces about an inch in diameter. Place on lightly greased baking sheets and bake until browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chicken Cooked in the Army

The entire Lincoln family moved to Illinois in the spring of 1830. Abe stayed for a year, helping the family clear the new farm. In 1831 he settled by himself in New Salem. Like all young men in the state, Abe was a member of the Illinois militia. When they were called to fight the Indian chief Black Hawk in the spring of 1832, he was elected captain of his unit.

Rations were tight in the wilds of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin where the militia campaigned. As George Harrison one of the men in the unit related, at one point Lincoln’s men raided the chicken coop on a farm abandoned by the owners who “skedaddled for fear of losing their scalps.” The hungry men tried simply roasting the scrawny hens over their campfire, but then took a notion to fry them in some grease rendered from a hog jowl one of the men had found up in the rafters of the smokehouse. That provided just enough fat and flavor to make the tough fowl as acceptable as “eating saddle bags.”

This adaptation captures the flavor of roasted, then fried, chicken but with today’s well-fed and store-purchased fowl it is considerably more tender and flavorful.

Bacon-Basted Militia Chicken
1 whole chicken
2 slices of bacon, diced
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Split the chicken along the spine. Flatten and place in a baking pan with at least 1-inch sides. Gently lift skin by sliding your hands between the skin and meat. Place diced bacon evenly over the entire chicken and pat the skin back down. Cook, basting with the pan juices from time to time, until chicken reached internal temperature of 170 degrees – about 25 minutes per pound.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gingerbread Men

In all his writings Lincoln didn’t say much about food, but his evocation of gingerbread men may well have set his national political career on the right path.

At the first debate with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, Abraham Lincoln used a childhood incident to partially diffuse the very ugly senate campaign. Douglas had misrepresented Lincoln’s stance on slavery, suggesting that he would “set the states at war with one another” over the issue. Rather than counterattack, Lincoln, feigned bewilderment that the well-regarded Douglas would so misstate his positions, and allowed as how he was blind-sided by the unctuous compliments Judge Douglas had heaped upon him. “I was not very accustomed to flattery and it came the sweeter to me. I was rather like the Hoosier, with the gingerbread, when he said he reckoned he loved it better than any other man, and got less of it.”

Lincoln’s story reportedly charmed the audience, both those at the debate in Ottawa, Illinois and readers of the widely published newspaper accounts. Years later he repeated the story in the White House, giving some details of the recipe his mother used. “Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often and it was our biggest treat.”

This recipe fits Lincoln’s description of a gingerbread man sturdy enough to stuff into a pocket and soft enough for the poor Hoosier lad to “cram into his mouth in two bites.”

Abe Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sorghum
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ginger
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Pour the milk into a glass measuring cup. Add the sorghum and stir the two together. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, baking soda and ginger. Slice the butter into small pieces and using a pastry cutter or two knives cut into the flour mixture until the mixture looks like cornmeal. Add the milk and sorghum mixture and stir well with a fork or spoon. The dough should be like children's play-clay. If it is too sticky, add small amounts of flour (no more than 2 tablespoons) or refrigerate until it can be worked easily. To make men about 4 inches high, break off a piece of dough a little larger than a golf ball. Place it on a counter or cutting board and roll it lightly under your palms forming a pencil-like piece of dough 12 inches long. Break off 4 inches and set aside. This will become the arms. Fold the remaining dough in half to from a narrow, upside down “v.” Grasp at the folded top, pinch together 1 inch down from the top and twist, forming the head and neck. Place the arm piece across the back under the head. Gently press to secure. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake until men are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Watch closely as dough or batter with sorghum or molasses burns quickly. Makes about 18 men 4-inches tall.
Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Abe Lincoln and Kentucky Pumpkins

Abraham Lincoln was born and lived in Kentucky until he was almost eight years old. He went to school there and, as an adult, shared memories of his time on the northern Kentucky farm saying, “My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place.” He told of planting pumpkin seeds among the hills of corn seed. One year rain deluged the sloping field, washing out the entire young crop. In spite of that failure and other pioneering challenges, the Lincoln’s 230-acre farm was a success. Thomas Lincoln, Abe’s father who was also a skilled carpenter, had at least three horses and a cow. In addition to corn, pumpkins and kitchen vegetables, they probably raised hogs and chickens. When the Lincolns moved to Indian in 1816, they left behind a surplus 40 bushes of corn in a neighbor’s care.

Pumpkins were valued as food for both farm animals and people. John Woods, an Englishman traveling along the Ohio River in 1820, wrote, “Pompions are another highly-prized production of this country. Cattle of all descriptions, pigs and poultry are fond of them.” He also described how much people enjoyed them. “They are much eaten here. They are excellent . . . . and are sliced and dried for winter use, for pies and sauce.” Abe’s mother Nancy could have made a sauce like this pumpkin butter from fresh or reconstituted dried pumpkin using spices she purchased in nearby Elizabethtown stores.

Pumpkin Butter
1 16-ounce can pumpkin
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Using modern ingredients such as canned pumpkin and pre-ground spices today’s cooks can make this sauce in about 30 minutes or less. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over low heat until the mixture has thickened. Stir frequently to keep from scorching. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Birthday Cake for Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy, died in October 1818. The following fall his father Thomas left Abe and his sister Sarah in Indiana to travel back to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. There he renewed his friendship with Sally Johnston a widow with three children. They were married on December 2, 1820 and returned to the Hoosier pioneering cabin. Sally brought a number of goods and furnishings to improve their life on the rapidly civilizing frontier. Abe always described her as his “good and kind mother.” She may have made a special cake like this one for his twelfth birthday, just a few weeks after the families combined and crowded into the 22-foot by 14-foot log cabin.

Sally would have brought stick cinnamon and nutmegs from the shops in Elizabethtown. Flour was scarce, but cornmeal plentiful. She would have replaced the expensive sugar called for in the original recipe with the honey from the “bees that were all over the forest,” as Lincoln’s cousin Dennis Hanks described. She most likely served it with a sauce made stewed dried apples, another common food in the towns of Kentucky but rare in the Hoosier Pigeon Creek community just being settled one hundred miles north.

Pioneer Cake with Dried Apples
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using grease-free beaters and a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and set aside. In a second bowl, cream the butter and egg yolks then add honey and mix well. Combine the flour, cornmeal and spices and add to the butter mixture. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour batter into a greased and floured 7-by-11-inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Top with stewed dried apples.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey All rights reserved

Abraham Lincoln – Recipes and Reflections

The truth is no one knows what Abraham Lincoln really enjoyed eating. In the White House he often had just an apple and a glass of milk for lunch. During his Indiana boyhood, Abe read under a tree munching corn bread "dodgers." We know Mary owned a copy of Miss Leslie's Complete Cookbook. We don't know too much more. Yet years of researching foods of the 1800s coupled with even more years of just plain cooking do bring an avenue to considering the foods Lincoln might have enjoyed. 
    This blog presents authentic recipes from Lincoln's life and times over the next ten weeks, between the celebration of his February 12, 1809 birthday and the anniversary of his death on April 14, 1865. They reflect economic conditions and social settings of Lincoln's pioneer days and the changes in his midwestern region as settlements grew into towns while Lincoln grew from inquisitive child to an accomplished man. These recipes are adapted for modern kitchens. Recreating them is a lesson in cooking and the past. But be warned: Eating these delicious foods may increase an appetite for history.