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.

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