Celebrating Presidents Day: the many flavors of the American presidency
All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
George H.W. Bush chose pork rinds over broccoli, about which he was vocal in his vehement distaste. Ronald Reagan had a penchant for sweets, especially jelly beans, and Lyndon B. Johnson topped his sweet potatoes with marshmallows year-round.
Although the Obamas adamantly push vegetables in the hands of cookie-crazed Muppets, the majority of the American presidency is marked by eating habits that would make Michelle and her toned arms uneasy. At their roots, most of our presidents’ palates have been grounded in good old American comfort food. James Buchanan’s favorite food is actually recorded as fresh butter — pre-diabetes Paula Deen would be proud.
Only a few commanders-in-chief seem to have truly enjoyed eating in a more healthful manner. Fresh yogurt was flown in from California for Richard Nixon on a daily basis; Tricky Dick also ate cottage cheese and fruit quite often. Not only do the Obamas prefer local produce, often from the White House Kitchen Garden, but they consume fresh honey from the White House's first ever beehive.
Besides these anomalies, most presidents were of hearty stock, chowing down on pot roast, meatloaf, New England clam chowder and corned beef and cabbage. Bill Clinton, though now a vegan, had steak and onion rings served to him in Hillary’s absence. George W. Bush apparently ate many a cheeseburger pizza, very similar to the the one often seen in the Caf. Many Southern delights like corn pone, creole food and red beans and rice also emerged from the White House kitchen in years past. William Harrison and James Garfield took the food of the deep South to near-redneck level for their love of squirrel stew or soup.
Very few of the presidents harbored the same taste for a particular food. Interestingly enough, the items that appeared more than once have Southern roots. John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter both loved corn bread, though Kennedy preferred his in muffin form. Fried chicken was favored by the bellies of Harry Truman, James Monroe and Teddy Roosevelt, with the caveat that Roosevelt’s was drenched in white gravy.
This week, join me in sitting down to a meal of fried chicken and corn bread to celebrate our great nation and its leaders’ great appetites.
Note: Fried chicken can be made either on the stovetop or in the oven; I will include both methods for you to choose at your convenience. The main difference is that frying on the stovetop requires a thermometer, while baking does not.
To enjoy fried chicken Teddy Roosevelt style, look up the white gravy recipe in my previous biscuits and gravy post on the Don’t Forget the Frosting online blog.
4 lbs chicken, drumsticks and thighs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika, or cayenne chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
peanut or canola oil, if frying
1/3 cup butter, if baking
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the chicken and let soak for a few minutes.
Combine the flour, thyme, garlic powder, chili powder, salt and pepper. Roll each piece of chicken in the flour mixture until evenly coated. If frying the chicken, use a large skillet or frying pan and fill it 1/2 inch deep with oil. Heat the oil to 350 F on medium-high, using a thermometer.
Inexpensive deep fry thermometers can be found among the kitchen gadgets in any grocery store. Add three to four pieces of chicken to the skillet at a time and cook for 12 minutes.
Use metal tongs to turn over the chicken every two minutes. Watch the oil temperature, keeping it between 300 - 325 F by adjusting the stovetop heat accordingly.
Remove the finished chicken from the skillet and let cool on a paper towel or a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.
If baking the chicken, heat the oven to 400 F. Place the butter in a 9x13 inch baking pan and let melt in the oven, coating the whole bottom of the pan. Place the coated chicken into the pan in a single layer and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and finish cooking for an additional 20 minutes. Take out and let cool on paper towels or a cooling rack.
From www.alberscorn.com: “Albers Corn Bread”
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Use oil or cooking spray to grease an 8-inch baking pan, or muffin tin.
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, vegetable oil and egg. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.
Pour the batter into a square baking pan, or muffin tin to enjoy your corn bread Kennedy style.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the corn bread springs back to a light touch on the top. You can also use the time-tested toothpick method to check; when the toothpick comes out clean, take the corn bread out of the oven.