BY PRESIDENTIAL DECREE…LET THEM EAT SOUP

(PART ONE

Beautiful soup so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for danties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

(From The Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland)

Is there anything quite like a bowl of hot soup? It nourishes and sustains us on a cold and wintry day. Nothing restores us quite like a bowl of hot soup, that COOLS us off, and what could be tastier, then, than a chilled bowl of gazpacho? Another soup served cold long ago was Senegalese Soup, made with chicken broth.

French peasants, for many centuries, recognized the value of having a soup pot simmering on the back of the stove every day. Any leftover bits of meat or vegetables were tossed into the soup kettle—nothing was ever wasted, A bowl of nourishing soup was available, then, at any time.
Decades ago, housewives knew the value of feeding a nourishing beef bouillon or chicken broth to an invalid. A pot or kettle of soup can be very simple—beef broth, for instance, can be very simple, or it can be hearty, like clam chowder or beef stew. Today’s thrifty cook knows she can toss bits and pieces of leftover meat and vegetables into a plastic container or zip lock bag and FREEZE them; when she is ready to make a pot of soup, she can just toss the leftover bits into a soup pot.

If you think of soup as just something that comes out of a can, you are in for a surprise! Homemade soup is one of the easiest, most nourishing foods you can possibly serve to your family…and it can be very, very inexpensive made from odds and ends of leftovers in your refrigerator from leftover pot roast or a ham bone—or simply by chopping up some fresh vegetables, adding a few beef or chicken bouillon cubes and whatever other seasonings you like.

When I was a little girl, vegetable soup was served at dinner (called supper when I was a child), first as a broth, sometimes with homemade noodles Then as an entrée, we had the potatoes, carrots and meat from the soup pot—while my father and brothers spread the cooked marrow on crackers.

It may surprise you to know that many American presidents were very partial to soups—enough so that history has left us a legacy of their soup preferences!

Our first president, George Washington, loved seafood and was especially partial to Martha Washington’s crab soup. According to Poppy Cannon in her book “The President’s Cookbook” it also became a favorite of FDR’s and President and Mrs. Eisenhower.

Many decades later, Martha Washington’s Crab Soup was served at the Senate Wives Red Cross Luncheon; First Lady Mrs. Ford like it so much that the recipe was sent to the White House chefs who were able to reproduce the crab soup to Mrs. Ford’s satisfaction, whereupon it became a Ford Family favorite.

(I would imagine that President Washington, with his ill-fitting dentures, found sops easier to eat and digest, too! George Washington had a favorite vegetable soup recipe also).

To Make Martha Washington’s Crab Bisque, you will need the following:

Enough crab to make ½ pound crabmeat
1 TBSP butter
1 ½ TBSP flour
3 hard-cooked eggs, mashed
Rind of 1 lemon, grated
Salt & pepper to taste
2 ½ cups milk
½ cup sherry
Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Boil enough crabs in salted water to make ½ lb crab meat. Combine the butter, flour, eggs, lemon rind, salt and pepper. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour it slowly into the egg mixture. Now combine the crabmeat with the milk mixture and boil gently 5 minutes. Add the cream and take it off the stove before it comes to a full boil. Add sherry and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Serves 4-5.

Martha Washington also favored a Mexican black bean* soup; these recipes found their way into Martha’s manuscript cookbook. Quite possibly her recipe was given to her by President Jefferson, as he, too, had a favorite Mexican Black Bean Soup recipe. Martha obtained recipes from other notables of her times. Many years later, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were also partial to Black Bean Soup.

(*I think we have had a resurgence of black beans in the past few decades—I don’t recall seeing it—or any recipes calling for black beans when I was raising my children—sls)

The Martha Washington Cook Book offs quite a few other soup recipes, from making French Broth, to Barley Broth, French Pottage to a Gruel of French Barley.

One of our first presidents, Thomas Jefferson, was so fond of soups that he wrote an essay, “Observations on Soups”. Which reads “always observe to lay your meat in the bottom of the pan with a lump of butter. Cut the herbs and vegetables very fine and lay over the meat. Cover it close* and set over a slow fire. This will draw the virtue out of the herbs and roots and give the soup a different flavor from what it would have been putting the water in first…when the gravy produced from the meat is almost dried up. Fill your pan with water when your soup is done, take it up and when cool enough, skim of the grease quite clean. Put it on again to heat and then dish it up. When you make white soups never put in the cream until you take it off the fire. Soup is better the second day in cool weather. (“cover it close” may have meant with a tight fitting lid)

TO MAKE PRESIDENT JEFFERSON’S BLACK BEAN SOUP:

2 CUPS BLACK MEXICAN BEANS
2 ½ QUARTS WATER
2 LBS SHORT RIBS OF BEEF
SALT & PEPPER TO TASTE
1 CUP WINE
3 SLICES TOAST, MADE INTO CROUTONS
BUTTER

Wash beans and add to the water with the short ribs and seasonings. Boil over low flame 3-4 hours or until beans are soft. Remove meat, pour remainder through colander, pressing beans through. Remove to pot with small pieces of meat and stock; simmer about 10 minutes longer. Take from stove, add wine and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with croutons browned in butter. Serves 8-10.

President Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and fittingly one of his favorite soup recipes was Gumbo. Another favorite soup of President Jefferson’s was potato soup, as prepared by his cook at Monticello.

Yet another well-liked soup recipe of President Jefferson was pea soup, made, of course, with peas from his own garden. Every Monday at Monticello, tomato soup was served. Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, who shared his interest in recipes (call receipts back then) gave the recipe to Martha Washington. Yet another favorite recipe written by President Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph was a recipe for okra soup.

John Adams, like all early pioneering Americans, learned to use corn in many different ways. It was a legacy given to us by the American Indians. A favorite soup of President Adams was corn soup. Another favorite dish was succotash soup. Perhaps the Adams’, who spent some years living in Philadelphia, developed a taste for the Pennsylvania-Dutch corn soup. The following corn and tomato soup, with dumplings, is credited with Ohio origins…but it might have originated in Pennsylvania.

TO MAKE CORN AND TOMATO SOUP WITH DUMPLINGS:

A MEATY SOUP BONE
1 ONION, SLICED
SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE
A DOZEN EARS OF CORN
1 DOZEN TOMATOES
DUMPLINGS

Cover bone well with cold water. Add seasonings and onion. Shave off the grains of corn and also scrape out the pulp. Add to soup pot. Peel, then cut up the tomatoes. Add. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat and cook slowly 3 hours.

TO MAKE DUMPLINGS

1 EGG
1 CUP SOUR MILK*
½ TSP SALT
FLOUR
½ TSP BAKING SODA

Beat egg slightly. Stir soda into milk and add. Mix in enough salted flour to make a very stiff batter. Drop into boiling soup from a teaspoon. Cover, and cook 20 minutes. Serve at once.

(*I take it for granted that everybody knows these things—but in case you don’t—to make sour milk, just add a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk…wait a little bit and it will become “sour” milk).
**

Many presidents have enjoyed turtle or terrapin, according to White House history. One of the first presidents to receive a gift of turtle was President John Adams. A friend bestowed a 114 pound turtle upon the president.

In his diary, his son—John Quincy Adams—mentions that on a July 4th dinner served at the White House during Tyler’s administration, turtle soup was made from a turtle weighing 300 pounds, a present from Key West*

It is said that John Quincy Adams never failed to mention with whom he dined or how often, so that when he mentioned in his diary having eaten turtle at a dinner, it must have been an impressive occasion.

*More about turtles later!

Dolley Madison, considered for many decades to be the quintessential Washington hostess, served as hostess for Thomas Jefferson, who was widowed. Dolley, who left neatly handwritten notes containing her favorite recipes and home remedies, treated visitors—even drop-ins—with a bouillon laced with sherry. To make Dolley Madison’s hospitable bouillon, you will need:

4 lbs beef 1 veal knuckle
3 small carrots
2 turnips
1 pot hot pepper
3 small white onions
1 bunch parsley
5 quarts water
Sherry

Place all ingredients except the sherry in a large pot and simmer for 6 hours. Cool and strain.

Chef Rysavy, in a TREASURY OF WHITE HOUSE COOKING, tells us that Dolley liked to let her bouillon stand overnight before skimming off the fat. She would store the bouillon in a cool place and heat a portion of it as needed. Just before hot bouillon was served, a little sherry was added. Serves 20.

President Fillmore may not be well remembered by American historians (or school children) but he DID install the first real bathtub with centrally heated running water. His wife installed the first library in the White House while President Fillmore also installed the first real STOVE in the White House kitchen. Prior to that time, all the Fillmore cooking was done over open fireplaces. There is a story that the Fillmore cook was horrified at the idea of cooking on such a “thing” and that the President had to go visit the patent office to get detailed directions for operating it. But, like all new contraptions, once the white House staff got used to it, they couldn’t imagine getting along without it.

President Fillmore was a thrifty man – it seems only natural that one of HIS favorite soup recipes was an old fashioned vegetable beef soup which was more like a stew. Again, according to Ms. Cannon’s book “The Presidential Cookbook”, when President Fillmore’s soup was “…ready to serve, the solids were removed from the soup kettle to a platter. The soup was served first, consumed, then the soup bowls were re-filled with the meat and vegetables from the platter. (I wonder if my mother ever knew that her soup was served exactly the same way as the Fillmore presidential administration—I read that the president’s wife saw no reason to switch to clean plates after the broth had been eaten).

A favorite soup of Andrew Jackson’s was “Old Hickory Soup”, also a local favorite with natives of Jackson’s North Carolina. The recipe begins “Crack one gallon hickory nuts…”

Julia Tyler, wife of President John Tyler, seems to have been partial to a “torup” stew, torup being a variation of huge turtles that were native to the Eastern Shore of Long Island, where Julia grew up. (Julia was President Tyler’s second wife, and many years younger than he. The marriage created something of a stir in Washington. The “torup” stew was said to taste a lot like chicken. (I’ve heard that said about alligator, too—that it tastes like chicken.

Oyster stew and terrapin stew were listed amongst many other dishes listed on President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball menu. This was a bit of a far cry from President Lincoln’s first inaugural at which mock turtle soup was served.

While most food historians claim that President Lincoln had very little interest in food, it seems a fair assumption that turtle soup was a favorite dish, being served at both of President Lincoln’s inaugural celebrations. The President even planned the menu for his second inauguration. And even though historians claim that Mr. Lincoln was not interested in food or eating, it seems that he loved fruit pies and some of the ladies in Springfield shipped fruit pies to him—no small feat in the mid-1800s.

(I sometimes wonder if the president just didn’t like the way most foods were prepared for him. I grew up thinking I hated rice. I hate cabbage, I hate stewed rabbit. I didn’t really hate those foods; I hated the way they had been cooked. I was an adult living in California before I ever discovered that rice didn’t have to be cooked to a gluey-lumpy-pasty ball of gunk! I didn’t hate those foods; I hated the way my mother cooked them.

One of the best rice recipes served to us at a friend’s house was a rice pilaf that was outstanding. It was long after I met Bob that I discovered how delicious corned beef and cabbage could be, cooked gently in a slow-cooker, wedges of cabbage added in the last hour of cooking.

The Benjamin Harrisons were a soup loving family, with corn soup and fish chowder amongst their favorites. Another favorite served by Mrs. Harrison was “amber soup” which was a hot clear soup that she served at White House teas and receptions. It was made from both chicken and ham, along with assorted vegetables.

Teddy Roosevelt’s family, having a special interest in India and the Far East, were partial to a chilled Senegalese soup, made with chicken stock and curry but they also enjoyed a corn chowder. I did some searching for Senegalese Soup and found a recipe from 21 Restaurant, stating that theirs is one of the few places in this country where you can still find it. The classic garnish is diced poached chicken; this version substitutes chutney; to make Traditional Senegalese Soup you will need:

3 tart apples, such as granny smith
2 TBSP unsalted butter
2 carrots, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
¼ cup raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 TBSP curry powder*
2 TBSP all purpose flour
8 cups chicken broth
1 TBSP canned tomato puree
½ cup heavy cream

Garnish: bottle mango chutney or poached chicken, diced
Peel and core apples and chop. In a heavy kettle, heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and cook apples, carrots, onion, raisins and garlic, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 10-12- minutes. Add curry powder and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tomato puree and simmer, covered, 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Stir in cream and salt to taste, and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.
Cool soup and in a food processor or blender, puree in batches until smooth. Strain soup through a sieve into a large bowl and chill until cold, 2-3 hours. Garnish each serving with about ½ tsp chutney (or a small amount of diced, poached and chilled chicken cubes.)

*Personally, I’m not crazy about curry powder, so 3 tablespoons of curry powder would be too much for my palate —I would reduce this to one or two tablespoons curry powder, tops. – sls

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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