A little bit of history seems appropriate on this history-making day.
I found the White House Chef Cookbook at a local opportunity shop and because history that you can just barely remember is sometimes the most interesting, snapped it up for a few bucks. Okay, I admit it, I devour all things Jackie Kennedy, even the Onassis stuff.
Rene Verdon was the White House chef and this 1967 cookbook includes his memories of those years along with the recipes.
In writing the book, he used both French royal history and American presidential history to put his White House cooking and service in perspective. He took pointers from the kitchens of Loius XIV where they served petit fours, but also from Thomas Jefferson, who served what is now called baked Alaska at White House dinners.
He includes charming recollections of the family–doling out cookies to Caroline and her friends or the president, dressed in Bermuda shorts cutting his son’s hair with kitchen shears–but to Verdon’s credit, this is a cookbook and he spends much more time on advice about how to use garlic “discreetly,” serving drinks before dinner, and the importance of a good sauce.
I’ve never cooked any of these recipes. They seem too staid for my palate; I see no need for discretion regarding garlic. But the most charming thing about this book was the yellowed envelope of recipes clipped from the New York Times that was tucked inside the cover. There’s a recipe for somebody’s kugel and an article on authentic Cantonese dishes dated 1975. A sweetbread trio from 1976. There are Craig Caliborne’s thoughts on stuffing a turkey and on daisy-topped stationary, “from the desk of Shirley Solomon,” a recipe for Pepper and Garlic Powder. Clearly, the original owner had culinary aspirations.
And one more book for the day, the sixth edition, 1961 Congressional Club Cookbook, perhaps the last time Congress did anything useful.
Though it should be pointed out that this was assembled by their wives, none of whom, apparently, had first names.
Thank you “Mrs. J. Floyd Breeding, Wife of Representative (Kansas)” for a frightening recipe, Redi-Wheat Salad–sweet pickle, French dressing, mayonnaise, and the long-lost Redi-Wheat. This book appears to be a definitive work on Jell-o salads. Nonetheless, I’m sure they got the galleys to the printer with plenty of time to spare.
Happy Inauguration Day!