Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Celebrate President’s Day Weekend with Us: Special White House Dinner
If we had a time machine and traveled back to a late 19th-century kitchen, you might be surprised at how differently people cooked and ate. And, in a conversation with Christie Weininger, the director of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, she shares several of those differences with us. “One of the most obvious ones,” she says, “is that people didn’t use standard measurements and, because people relied on cook stoves fueled by wood fires, people who cooked needed to develop significant skills in temperature regulation.”
Cookbooks certainly existed, she explains, but recipes were largely passed down through families. “That’s why,” she says, “you see cooking trends within families, with people’s cooking styles tied to the region where they lived, their country of origin, and what others in their families cooked.”
This information helps to explain why Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an early 19th-century food writer, made this statement: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” In that era, what you ate truly did indicate a significant amount of information about you.
What you ate, Christie continues on to say, also revealed much about the variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, livestock and more available to your family, as well as how much money you had. “Many people needed to be extremely economical,” she says, “using all parts of an animal because they literally couldn’t afford to waste. This meant that exotic meats were often included in meals.”
The Original White House Cookbook, 1887
On Saturday, February 18, 2017, the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) will prepare a delicious meal, culled from recipes from the Original White Cookbook (1887). This legendary cookbook provides a glimpse into the glorious Gilded Age and how people dined and were entertained at the apex of the country’s fine dining: in the White House.
That evening, we’ll be joined by Christie and the director of development for Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, Kathy Boukissen. They will share inside stories of dinner parties and intrigue around the table during the Hayes administration. Hayes was the 19th U.S. President (1877-1881). He served as a general for the Union Army during the Civil War, as well as the governor of Ohio and as a U.S Congressman, before being elected to presidential office.
“Those years were an interesting time in the White House,” Christie says, “when they hosted beautiful and unique state dinners, even though, in that era, the president had to pay for the state dinners out of his own money.” These were multi-course affairs, with the menus written elegantly in French.
Christie wishes that photos were taken of the White House dinners during the Hayes years, but they only have one in their archives. “The tables were set up in the state dining room,” she says, “and all looked absolutely beautiful. I wish that photo was in color because the table was full of flowers, including a flower in a little vase in front of each plate.” Other than that one photo, one where no people were included, what they have are line drawings of these important dinners.
Some of the stories that Christie and Kathy will share at the CVI come from their interactions with a retired White House chef who served under both Bush administrations as well as the Clinton administration. “They are absolutely fabulous stories,” she says.
Christie also told us that Hayes and his beloved wife, Lucy, decided not to serve alcohol when they entertained. “Previous administrations offered wine with every course, and not having any wasn’t much fun for people attending,” she says. “People tried to sneak alcohol into the punch, at least in one instance, but Hayes’s diary shares that it was really rum flavoring, not actually rum, so nobody pulled a trick over on him.”
To find out more about why the Hayes’s didn’t serve alcohol, watch our blog for information on the temperance movement. That upcoming post will provide more insights into this couple, as well as the era in which they lived, and will explore the temperance cocktail movement that’s gaining in popularity today – and much more.
Register for the CVI Event