Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Presidential Palate 3, Mardi Gras Edition: Harrison, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor

Happy Mardi Gras everyone, and laissez les bons temps rouler!  We celebrated the occasion by combining it with our third Presidential Palate meal, which was in honor of William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor.

Harrison was called the "Hard Cider Candidate," first by his opponents as a slam against his character.  However, Harrison seized upon the term to make him, born to a rich family in Virginia, seem more like a common frontiersman like many in the state of Ohio to which he had moved.  It was also said he plied his many campaign workers with the alcoholic drink and burgoo stew, which is made with squirrel meat.

Since our local Harris Teeter seemed to be all out of squirrel meat, we substituted a traditional soup from New Orleans called Yakamein or Old Sober Soup (said to help the symptoms of a hangover).  This soup was supposed to have originated in the mid 19th century when Chinese immigrants who had been brought over to work on the railroads or the sugar plantations, but found they didn't like the work, settled in New Orleans, already a mixing pot of French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, Native American, and who knows what else transplants.  Apparently 19th Century New Orleans had one of the country's biggest Chinatowns, although it virtually disappeared in the 20th Century.  But here is the soup; can't you see the oriental influence?

Of course, an appetizer is perfect for Harrison, who died only a month into his presidency after falling sick due to having given a two-hour inaugural speech in the cold weather of January.  His vice president, John Tyler of Virginia, was the first to take over from a president who died in office.

Tyler was renowned for having the most children of any presidents (14) between his two wives.  He is famous for enjoying a dessert called Tyler Pudding Pie, which was basically what we call today Coconut Cream Pie.  To accommodate our family's health issues, we tried making a vegan diabetic version of the dish.  No one had any tonight because we were all full, but my son who sampled the filling as he made it thought it tasted delicious:

Next came James Polk, a plain-eating man from North Carolina.  His preferences were represented by a salad that included mustard and turnip greens and some old-fashioned corn pone, made in a special corn pone skillet that I also inherited from my grandmother (?):

The main course was inspired by Zachary Taylor who, although born in Virginia, spent most of his life living in Lousiana.  We made a dish from a recipe that was developed out of a recipe from Antoine's in New Orleans, which bills itself as the oldest family-owned restaurant in the country, since it has been in operation since Taylor's presidency in the 1840's.  Taylor was a great lover of Creole cooking, which was the more French-like cooking of the region (the poorer people's style was called Cajun).  This dish, Chicken Bonne Femme, is chicken served with a heavily-garlic butter sauce and a garnish of diced potatoes, andouille sausage, onions, and mushrooms in a wine sauce.  It was really good, but filling, especially after the soup.

So there you have it--our Mardi Gras-influenced meal for Harrison, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor.  Enjoy the meal!

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