Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Presidential Palate 5.5: Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant certainly presents a presidential paradox.  At a time when parts of the nation were scraping themselves back together from the ravages of war, Grant ushered in a new era of affluence and opulence among the industrialized North--the so-called Gilded Age.  After years of subsisting on plain Army fare (and supposedly have a personal preference for simple meals), Grant presided over some of the most abundant and over-the-top dinners the White House has ever seen!  As mentioned in yesterday's post, Grant was known for having 29 course banquets, which might cost $2,000 for 36 people (which, according to The Inflation Calculator, would cost over $33,000 in modern dollars, or over $900 per person).

Well, as much as I like to be authentic, there's no way that I'm going to fix 29 courses for a single meal.  But the good news is that after seeing a price tag of $900 per ticket, ANYTHING I serve is going to seem like a tremendous bargain.  Therefore, to represent this Gilded Age meal, I opted for quality over quantity.  So many things I read said that Grant really liked "fillet of beef," so the centerpiece of the meal was individual filet mignon steaks (quite a splurge for us, but, as I said, a real bargain compared to Grant's expenditures...especially because they are on sale at Harris Teeter this week).  The things I do for my son's educational benefit....

Another thing that is special about this meal is that I cooked the steaks in a Griswold cast iron pan.  Griswold is a company that was founded in 1865 (four years before Grant's first presidential term) that makes what some people consider to be the best ever American cast iron cookware (or at least, it used to--the company closed in 1957).  My father-in-law, who died last August, was a real character with all sorts of interests and passions, one of which was collecting Griswold pans.  We got our one Griswold pan from him, so I was thinking of him as we cooked these steaks.  He really enjoyed American history, and I think he would like the idea we were using this historical American cookware to teach his grandson American presidential history.

Anyway, here are the filets of beef, wrapped in bacon:
Ulysses S. Grant Filet of Beef

The dinner descriptions we read mentioned them served with masses of potatoes and mushrooms, so here is my son making the potatoes in the old-fashioned way:
Making Mashed Potatoes the Old-Fashioned Way

along with the mushrooms, which I am allergic to, but are a great favorite of my menfolk:

I made a Merlot Peppercorn sauce to go along with it:

and, of course, added some broccoli, although I don't think they ate that then (but I wanted to add something that was healthy):

Anyway, it was a really special meal, made even more special with the added family history.  So now you will understand if my son says that Grant is his favorite president, since most historians rank him fairly low among the presidents (besides overseeing Reconstruction, which is not really one of the highlights of our national history, and not getting high marks on handling the major economic depression that occurred during his term, his administration was replete with scandal, graft, and corruption).  So, great soldier, probably a good man, maybe not such a great president--but an outstanding meal nonetheless!

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