Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Andrew Johnson Hoppin' John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate, and historians say that his victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”


After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he probably consumed such traditional southern foods as Hush Puppies, Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the coming year.

If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John for your New Year's festivities this week, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

James Madison, the Potomac Oyster Wars, and the Path to the Constitutional Convention

So you probably know that James Madison was one of the drafters of the Constitution and later helped spearhead the drive for the Bill of Rights. But what you might not know is that he also played a major role in negotiating an end to the Potomac Oysters Wars, which helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention. This is how the story briefly goes:

In the seventeenth century, watermen in Maryland and Virginia battled over ownership rights to the Potomac River. Maryland traced its rights to a 1632 charter from King Charles I which included the river. At the same time, Virginia laid its claims to the river to an earlier charter from King James I and a 1688 patent from King James II, both of which also included the river.

In 1776, after more than a century of conflict, Virginia ceded ownership of the river but reserved the right to “the free navigation and use of the rivers Potowmack and Pocomoke." Maryland rejected this reservation and quickly passed a resolution asserting total control over the Potomac. After the Revolution, battles over the river intensified between watermen from both states.


To resolve this problem, leaders from Maryland and Virginia appointed two groups of commissioners which, at the invitation of George Washington, met at Mount Vernon in May of 1785. James Madison led the Virginia contingent and Samuel Chase led the Maryland delegation. Their discussions led to the Compact of 1785, which allowed oystermen from both states free use the river.

Peace prevailed until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland re-imposed harvesting restrictions. Virginia retaliated by closing the mouth of the Chesapeake and watermen from both states engaged in bloody gun battles which lasted, with periodic breaks, for more than a century.

Today, these battles are known as the Potomac Oyster Wars. They're important in their own right but they have a larger historical significance because they revealed one of the main weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, which was that the federal government didn't have the power to control commerce among the states, a setup that was creating constant chaos and conflict.

With this problem in mind, Madison and the others who convened at Mt. Vernon in May of 1785 agreed to meet the following year at Annapolis to discuss the need for a stronger federal government. Not many delegates showed up and so they agreed to convene the following May in Philadelphia, which is, of course, where the Constitution was drafted.


And so NOW you know how James Madison and a little bivalve from the Potomac helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention!

FAST FACT: Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the power to raise an army, regulate interstate commerce, or coin money for the country. To pass a law, Congress needed the approval of nine out of the 13 states, and in order to amend the Articles it needed the approval of all 13 states, which made it nearly impossible to get anything done! The Articles also didn't provide for an Executive or Federal branch so there was no separation of powers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

From Writer's Digest: Manuscript Wish List!

From Writer's Digest:

About Suzy: Suzy is an attorney, author, and agent who holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley. Her most recent books include Machiavelli for Moms (Simon & Schuster) and Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities. She's also a ghostwriter for a #1 New York Times best-selling author with more than 25 million copies in print and her first children’s book will be published by HarperCollins in 2018.

She is Seeking: In the adult market, Suzy is particularly on the hunt for great serious nonfiction, especially by historians who are looking to make a transition from an academic to trade readership and journalists who have something unique and significant to say.

She’s also on the lookout for smart parenting books with truly useful, original hooks that fill a gap in the market; food, cooking, health and diet-related titles, especially culinary histories of all flavors and tastes; sports books with strong crossover appeal in other genres, especially history and philosophy (she’d love to find the next Golf in the Kingdom or Zen and the Art of Archery!); self-help of every stripe by authors with well-estbalished, national platforms and riveting, elegantly-written memoir (recent favorites include William Finnegan's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Barbarian Days and Paul Kalanithi's deeply-rendered When Breath Becomes Air), as well as popular culture, humor, especially as it relates to marriage and parenting, and small quirky books that make her smile and think about the world in entirely new and unexpected ways.


On the children’s front, Suzy is looking for lively, engaging, original nonfiction that really *pops* off the page and makes kids excited about reading and learning; wacky/hilarious MG commercial fiction with series potential; and YA graphic novels that bring history, literature and fascinating historical figures (think Socrates! Machiavelli! Hamilton!) to life.

She also has a soft spot for heartwarming MG works that explore the coming-of-age theme in a warm, honest voice that makes readers feel safe and at home; contemporary YA fiction that tackles difficult issues in bold, daring ways and with inventive formats that can be brought into the classroom to stimulate meaningful discussion and debate; and sweet, lyrical picture books that capture the imagination and call for multiple readings (favorite classics include Stellaluna and The Cat Who Walked Across France.) She’d also love to find an exciting, high-concept thriller that has “MOVIE!” written all over it.


How to Submit: For fiction, please send a synopsis and the first ten pages of your manuscript pasted below your query (quick, friendly tip: resist the temptation to hit “send” too quickly. Revise, revise, and revise and THEN hit send). For nonfiction, please send your query with a concise author bio to suzy@dijkstraagency.com. Thanks so much for sharing your work with me and I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, December 9, 2016

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a freezing cold day. Standing in the frigid weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.


Having lasted only a month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide insight into his culinary habits, but one thing is certain: his death caused a constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would be “acting” as President or actually become President upon Harrison's death.

Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident...

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office?

After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become president. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th president of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1967.


FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds has been used to treat human disease for thousands of years. In the food industry, castor oil is used in all kinds of additives, flavorings, and candies.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner

One of the most famous guests to visit the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival in the United States, Dickens was honored at a lavish ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allan Poe. Some days later, Dickens met Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president:

He looked somewhat worn and anxious, -- and well he might: being at war with everybody, -- but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable. I thought that, in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book entitled American Notes. But of all of Dickens' novels, perhaps none are more well-known than A Christmas Carol, which was published in 1843, one year after Dickens visited the White House. Among all of the food oriented scenes in this classic novel, none are more memorable than the one depicting the Cratchit family's Christmas dinner. Maybe you remember it:


Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped.

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!


No recipes, of course, are included in the book, but The Food Channel recently recreated the Cratchit's Christmas dinner and "the more bountiful feast at the merry gathering at the home of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew." If you'd like to bring some of Dickens' Christmas spirit to your family dinner table this holiday season, here's a recipe for Duchess Potatoes to try:


3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and softened
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, light beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Fill a large pot with cold water, add salt and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and boil until tender. While the potatoes are still hot add cream, 3 tablespoons butter, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Gently fold in the remaining butter until pieces are evenly distributed.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer potato mixture to piping bag fitted with 1/2-inch star tip (you can use a gallon size baggie with snipped off corner) and pipe eight 4-inch wide mounds of potatoes on baking sheet. Spray the tops of the potatoes lightly with butter flavored cooking spray and bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.


FAST FACT: Oliver Twist is another classic Dickens novel that's filled with many memorable food-related scenes. Set in England, the main character is a nine-year old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of thin gruel a day. When Oliver asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he is dubbed a trouble maker and treated even more cruelly. Oliver Twist called attention to the problem of poor and starving children in England and, to a lesser extent, the United States.