Politics & Pot Roast By Sarah Hood Solomon
Glenn Foden Illustrator
Bright Sky Press, Albany, Texas 2006.ISBN-10: 1931721793
The editor requested that I review this book during the 2006 campaigns but I was involved in them and the week after the election I was in no mood to review any book with politics in the title, even a cookbook. One political commentator has observed that with the announcement of sundry that they are running for president or exploring running for president the next election has begun. For the commentator it was a matter of joy. For the rest of us it is a matter of pain to have the campaigning staring all over again a mere two months after the last national election. Now I have the time to review Politics & Pot Roast and the presidential aspirants of all parties have made it election season again. So the book is topical again.
Americans do not like politics and easily ignore it in the good country in which we live. According to the numbers most eligible people take a pass on voting. Many of us enjoy eating. Some of us like to eat. Fewer still buy and read cookbooks.
The author has provided us some interesting recipes over the 200 plus years of the presidency because the focus of the book is favorite foods and recipes of the presidents of the United States including the current incumbent. All presidents are included so there is no political, let alone partisan, bias to the book.
Ms. Salomon reports that the inspiration for her book was a simple dinner party that she held for thirty women at her home in Washington, D.C. She started with U.S. Grant Roman Punch. “The dishes were labeled with their names and creators, which kept the conversation lively.” Perhaps, the Roman Punch had something to do with the energy of the conversation. It contains sherbet improved with rum, Cointreau and Champagne. Just enough sugar to hide the alcohol.
Her approach to the book was to use original recipes, if available, such as Elizabeth Monroe’s Rose Syrup. If they were not available, she tried to make connections between the Presidents and the chosen dishes. Ms. Salomon used state dinner menus and contemporary cookbooks for recipes. She modernized old ones to reflect modern techniques and conventions of recipe writing, although including the old recipe to allow the reader to fashion a version of the dish. This is surely for the good when old recipes she includes describe measurements qualitatively not quantitatively, such as, “enough” flour or bake “until enough.”
The book is interesting for the light it sheds on food tastes throughout the last 200 years. Even the President who had staff and the White House kitchen was subject to the inconveniences of the foods, techniques and appliances then in use. Be thankful that you have temperature controls and a range that is instantly on as opposed to having to light a wood fire to build up heat while preparing the food to be cooked.
This book is fun and meant to be so. The author wrote so the recipes can be used for cooking. In addition, the accompanying text and illustrations cause grins, chuckles and a laugh or two as well. One of my favorites was the reference to, and quotation of, the Etiquette Rules for State Dinners taken from The White House Cook Book, 1887. “One’s teeth are not to be picked at the table; but if it is impossible to hinder it, it should be done behind the napkin.” Oh yes, there is an appropriate cartoon by the illustrator. Too bad there is no reference to mobile phone and personal assistant device (Blackberry) use at meals, state dinner or not.
The author opens another possibility for a fun evening at dinner in your home. Gather a mixed group of partisans both Democrat and Republican. Prepare dishes from this book favored by presidents of both parties and label them so. Provide a score sheet, which includes each dish and spaces for rating and commenting on them. Ask the gathering to rate the dishes. You will have insights into the quality of the food and of the senses of humor of the guests. See how the Reagan admirer liked a Jimmy Carter recipe. Did the Clinton fans enjoy their Nixon Omelettes? The possibilities are there. What are the hosts communicating when they serve LBJ Chili to anyone?
Politics & Pot Roast has good recipes, interesting history and good humor as well.
Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.