President 16: Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
We are now entering the month of February and two very important dates are coming up: Valentine’s Day and Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th). My personal Valentine’s philosophy is simple: If I am not in a relationship, I waste no time declaring February 14th a complete waste of money and effort. If people are so in love, shouldn’t they be buying flowers weekly and showering each other in compliments daily? If I am dating someone; however, the day is markered into the calendar (months in advance) and decorated in series of small and large <3s. Ultimately, cynical as it may sound, the old Southern phrase normally rings true: “Kissin don’t last, good cookin do.” In that vein, let’s have dessert first.
Instead of the normal chocolate lava cake this year, try the cake that got Mary Todd Lincoln her man. Her love of baking is well documented (she went through over ten lbs of sugar some weeks) and a version of her white cake, which became known as a courting cake, was one of Abe’s favorites while they were dating. The recipe was from a bakery she frequented in Kentucky and she made some changes to the original (as have I) to make it a gorgeously simple almond treat. There is another burnt sugar variety in the history books but this one was touted by Lincoln to be the best cake he ever had so I am sure your significant other will agree. It is important to note that even though their courtship ended in marriage, it was a rocky road and included a broken engagement and ample fighting. But their passion, and Abe’s patience, prevailed. Even with her extravagant spending and rocky reputation in Washington, Lincoln never fell out of love, noting "My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I...fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out." Sniffle.
Dessert: Mary Todd Lincoln's White "Courting” Cake adapted from the Lincoln National Historic Site
-1 cup blanched and finely chopped almonds
-1 cup butter
-2 cups sugar
-3 cups flour
-3 teaspoons baking powder
-1 cup milk
-6 egg whites
-1 teaspoon vanilla [or almond] extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add flour and baking power to creamed butter and sugar, alternating with milk. Add chopped almonds and mix well.
Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter. Stir in vanilla extract.
Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. When cool, sift confectionary sugar over top.
Instead of sugar on top, I made a simple glaze using confectionary sugar (1 cup, sifted) and milk (2-3 Tbsp). I then just topped with some of the remaining almond slivers and sprinkles
Serve with ice cream, fruit, or both.
Main Course: Corned Beef and Cabbage
Now on to the slightly less glamorous, but on trend, main course…When it came to dining, Honest Abe liked good honest food. How fitting. Well, it is actually disputed whether he really “liked” food at all or just ate robotically for fuel. I feel it is a bit unfair to judge, considering the amount of stress he must have been under and how far the dinner table must have been from his mind. When looking at his inauguration luncheon menu from 1861, one of the dishes, corned beef and cabbage is coming back with vengeance. Normally associated with St. Patrick’s Day, it is wholesome, flavorful, and quite inexpensive to make. For those who have always wondered where on Earth the “corn” comes in? Well the name comes from the size kernels of salt used to cure the beef and Ireland (back in the day) had a very low tax on salt, making it the hub for this classic. I did my cabbage separately but either way it will taste delicious and feed an army. Get a good trial run in before March.
Lincoln’s Inauguration Luncheon: March 4, 1861
• Mock Turtle Soup
• Corned Beef and Cabbage
• Parsley Potatoes
• Blackberry Pie
Corned Beef and Cabbage (historical version)
Adapted from Lincoln’s Table, by Donna D. McCreary
Choose the thick end of a flank of beef, but do not let it be too fat. Let it lie in salt and pickle for a week to ten days.
When ready to cook, prepare the following seasonings [a handful each]:
Mix all well together, and cover the entire inside of the beef with seasonings.
Roll the meat up tightly, then roll it in a clean cloth. Bind with a strong string and tie it close at the ends. Boil it gently for three to four hours, and when cooked, take it up. Tie the ends again, quite close to the meat, and place it between two dishes with a heavy weight a top. When it is cold, remove the cloth.
After carefully preparing the meat, it can be stored in a refrigerator for a couple of days before using. Place meat in a deep pan. Cut green cabbage into wedges and place around meat. Cook slowly, until cabbage is tender and meat is cooked through.
When the meat is salted, please put it in the fridge to pickle. The alternative will not be cute.
I washed the meat and patted it dry before cooking with the seasonings. Highly recommended.
For the cloth, use cheese cloth or muslin (available for purchase at grocery stores)
If curing meat for 7 days doesn’t appeal, there are slow cooker alternatives online (Martha has a good one).
I also cooked my cabbage separately.
Fry three pieces of bacon until crispy. Remove from pan but do not remove fat
Add half a head of cabbage (shredded), 1 dollop grain mustard, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, salt and lots of pepper. Cook down to desired texture and add bacon bits back when serving.
Serve with potatoes and carrots.