I have been calling home all week, demanding my dad give me a wish list for Father’s Day. There isn’t a tie in the world I haven’t purchased for him and, with his retirement, business attire is a truly unappealing option. With each inquiry, I was met with the same giggly response as I get every Christmas and birthday. All he wants is a “well behaved daughter”. Well, that seems far-fetched so the gift of a home-cooked meal, this time a President Truman favorite, is always my best back-up. The story of the courtship between Harry and his wife Bess is legendary. They met at age 6 and he loved her from that moment on. In his proposal to her he wrote, “You may not have guessed it but I’ve been crazy about you ever since we went to Sunday school together. But I never had the nerve to think you’d even look at me. I don’t think so now but I can’t keep telling you what I think of you.” She promptly rejected him, only changing her mind two years later. Like my parents, they married in their mid-thirties and had one child, a daughter, named Mary Margaret who Harry adored as much as he adored her mother.
My Dad was always ready to tell me when I wasn’t good at something (soccer in particular), as not every kid can be a winner at everything and one must play to their strengths. He would also; however, be first to defend me if someone stepped in to give me their unsolicited opinion. Margaret, who was an adult when she lived with her parents in the White House, was a quite accomplished soprano and received mostly positive reviews after performances. There was, however, one reporter who was less than impressed with Margaret and, after writing a rather damning review, received this note back from the President. Truman wrote, "Someday I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a [leg brace]!" Dads are the best.
The three Truman musketeers were comparatively private and enjoyed family time away from the public eye. Meals were served like clockwork with breakfast at 8am, lunch at 1pm, and dinner at 7pm. They enjoyed their meals al fresco on the south side porch whenever possible or in the casual White House family dining room when it rained on their parade. Mrs. Truman did not demand extravagant ingredients or dishes but rather well-cooked ones. Her attention to detail and respect for the ingredients were noted by many guests and put her in the history books as one of the best home cooks (though she often refused to hand out her secret recipes). Her careful planning also helped cut costs. After all, she was still working on a shoestring budget till the end of the war.
They enjoyed wholesome American menus. Oddly, they were not fans of fish or salad. Harry claimed he was a meat and potatoes man, which he ate in small portions. His enjoyed steaks most of all, with his wife’s chocolate cake, fried chicken, and meatloaf close behind. They were also lovers of coffee, which Mrs. Truman checked to make sure it was the right color on her spoon at each serving. I feel like Presidential Palates would not be a complete series unless we made Bess’ meatloaf. This American favorite and fifties staple can be as good or as bad as the name suggests. I find the secret to a good one is a mixing of meats- beef, pork, and veal. Many butchers will put the blend together for you. I am also a huge proponent of wrapping it in bacon to keep the moisture in and to make it much prettier on the eye after it leaves the oven. I have added a quick glaze, which you can either love or leave, and my family’s recipe for warm potato salad which makes an ideal side dish.
Bess Truman’s Meat Loaf
Recipe courtesy of the Library of Congress
-1 ½ cup ground beef-1/2 cup ground veal -½ cup pork, ground and mixed at store-1 cup bread crumbs (or oatmeal)-¾ cup of milk-2 eggs-2 tablespoons chili sauce-½ teaspoon Kitchen Bonquet-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce-salt and pepper to taste-onions, chopped to taste
-Combine all ingredients. The best is to work with your hands.
-Bake at 350F for 1-1/2 to 2 hours-Several slices of bacon add to flavor if put on top at baking time
If you can’t find Kitchen Bonquet, try Maggi or Gravy Master.
I suggest adding this glaze on top of the bacon for that extra flavor, equal parts ketchup, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Add before baking.
The von D’s German Potato Salad -2 lbs. potatoes quartered (any type that hold their shape when boiled)-1 large onion, finely chopped-1 beef stock cube-6 Tbsp. light vinegar-3 strips thick cut bacon, chopped-ground pepper and sea salt, to taste-chives, chopped as garnish
-Add beef stock cube to water and bring to a boil-Add potatoes and boil until cooked but not falling apart- While the potatoes boil, fry bacon. Drain on paper towels and crumble. Reserve fat in pan- Peel potatoes while hot (optional)- Add finely chopped onions to bacon grease pan. Sweat - Mix vinegar and sprinkle of salt in a separate bowl. Add to bacon pan and stir (remove from heat)- Pour over potato mixture, stir, and let it sit in a warm place for thirty minutes- Decorate with chives and crispy bacon bits