President 35- John F Kennedy
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
Money does not buy class nor does it by style; just look at Kanye. The national obsession with tacky over-the-top celebrities, who are unapologetically self-obsessed, has not always been our way. America did have once had a celebrity couple who embodied true elegance. They came on the scene when the television was making itself at home in most living rooms across the country. They weren’t showy. They were great parents. No matter what was brewing behind closed doors, they were aspirational and positive. They made the country feel like they could do anything, even put a man on the moon. They were John “Jack” and Jackie Kennedy.
Food is fashion. A beautiful plate feeds your eyes before a forkful ever reaches your mouth. Jackie understood this and the menu served at the White House dining room was as impeccable as her wardrobe. Though they were the all American family, their tastes were exclusively French. From entrecotes to coq au vin to trout almandine, only Jefferson could surpass them in their love of the classics. The Kennedys were the first administration to only offer four perfect courses, forsaking the endless courses offered by previous administrations. They understood that quality over quantity was always a winning recipe. As a couple they were not huge drinkers but glasses of wine were paired carefully and the President himself often decanted and sampled the night’s offerings before they reached the table. They never shared their wine selection, in order to avoid favoritism and controversy (my guess is they favored French in this area as well).
Jackie also made it her mission to make sure the White House’s ambience was impeccable. At first view, she felt the property looked like a “house that had been decorated by a whole furniture store during a January clearance.” Redecorating began, at large expense, and when the money ran out, she did what any woman would do: she got resourceful. Paintings were loaned to them by the Smithsonian and money was raised to complete renovations of the property by selling a printed guide to the White House (which was later translated into multiple languages as it was so popular). For parties, she was the first to fill urns and vases with fresh flowers throughout the house. She also changed the centerpieces to high and narrow ones, so people could see the other guests across the table from them. The couple received guests as any normal party hosts would do, by moving through the room, and got rid of the receiving line.
When they weren’t entertaining, the family ate New England classics John grew up with. He was not a big eater but enjoyed small portions that kept him energized. His family’s hearty clam chowder (the recipe is accessible on the JFK library site) was the President’s lunch staple, normally accompanied by fruit or a side salad. Soups, of all varieties, were his favorite, and he often had a cup before bed. A dunce in the kitchen, a White House butler fondly recalled that it took him “eight months to learn how to use a can opener”. Jackie had equal difficulties. When she married the then Senator Kennedy, Jackie was determined to make the ideal housewife. She wrote, “I’d heard those silly stories about the bride burning things, but I just knew everything was going right when suddenly…I tried to pull the chops out the oven and the door seemed to collapse. One of the chops fell on the floor but I put it on the plate anyway. The chocolate sauce was burning and exploding. I burned my arm and it turned purple. Then Jack came home and took me out to dinner.” Things are never perfect as they seem.
This snack; however, is pretty close to perfection. The Kennedys enjoyed many an oyster at their compound in Hyannisport on Cape Cod and it makes the perfect snack for those enjoying the water this weekend. These are a version of Oysters Rockefeller, aptly named Oysters Kennedy and God Bless America, they are tasty.
Adapted from: In the Kennedy Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections of a Great American Family
24 shucked oysters on the half shell
10 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
3 Tbsp butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup chopped prosciutto
2 Tbsp Pernod or anisette
Light cheese sauce (below)
Salt and pepper
Panko bread crumbs
Sprinkle of paprika to top
Light Cheese Sauce
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups half and half
½ cup shredded parmesan
½ cup shredded cheddar
½ tsp fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Make sure your fish monger shucks the oyster for you. Keep them on ice till you need them
In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Add the shallot and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes.
Add the prosciutto and spinach. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove any excess water from the spinach.
Stir in the Pernod.
Add cheese sauce and stir. Add salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until completely cool.
Preheat the oven to 375F
Add 1 Tbsp of filling to the oyster. Sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs and a little bit of paprika.
Bake on a baking sheet until browned and bubbling, 15-20 mins
Serve with a slice of lemon
For the sauce:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. When liquid, add the flour. Stir to combine.
Add half and half, whisking to thicken
Add cheese, nutmeg, and s & p. When it has melted take off heat.
Notes: My changes are included in the recipe above. My additional suggestion for those not fond of Pernod, feel free to use champagne instead for a milder flavor.