President 34: Dwight D. Eisenhower
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
From Martha Washington to Dolley Madison, on to Eleanor Roosevelt, if this culinary journey has taught us anything, it is that “behind every great man is a great (or better) woman.” When we finally get rid of the Donald in November, we will be able to flip the phrase and give Bill the honors. In the week leading up our most patriotic day, I think it is fitting to celebrate Mamie Eisenhower and the power house that is the military wife (and military husbands). They hold down the proverbial fort through moves and long deployments with extraordinary strength and an expertise in multitasking. Though Mamie was no feminist, she was once quoted as saying she was “thankful for the privilege of tagging along by Ike’s side”, she wore many hats and it was her support that helped make Ike so well liked.
The Eisenhower’s were that quintessential fifties all-American family. Mamie was once called the “sweetheart of the GOP” and was warm, but equally stern and commanding when problems arose. Most days she woke up at ten-ish and conducted all meetings with staff from her bed in her nightgown. She would get up and moving by midday. The White House was run with military-grade efficiency and it was her job to make sure that the President, who had enough stress at the “office”, didn’t have to worry about the little things when he had his few moments to relax. She even conducted white glove tests to make sure there was no dust on the ledges. She shared over thirty houses with her husband before spending eight years on Pennsylvania Avenue, the longest time they would be in one place before they retired.
They enjoyed smaller groups for entertaining rather than the big to-dos and spent as much time eating as a family as possible. Family meals were often TV dinners and the scene in their living room looked very similar to the millions of households across the country. At the beginning of his Presidency, Eisenhower invited the whole of Congress in small batches for dinner to get acquainted. After that, foreign dignitaries and royalty, including: the Presidents of Panama, Haiti, Turkey, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Denmark rolled in. They were all met with an array of safe and unimaginative cuisine.
As a family they enjoyed soups and stews especially, with the President’s beef stew as a family favorite. The recipe, which he often enjoyed at Camp David (which is named after his grandson David), is hearty but contains no culinary surprises. Ike even took to the White House kitchen on occasion to cook the classic, much to the delight of staff and his wife. Too heavy for summertime, it is worth looking up for the fall and can easily be made in large batches for parties (he normally made enough for sixty). Mamie produced some amazingly tasty and easy to prepare desserts perfect for your get-togethers. Her million dollar fudge recipe came from a clipping in a periodical she found and soon became legend. Another love of hers was mint, which she incorporated in as many desserts as possible, including this perfect summer peach meringue. All of this sugary smorgasbord travels well and is perfect for your July 4th get-togethers.
Mamie’s Million Dollar Fudge
c/o Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
4 1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tall can evaporated milk
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate bits
12 ounces German-sweet chocolate
1 pint marshmallow cream
2 cups nutmeats
Boil the sugar, salt, butter, evaporated milk together for six minutes. Put chocolate bits and German chocolate, marshmallow cream and nutmeats in a bowl. Pour the boiling syrup over the ingredients. Beat until chocolate is all melted, then pour in pan. Let stand a few hours before cutting. Remember it is better the second day. Store in tin box.
For “german sweet” I used milk chocolate. You can also use dark, whatever makes you happy.
I recommend walnuts
Put a hefty sprinkle of sea salt on top for that amazing contrast or a lite sprinkle of cayenne for a more adventurous bite.
Minted Meringue Peaches
Put peach halves (fresh) into the bottom of a saucepan. Pour over them a hot mixture of 1 glass melted apple jelly and several drops of mint extract. If the peaches are fresh, cook slowly about 10 minutes or until flavor and color penetrate the peaches and they are tender. Strain, lay in a baking pan, and fill the center of each peach with a meringue made of egg whites and sugar (from the standard meringue recipe). Bake at 200F until meringues are dry, about 10 minutes.