“Old Rough and Ready” President Zachory Taylor was old, yes, rough, for certain, but not so ready to make it through the Presidency. A career military man, he earned his nickname from his victories in the Mexican-American war, most notably the Battles of Palo Alto and Monterrey. The Whigs put him on the ticket, despite his disinterest in politics, unclear platform, and dislike of the Washington scene (we all know it’s not for everyone).
The only thing he did seem sure of was that he was damned if he was going to let the country crumble under political tensions over slavery. Well, a large bowl of cherries and several glasses of ice milk promptly ended that dream and the country was at war a mere ten years later. Taylor gorged on the fruit at a July 4th event at the Washington Monument, which was still under construction, and came down with cholera, which ended his life 5 days later. He was quoted as saying “I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me." What a sad irony for a man who had been in harm’s way most of his adult life.
In terms of playing hostess, the Taylor’s daughter, Betty Bliss, took on the role and did a splendid job in the short time they were in office. President Taylor’s wife, Margaret, had been the ultimate military wife: raising six kids and moving all over the country in support of her husband’s career. She decided that at her age, 62, she had no interest in small talk and cakes with a bunch of elites. So she stayed out of the public eye, much to the shock of DC society. Can’t a mom get a moment to herself? Of course there were the standard rumors that she must be some horrid weirdo, too terrifying and improper to be displayed.
A Virginian by birth, President Taylor adopted and fell in love with the Louisiana way of life. He made his home in Baton Rouge, with another plantation in Mississippi, and wholeheartedly enjoyed the Creole favorites, especially gumbo. Miss Connie from the Library of Congress and I weren’t shocked by the sheer number of extremely old gumbo recipes from around Taylors time (his family didn’t have any printed ones) and the variety therein. We settled on giving up a crab one, but please feel free to add shrimp and/or oysters if your heart desires. The more seafood in the bowl, the better.
Crab Gumbo – New Orleans Cook Book by the Woman’s Parsonage and Home Mission Society of Parker Memorial Church South, 1898
1 can of tomatoes, chopped
1 dozen okra,
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of lard
1 and ½ quart water
1 dozen crabs [or 1 lb lump crab meat]
[Heat lard in a pot]. Into the lard, sift 2 tablespoonsful of flour, stir until brown. Then put in the tomatoes, okra and onion; to this add about 1 quart and a half of boiling water; let cook until done [about 15 minutes]. Put 1 dozen crab in [a separate pot of boiling water], then remove the top shell, and clean thoroughly, put into the gumbo, and let boil 15 to 20 minutes.
Replace the water with seafood stock. It will make a world of difference.
The obvious shortcut here is to use crab meat.
Add a dash of file powder (a mix of sassafras, garlic, and thyme) to taste after you take it off the heat.
Serve with rice on the side.
Louisiana Pecan Pie- adapted from Poppy Cannon’s “Presidents Cookbook”
This is the easiest and cheapest recipe I have ever used for this unbeatable Southern classic. These would be great to make for a New Year’s party- just pour into the individual premade pie shells and serve with fresh whipped cream.
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups brown sugar
¼ cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup regular pecans
One pie shell – standard shortcut pastry or premade (no shame in that)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Add the brown sugar slowly to the eggs, mixing all the while. Add the butter. Mix. Add salt and vanilla. Pour half of the mixture on the bottom of the pie shell. Add a layer of chopped pecans. Add the rest of the mixture. Top with the regular pecans. Bake for 35 minutes then reduce heat to 225F for an additional 15 minutes.