Guest Peggy Ehrhart and a Giveaway!

Happy Friday readers! Liz here, excited to welcome Peggy Ehrhart, author of the Knit & Nibble Mysteries, to the blog! Just a warning, you’ll probably be hungry after this post… Take it away, Peggy!

History in the Kitchen: The First Ladies Cook Book

We have a new president (Yay!) and a new vice-president, whose spouse is not the “Second Lady” but the “First Gentleman”—an illogical identification, as many have pointed out, since he isn’t married to the new First Lady. Anyway . . .

This seemed a fun time to pull out my copy of The First Ladies Cook Book. It’s an entertaining work published by Parents’ Magazine Press with input from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Historic Trust. After a brief overview of each presidential administration, it focuses on what the presidents and their families ate and served to their guests while in the White House, starting with George Washington and ending, in the 1969 edition I own, with Richard Nixon. The role reversal signaled by Kamala Harris and her husband would have seemed outlandish for most of our nation’s history, when it was assumed that the president’s wife—or a stand-in, like a niece—would handle the domestic aspects of White House life.

For the most part, information about dishes served at dinners, both grand and simple, was culled from diaries, letters, account books, and newspaper reports, and recipes for the dishes were reconstructed from cookbooks of the respective eras. In some later cases, the actual White House recipes were available.

Trends in food preparation and service influenced entertaining at the White House, particularly the receptions and state dinners that are such an important adjunct to governing. In Washington’s era and for some time beyond, the table was laden with nearly all the food at once. A shoulder of bacon, a roast beef, a crab dish, a cut of mutton, and a roast goose might share space with beef pies, apple pies, and much else. The “modern fashion” of serving meals in courses was first noted in the administration of Pierce (1853-57). 

Recipes range from Washington’s Beefsteak and Kidney Pie, Polk’s Tennessee Ham, Taylor’s Deviled Crab, Fillmore’s Saddle of Lamb, and onward—up to Poulet à l’Estragon and Soufflé Froid au Chocolat (Kennedy), and finally Nixon’s Vanilla Soufflé with Vanilla Sauce. The book ends with a photo of the Nixon feast, recreated for the book, that might have preceded the soufflé: Cheese Straws, Smoked Salmon with Capers on Buttered Pumpernickel, Brie with Crackers, Stuffed Tomatoes, Beef Wellington, and Hearts of Palm and Watercress Salad. 

Lincoln, notoriously, was barely aware of what he was eating, though he appreciated good coffee and enjoyed chicken, so from his administration we get Fried Chicken and two versions of Chicken Fricassee.  

A few recipes reflect regional influence. Buchanan ate shoulder of pork stuffed with sauerkraut as an homage to his roots in Pennsylvania Dutch territory, and the section on LBJ includes Pedernales Chili.  

Fun facts:  Thanksgiving was first celebrated in the White House under Polk, and the first White House Christmas tree was set up under Harrison.  

Truman’s tastes were more proletarian than most. One of his favorite dishes was reportedly Tuna and Noodle Casserole. Here’s my version, using the recipe from the book.

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And here’s the recipe: 

Truman’s Tuna and Noodle Casserole

1 7-oz. can of tuna, drained

6 oz. egg noodles (about ½ package)

4 tbsp. butter, divided

1 ½ cup milk

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ tbsp.. flour

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ lb. sharp cheddar, grated

2 hard-boiled eggs

Parsley

Boil the noodles in salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Make your cheese sauce: Melt 2 tbsp. butter and stir in flour. Blend until smooth using a wire whisk if you have one. Add the milk and stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Blend in the cheese and salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 minutes longer.

Butter a medium-sized casserole (1 ½ qt. is good). Put in half the noodles, then all the tuna in a smooth layer, then the rest of the noodles. Pour the cheese sauce over all, dab with the rest of the butter in small bits, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Before serving, garnish with sliced hard-boiled egg and sprigs of parsley.

If anyone is interested in their own copy of The First Ladies Cook Book, used copies in various editions abound, for as little as $5. Just search online for “The First Ladies Cook Book.”

Readers: Do you have a favorite recipe, made by you or by someone else, that you value for its link with an important event or experience in your life? One random commenter will receive a signed copy of Knitty Gritty Murder. (U.S. and Canada only, please!)

Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor with a doctorate in Medieval Literature. She currently writes the Knit & Nibble mystery series for Kensington. Her amateur sleuth, Pamela Paterson, is the founder of the Knit & Nibble knitting club, and Peggy herself is a devoted crafter, dating from her membership in 4-H as a child in southern California. Visit Peggy online at www.PeggyEhrhart.com .

About Knitty Gritty Murder: A Knit & Nibble Mystery

Pamela Paterson, founder of the Knit and Nibble knitting club in quaint Arborville, New Jersey, gets pulled into investigating the murder of farm-to-table enthusiast Jenny Miller when Jenny is found strangled with a circular knitting needle in her own community garden plot.

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49 Thoughts

  1. My late husband preferred tuna-rice casserole made with cream of mushroom soup (skips that ‘make a white sauce step’), but my preference was to roast a stuffed turkey (alas, a lost art since science has decreed such to be unsafe!). Widowed almost fourteen years now and living alone, my ‘cooking’ is mostly microwaving whatever mystery dish Meals-on-/wheels leaves, so I don’t actually have any recipe to give you.

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      1. Since I live alone in a 14’x48′ trailer over-stuffed with books and quilting fabrics and yarns, and Chester River Friends Meeting has laid down the burden of having our own Meetinghouse, I will no longer have the luxury of cooking a turkey. I have most of the small turkey I cooked last Thanksgiving still in the freezer, Not much fun eating turkey alone.

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    1. I also used to enjoy doing a traditional roast turkey with the stuffing inside, but the process of making sure every bit was spooned out before storing the leftovers was so laborious that I gave up and now just bake the stuffing in a separate pan.
      My parents got Meals on Wheels for a few years near the end of their lives and when I would visit I would have fun figuring out interesting things to do with the items they didn’t want to eat “as-is.” My dad loved the deviled ham spread that showed up sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our local Meals-on-Wheels show up frozen (even the salads!) and one cannot know until after they are microwaved exactly what each one contains. At least the salads are usually in clear containers instead of in the black plastic ones.

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    1. Thanks for your welcome, Edith!
      I don’t have a Christmas cookie specialty but my sister Penny introduced a poppy-seed cake recipe to my mom and me and it became an annual favorite for all three of us. I make several every Christmas to give as gifts and I put it my Christmas Knit & Nibble, SILENT KNIT, DEADLY KNIT, as the featured recipe. The recipe came to my sister from a cute tea and coffee shop in San Francisco where she worked for a bit, and it was made fresh there every morning. It was always called “Liza’s Ukrainian Poppy-Seed Cake” though no one ever knew who Liza was.

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  2. Good Morning, I like to make stir fry with lots of fresh vegetables and usually chicken a little grated ginger and teriyaki sauce and soy sauce. I add some water chestnuts for some added crunch. Serve over rice of your choice. Yum!!! It was one of the first meals that I made for my husband and he loved it so it gave me confidence to try other recipes that I’ve seen either online or in cozies or cookbooks or even on tv.

    I thing the cover of Knitty Gritty Murder is so cute. Thank you for this chance. pgenest57 at aol dot com

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    1. Well, that stir fry sounds perfectly heavenly and so health-conscious! I do stir fry sometimes and love the way the recipe can be adapted to almost any fresh ingredients one has on hand.
      Thanks for the comment on the cover. I’ve been very happy with the artist Kensington uses. I learned that he’s a man who lives in Iceland.

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  3. The pandemic has certainly influenced what we eat at our house. We have tried new recipes and now have several in rotation for meal planning. For a while we were doing Hamburger Sundays, but in the last several months it has been Taco Sunday. But one of the best recipes we found is Maple Bacon Wrapped Chicken Thighs. So easy, you just take uncooked chicken thighs (we cut large thighs in half) and wrap a piece of bacon around each one. Put them on foil on the grill and cook until almost done.. Then pour a teaspoon of “real maple syrup” over each thigh and finish cooking for about one minute at most. Watch carefully as the syrup will burn if left too long. Boy, are they good! And, they freeze well, too. You could probably cook them on top of the stove or even in the oven following the same recipe if you don’t have a grill.

    Thank you Pamela for the review of White House recipes and best of luck with your series!

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    1. Your chicken thigh recipe sounds great! I recently discovered how versatile the thighs are too, and quick to cook–especially the skinless and boneless. I am wondering if we will look back on the pandemic and think at least one good thing came out of it: even people who didn’t think they could cook realized that they could and that it was fun.

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  4. Fun post! My husband does most of the cooking at our house, but I’d be happy at the Knit & Nibble meetings! I’m also a big fan of tuna casserole. One thing, though — I believe Doug Emhoff, V.P. Harris’ husband, is officially the Second Gentleman — the first Second Gentleman! Thank you for whetting our appetites for food & reading.

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    1. Thanks about the Second Gentleman note! I’m glad they got that figured out because the first references I heard were to him as First Gentleman and it seemed so illogical. I will be delighted if sometime in my lifetime we actually do have a First Gentleman to share the White House with Madame President.

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  5. My Dad’s birthday was December 31st. I remember as a child that it was decided that Christmas food would be simple and fun so that Mom could also enjoy Christmas Day instead of spending it all in the kitchen. So Dad’s birthday was our big celebration meal – which pleased Dad immensely because we made his day so special.

    Dad’s birthday cake was always fresh grated coconut cake – all made from scratch. It was labor intensive with Mom having to crack, peel and then grate the cake even before she worked on the actual cake itself, but oh my how delicious it was!

    As years went by and Mom got older, she started looking for shortcuts to come up with the same results. She found the recipe for Three Day Coconut Cake. We found it was very similar and a lot less work on Mom. Plus it has the advantage that you actually do have to make it three days ahead of when you want to eat it. That gave her more time to work on the actual meal preparation and less time stressing about dessert – which to my Dad was the most important part of any meal.

    This is the recipe and the one I still use today for special occasions.
    Three Day Coconut Cake
    Ingredients
    1 box of Duncan Hines Butter Cake mix
    3 pkgs of the fresh frozen coconut (freezer section at WalMart usually during holidays or Kroger year round) thawed
    8 ounces of sour cream
    2 cups sugar
    Directions
    Prepare cake mix according to package directions.
    Recipe calls for 3 layers – this gal now used the 9 X 13” pan and then just split the cooled cake into two layers.
    Cool 10 minutes and then cool on racks.
    While cake is baking make the icing.
    Mix the sour cream and sugar stirring until sugar dissolves – DO NOT BEAT.
    Then stir in the thawed coconut and place in refrigerator until ready to ice cake.
    When cake has cooled spread icing onto cake already on cake plate that has a sealed cover like Tupperware. Top with layer(s) and finish icing. Cover with lid, seal and place in refrigerator for a minimum of three day before eating. I check once a day and if any liquid comes off cake I spoon back to top of cake. If you do the sheet cake with two layers, you can also put first layer back in pan, put half the icing mixture, top with top layer and then top with remaining icing. Doing it this way you don’t need to check it daily. Just put in refrigerator and forget it for 3 days.

    After three days, you will never know there is sour cream in the icing and it’s the best moistest cake you will eat. It will just continue to get better. It will never dry out. The longer it sits the better it gets IF you can have it last long enough to find that out. It also freezes very well.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. This is truly the most interesting cake recipe I have ever read and I will definitely try it. I just printed it out. Also–thanks for the lead to frozen coconut. I had no idea such a thing was available.

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    1. I think that tomato soup cake recipe is one of those curious classics that is actually good–like baked ham basted with Sprite or Ritz cracker apple pie (crackers instead of apples). Not sure if that one is actually good though. My daughter-in-law and I share an interest in old cookbooks that focus on curious specialties and I once found one I gave her that was all about the many many things one could do with canned tomato soup besides serve it as soup.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations on the new book and I love your cookbook. My mom makes the best breakfast roll that we ate on Christmas morning. She broke with tradition and made it for me yesterday!

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Those recipes we associate with Christmas are so particularly evocative, all wrapped up with childhood memories and the tastes that call them back to mind

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  7. The recipes I have aren’t really connected to events. But they do remind me of the people I got them from. Like my mom and my aunt. It helps me feel connected to them now they’re gone. Thanks for the chance to win this book.

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  8. Congratulations on your new book and I love the book cover!
    The cookbook sounds really interesting !
    My mom made a Taco salad for our family gatherings. It was a must we always asked to her to make. It is a cherished recipe for sure.❤️

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    1. My mom made taco salad too, so long ago that it was before you could buy those Mexican-style corn chips, so she used Fritos. I always thought it was Southern California thing because that’s where we lived at the time, and even long ago people who had moved there from the Midwest, as was the case with my parents, broadened their food horizons once they sampled the local Mexican food.

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  9. It was normal for us but anything homemade always seemed like a big deal because we were the only ones that had it. Our friends’ parents made store bought frozen pizzas, and they thought it was really something that my mom made her own. But most everything at our house was homemade, it was cheaper to garden and can or freeze. A big box of pasta and block of cheese was cheaper than the boxed mac and cheese and more servings. I honestly didn’t know it came in a box for a long time, then I couldn’t figure out how the cardboard didn’t get wet- I had no idea about powdered cheese and mixing it up later.
    We loved making black forest cake. It didn’t happen very often, as some of the ingredients were more expensive and making everything from scratch took all day, but it sure was good!

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    1. What a great comment! I grew up in a house where everything was cooked from scratch too. Of course it can be time-consuming and not everyone has the time, but it’s so much healthier and tastier. I am still searching for the perfect mac and cheese recipe (getting closer) but I can’t imagine how the boxed mac and cheese could taste like anything real at all.

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  10. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds, Peggy! I always associate cheese fondue with welcoming house guests to my home. I usually make it on the evening of their arrival. Most people like it and it is friendly and easy to finish off whenever they happen to arrive!

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  11. The tuna casserole recipe looks good, I may try it. My mom used to make the quick & easy tuna & condensed cream of mushroom soup over noodles or macaroni, as an adult I added tuna to a white sauce with fresh mushrooms instead & it was much better.

    My late mother-in-law was from the Ukraine & I found a Ukrainian recipe for a mashed potato casserole layered with sautéed mushrooms & onions, topped with sour cream & buttered bread crumbs that I made for special occasions. It’s still requested every Thanksgiving!

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    1. Fresh mushrooms do perk everything up. And the Ukrainian dish you describe sounds so good that I printed out your description. It sounds like something that could be replicated without a recipe, or at least I plan to try.

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  12. Congratulations on your new book! It sounds like a great read. I always bake a rum cake on New Years Day, and we also eat black eyed beans on New Years day. Your tuna noodle casserole sounds delicious, thank you for sharing it. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

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    1. I first heard of black-eyed beans (or called “peas” sometimes though they are really beans) as a good-luck dish to be eaten on New Year’s Day when my family lived in Texas for a year because of my father’s job. I was in second grade and had never eaten a black-eyed pea at that point and the whole concept seemed very exotic.
      Rum cake sounds like a great holiday dish too.

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  13. One of my Mother’s best dishes was pork schnitzel and my Sister and I have made it our go to holiday dishes. My sister makes the best schnitzel, we serve it with roasted brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and fruit salad. Her friend is in town from Africa and asked her to make a schnitzel dinner for her before she goes back.

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    1. Sounds great! Also roasted brussel sprouts. I’ve just gotten into roasting vegetables lately and the result is so much more interesting than just boiling or steaming them. Also I sometimes saute them in olive oil until they are a bit charred around the edges.

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  14. Have wonderful memories helping my mom make a Christmas cookie called Nutmeg Logs. We would help frost them with green and pink frosting.

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  15. I have my mother and other family member’s recipes. Since it is just me, I make them whenever I want them not on a special occasion. I enjoy your series and look forward to the new book. Stay safe and well.

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  16. Not for any particular occasion, but my mother and grandmother would make vinegar dumplings. And I love them. Haven’t made them in a long time, but I think it’s about time to dig out the recipe.

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    1. In reading these comments I am learning about a lot of dishes I wasn’t aware of before. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I now know what vinegar dumplings are and they sound amazing. I love dumplings anyway. So I have made a note to explore this new concept. Thanks!

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  17. Your book looks fun!
    I actually have 4 recipes that are favorites and beloved. They are my Mothers Potato Salad, Macaroni Salad, Carrot Cake and Cinnamon Rolls. They are staples of my childhood. They are all different enough from the “normal” recipes to make people who hate “….” eat them up like mad. When I was a working woman, l brought them all to work potlucks at one time or another. I still make them, I’ve just had to figure out how to reduce them considerably. 😊

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  18. Growing up we always made homemade pizzas every Friday. I do this now with my family every Friday night. Friday night pizza nights are the best. Thanks for the chance!

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  19. BBQ ribs go with my birthday. Only time I got them. On our birthday we got to pick meal. In my 20s invited my lady Pastor and elderly lady I took to church over. Pastor and I had a competion to who could eat the most. We also invited her over ever summer for BLTs.

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