Wednesday, March 15, 2017

St. Patrick's Day in the White House

It was a balmy March day in Washington as the Irish ambassador to the U.S. headed to the White House. He carried a small gift for the president: a box of Irish shamrock in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
       The year was 1952. The president, Harry Truman, was out of town. So the ambassador, John Joseph Hearne, dropped off the shamrock and went on his way. By doing this one act, Hearne notched the notion of Irish-America to all of America.
      By 1953, with Dwight Eisenhower in the White House, the low-key shamrock presentation of the previous year began to resemble the ceremony we know today.
A gift that had been dropped off was now presented to the president in person. The small box containing a few sprigs of shamrock evolved into a custom-made Waterford crystal bowl full of sprouts, specially flown in for the event.

When John F. Kennedy, himself an Irish-American, the media event was full-blown. Interest diminished after his death, but his successor, Lyndon Johnson, gamely kept the tradition alive.

President Eisenhower
President Truman

        In the 1970s, the occasion settled into a more routine, minor event on the schedule for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Carter even delegated the task to his vice president one year, when he was preoccupied with negotiating 1979's Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Ronald Reagan, however, was fond of extolling his Irish roots, so his arrival in the White House helped transform St. Patrick's Day in Washington into a jovial, celebratory, all-day affair.
         By then, the nation's capital was hosting its own parade, and the shamrock ceremony was soon joined on the schedule by an annual congressional St. Patrick's Day luncheon in the U.S. Capitol, hosted by House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
After Reagan, George H.W. Bush accepted the shamrock for four years. Clinton set a precedent by meeting only with Irish prime ministers. George W. Bush deliberately toned down the celebration as a way of signaling his intention to limit his administration's involvement with Northern Ireland.

      President Obama made clear his commitment to continuing the ritual, calling it "an affirmation of one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exist in the world."
          Ireland, too, is committed to sustaining the custom. A 2009 official government report on U.S.-Ireland relations cited the importance of the shamrock ceremony: After nearly 60 years of St. Patrick's Day ceremonies, what's actually become of all those bowls of shamrock?
           Ronald Reagan used one of his Waterford bowls to hold jelly beans. Bill Clinton displayed his glassware in the White House.
          White House security regulations dictate that any food, drink or plant presented to the president be "handled pursuant to Secret Service policy." That's Secret Service-speak for destroyed -- an unceremonious fate, for an enduring symbol of a long friendship.
President Clinton
President and First Lady Laura Bush
President Nixon

President Kennedy

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


In 1790, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York. In late June 1791, a notice appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette announcing the details of that ear’s July 4th celebration. On the menu that year at Grays Gardens were the confections of Mr. de la Croiz, including “iced creams of a great variety.” Great estates, including Mount Vernon and Monticello, had their own “cream machines for ice.”

Dolley Madison, the first lady of the United States and wife of James Madison, fourth president of America, popularized ice cream in the White House. It was still a very impressive dessert because modern freezers were not introduced yet. To make ice cream, an estate relied on an ice house with large blocks of ice cut from frozen water, packed on straw and held in a cool place.


Dolley preferred oyster ice cream. She used small, sweet oysters from the Potomac River near her home to churn up an interesting dessert. In 18th century cookbooks, chefs didn’t stick to the basics. Recipes for parmesan ice cream, asparagus ice cream, chestnut cream and many other flavors that don’t grace our modern day tables were popular.

I couldn’t find her recipe for oyster ice cream, but she’d probably poach oysters in a cream base. The amount of oysters would dictate the intensity of the oyster flavor.
Here is Dolley’s Peppermint Stick Ice Cream.
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
3 c. whole m ilk
3/4 c. light corn syrup
2 whole eggs, beaten lightly
1 c. cream
4 drops natural peppermint extract
2 drops red food coloring
3/4 c. peppermint candy, crushed
Mix the sugar and cornstarch in the top of a double boiler. Stir in the milk, syrup and eggs. Cook over boiling water, stirring all the time for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Chill. Stir in cream, extract and coloring. Freeze in a 2 quart ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's instructions. When partially frozen, add crushed peppermint and continue frequently. Yields 2 quarts.