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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS: favorite FOOD

John Adams: The Organic-Food President

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"For July 4, 2009, the featured American President and his favorite food is John Adams.

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

— John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail regarding the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 3, 1776.

John Adams. The second American President and a founding father. Passionate and unrelenting, Adams made it no secret his primary passion was to serve his country and ensure the absolute independence from Great Britain. While understated in historic popularity in comparison to his contemporaries—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin—Adams has gained some modern-day attention thanks to a biography by David McCullough, and the Tom Hanks-produced HBO mini-series based on McCollough's best-selling work.

Similar to the letters and journal entries I researched by his son John Quincy Adams, the personal writings of John Sr. offer little indication as to the specific foods he ate on a regular basis, although he speaks often of drinking tea and dining with colleagues and friends.

Organic Food for the Obamas

As for more current-day mentions, vegetarian environmentalists have encouraged President Obama to consider using part of the White House grounds to plant organic fruits and vegetables for consumption. Whether or not these efforts have influenced our current President, he and the First Lady have turned part of the White House exterior into an edible garden. John Adams has been referenced as the first U.S. President to plant fruits and vegetables for harvesting and eating. As a side note, I find this to be silly sensationalism considering the practice of farming was common in Adams' era given the limited commercial resources.

But as the son of a farmer, Adams made growing fruits and vegetables an important part of providing nourishment to his family—a task Abigail and his children would take on during his years away from Braintree, Mass. as he worked with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to build a nation and later serve as a dignitary in Europe.

Animal Sympathizer and Commonplace Husband

It is said that when the Continental Congress was deciding who would draft the Declaration of Independence, Adams appointed Thomas Jefferson for thre reasons: 1) Adams felt a man from Virginia should be at the helm of the work; 2) Adams considered himself to be "obnoxious and unpopular"; and 3) because Adams said Jefferson could write 10 times better than he could..

Sifting through the electronic versions of Adams' preserved letters (The Massachusetts Historical Society), it is clear Adams' comment about his own writing talents was not based on false modesty. His letters and diary entries are intriguing, but difficult to interpret because of lack of flow and interrupted by poor spelling.

Having said that, a couple of his diary entries with regard to food are highly curious. For instance, in the spring through summer of 1759, Adams seems to think outloud in one entry regarding marriage and what seemed like specific relationships he had encountered. Adams goes on to say he will write "A Common Place Book of Husbandry and Gardening" followed by:

"... and Place in the Index Wheat, Rye, Corn, Pease, Beans, Turnips, Potatoes. Apples, Cyder, Trees, Elms, Butten Woods, Locusts, Cherry Trees, Plumb Trees, Quince Trees, &c. Nurseries. Lands, Grounds, Plough land, Pasture, mowing Land. Meadow, Upland, fields, Groves, forests. Hills, Valleys, Ditches. Fresh Meadows, gravelly Land, clay Land. Loomy Land. Springy Land, &c. Horses, oxen, Cows, Calves, sheep, Hogs. Scrub Oak Plains, pitch Pine Plains. Rocks. Wall. Posts, Rails, fence. Red Ceder, Juniper, Savine, Oaks, Pine, Hemlock, Holly. Apple Trees, Pear Trees. Orchard. Salt Meadow. ..."

While a major brainteaser for historic interpretation, Adams' entry certainly gives an idea of what fruits, vegetables and livestock were available in North American then, while indicating what might be common resources for 18th Century farming.

Possible July 4th Menu for the Adams

In The American Heritage Cookbook written and compiled by Helen McCully and other editors from American Heritage magazine (1964), a possible menu is listed for a New England Fourth of July Dinner, in honor specifically of the Adams' "thrift and simplicity."

Citing a June 23, 1797 letter, which Abigail wrote to her sister, "...July 4 which is still a more tedious day, as we must have then not only all Congress, but all Gentleman of the city...all of whom the late President used to treat with cake, punch and wine..."

The following menu is actually speculation of what the Adams fellow New Englanders ate, excerpted from page 230:

  • Turtle Soup
  • Broiled Salmon Steaks or New England Poached Salmon with Egg Sauce (recipe available in the above cookbook)
  • Green Peas
  • Small Boiled New Potatoes in Jackets
  • Indian Pudding or Apple Pandowdy
  • Coffee
  • Tea

Healthy Reenactment Eats

For a modern-day intrepretation of an Adams family July 4th celebration, why not try a simple salad salmon pictured above? This nutrient-rich dish was presented to me by Banning, Calif. City Councilwoman Barbara Hanna, who introduced me to XocaiTM, the healthy chocolate. I will be featuring an article about her business this month in another article.

Barbara's salad was a delight, featuring salmon simmered in broth over a bed of spinach, garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes and celery, with a balsamic vinaigrette. Served with bubbly.

You can top off your meal with the fruit salad I demonstrate above, very simple with bananas, strawberries and blueberries, a dish by Mike and Paty.

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