Authors: Rae Katherine Eighmey
Text Â© 2013 by Rae Katherine Eighmey
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Eighmey, Rae Katherine.
Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen : a culinary view of Lincoln's
life and times / Rae Katherine Eighmey.
Includes bibliographical references.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-58834-460-1
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-58834-455-7
1. Cooking, AmericanâHistoryâ19th century.
2. United StatesâSocial life and customsâ19th century.
3. Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
4. PresidentsâUnited StatesâBiography. I. Title.
In memory of F. C. E.
With thanks for his library of Lincoln books
where this work began
And to four remarkable young menâ
Justin and Jack
Nicholas and Jonah
May you spend a lifetime of learning,
especially while reading under trees
with corn dodgers or gingerbread men at hand.
The words leapt off the pages of my sixty-nine-year-old copy of Rufus Wilson's
Lincoln among His Friends
. I could hardly believe what I was reading.
Yet there it was.
Phillip Wheelock Ayers, whose family lived three doors down from the Lincolns' Springfield home at the corner of Eighth and Jackson, described how Abraham Lincoln walked the few blocks home from his Springfield law office, put on a blue apron, and helped Mary Lincoln make dinner for their boys. Other neighbors' homey reminiscences told of Abraham shopping for groceries and milking the family cow stabled in the backyard barn with his horse, Old Bob. There must be more to this part of the Lincoln family story! The joyful prospect of research with books, pots, and pans immediately drew me in.
food is the stuff of
memory and of discovery. The cultural studies label is “foodways,” but I think the best word is “
cooking.” And for the past two decades, cooking with century-old recipes, then eating meals made from them, has been my path for understanding and interpreting social trends and historical events.
Everyone has a favorite meal that brings forth a vivid memory or a dish that captures a moment in time: A taste of homemade peach ice cream immediately conjures up a summertime front porch. A holiday sweet-potato casserole Aunt Minnie always made brings memory of her to the table when she no longer comes. Sometimes the memory begins
with food preparation. Just about every time I sit with a mixing bowl full of fresh
green beans, I recall the blue-and-white bowl on my grandmother's lap as we sat in the screen porch snapping beans fortyâno, fiftyâyears ago. I can almost see and hear the rowdy Tobias boys next door running around to the side yard, their Boston bulldog chasing them as fast as its stocky legs could carry it, and the porch swing squeaking as my grandfather sat, reading the paper and waiting for dinner.
I also remember vividly the first
“antique” recipe I made, and the delight that drew me into this area of
study. I had been struggling to understand everyday life for the Jemison family in 1860s Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was doing public relations and fund-raising for the restoration of their antebellum town home. The elegant Italianate structure had many stories to tellâarchitecture, state-of-the-art engineering, political and Civil War historyâall of it well documented. But I was searching to find a way to reach the lives of Robert Jemison, his wife, Priscilla, and their daughter, Cherokee. Then I found Mrs. Jemison's pencil-scrawled household notebook in the archives at the University of Alabama.
Mrs. Jemison had written down two recipes. The recipe for a “jumble” intrigued me. I've baked and cooked since I was ten. It was obvious this was some kind of cookie, biscuit, or muffin. The mostly familiar ingredients were listed. Measurements were sketchy in the style common to mid-nineteenth-century cookbooks. There were no directions. Several days of research among the century-old cookbooks in the library stacks and dozens of test versions baked in my kitchen later, I had the perfect reconstruction of Mrs. Jemison's
jumbles. One friend, whose family had Alabama roots five generations deep, gave me the highest compliment: “They taste just like my great-grandmother's tea cookies.”