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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS: FAVORITE FOOD

Favorite Foods of John F. Kennedy (with Judy's New England Clam Chowder Recipe)

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john_f_kennedy_portraitThis is the second piece from The Astute Recorder to talk about the favorite food of American Presidents.

Because of the popularity of my first piece, which ran the day before the 2008 Presidential election, I’ve decided to expand my original post into a series, where I will feature my own recipes and connect them to the foods our former U.S. Presidents enjoyed while they were in office or appreciated as lifetime favorites.

JFK Loved 'Chowdah'

First up: New England clam chowder, which was said to be a favorite of the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy. For Presidents Day 2009, I thought this would be an excellent kick-off. For one, I love clam chowder since, as a Pacific Islander, I have an inherent appreciation for seafood. Second, many who were alive to witness the Kennedy victory over Nixon, compare the ebullient and optimistic mood within our country at that time to what we experienced with Obama’s recent victory.

Because I am a seafood lover, it might not come as a surprise that I have enjoyed my visits to certain areas of New England—specifically Maine, where just about every restaurant in the coastal areas promotes “chowdah” and lobster rolls as daily specials. And Mr. Kennedy’s Hyannis Port roots no doubt made it easy for him to enjoy the finer qualities of an authentically prepared seafood dish.

Boston’s Union Oyster House, which opened in 1826, has a commemorative plaque in JFK’s honor at table 18—The Kennedy Booth—where the Harvard legacy is said to have enjoyed his privacy over bowls of clam chowder or lobster stew. If the latter is intriguing to you, believe me, a lobster stew recipe is already on the Astute editorial calendar.

The American tradition of clam chowder in itself is also interesting. While Mr. Kennedy comes from a high-profile Irish Catholic family—having been recorded as the first Catholic U.S. President ever—chowder, or la chaudiére, was a tradition of French fishermen several centuries ago.

According to The American Heritage Cookbook (American Heritage Publishing, 1964),in the seaside villages of France, fishermen would return to their respective communities after a day of fishing and “toss their share into a huge copper pot,” which would form a meal fit to serve the entire village. La chaudiére could include both fish and shellfish. This tradition eventually spread to Canada and then New England.

New England clam chowder is mainly associated with two key ingredients: clams and salt pork—or bacon. Of course, there is the tomato variation enjoyed by those who like Manhattan clam chowder. But in my opinion, when someone recommends a bowl of “chowdah,” there’s no other kind than New England.

Judy “the foodie’s" New England Clam Chowder Recipe

The recipe uses canned clams, which is no doubt gauche by authentic-style cooking standards. This semi-homemade version is also considered recession-proof. To use fresh clams, I recommend following the clam preparation instructions from this Dean & Deluca recipe or refer to The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook (Hearst, 1986), where it also talks about how to deal with the sand aspect. Judy “the foodie’s” New England clam chowder recipe will create a creamy soup mild in thickness that boasts the taste of the sea.

judys_clam_chowder

  • 28 ounces chopped clams, canned 1-2 cups of clam juice
  • 3 small Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed in ½-inch pieces
  • 4 slices bacon or 4 oz ounces salt pork, sliced in ¼-inch pieces
  • 3 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons flour (4 tablespoons for a thicker soup)
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 pint milk
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 box oyster crackers

How to prepare:

  1. From the can of chopped clams, pour only the liquid into a small pot. Add bottled clam juice so there are about four cups of juice total. Set the canned clams aside.
  2. Add the chopped potatoes to the clam juice. Do this immediately after peeling and chopping the potatoes to prevent them from browning. Bring the potatoes and juice to a boil. Turn off the burner and set aside.
  3. In another small pot, pour in the heavy cream and milk. Bring to a boil then simmer to reduce for 30 minutes.
  4. In a pan or skillet, fry the bacon or salt pork until it starts to brown. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside leaving the grease in the pan. Lower the heat and add the celery and onions to the bacon grease. Raise the heat to medium and sauté until the celery and onions start to soften. Add bacon to the mix, lower the heat and stir in the flour.
  5. Add the bacon, onions and celery to the potatoes and clam juice. Add bay leaves.  Stir the mixture over medium heat. When it is ready, add the half-and-half (milk and cream) reduction to clam-juice concoction and simmer. Stir as soup thickens.
  6. Add the clams and cayenne pepper and simmer for a few more minutes. Then add butter.
  7. As butter is melting, warm your serving bowls by placing under medium-hot (not scalding) water then dry.
  8. When butter has melted and add salt and black pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves.
  9. Serve the chowder in the warm bowls. Add oyster crackers to garnish.

Serves six to eight.

Want to know more about what the U.S. Presidents ate? Check out this excellent reading list at the White House Historical Society.

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