Monday, March 9, 2015

Betsy Challenge 20: Foods Served at Notable Events in History

I finished this challenge on time, I swear! I just didn't get around to documenting it until now. I have been at the Civilian Symposium in Harrisburg (having the time of my life), and before that I was visiting family in Washington DC (and running them ragged with my sightseeing stamina). I am actually sitting in the airport right now, waiting for my flight back to Minnesota as I type this.

I actually made this recipe on February 23rd. The notable event I chose was Lincoln's second inauguration, which occurred on March 4th, 1865 - almost 150 years to the date! Lincoln's first inauguration celebration had been a very small affair. His family went to the Willard Hotel and had a small luncheon, and then retired privately to the White House. His second inauguration, however, was marked with a grand ball and featured a lavish supper table.

One of the things on the supper table was chicken salad, and I thought I'd like to add that to my historical repertoire. Chicken salad was a very common recipe - almost every cookbook I have from the mid-19th century has some sort of recipe for chicken salad - and they are all very similar. In the end, the recipe I chose was from Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy, from 1860, as it gave the most explicit directions. It also relied on hard-boiled egg yolks in the dressing instead of raw egg yolks, and since I was trying this out on my mother who stipulated no raw eggs, it was handy.

The Challenge: Foods Served at Notable Events in History

The Recipe: Chicken Salad from Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy

The Date/Year and Region: 1860, United States

How Did You Make It?: Just like it says. No, really! I halved the recipe, and carved the meat off a cold chicken, which I then cut into small pieces.  I mixed it in with celery and set it aside.

To make the dressing, I mashed up the yolks with the seasonings. I mixed it with the oil, bit by bit. The recipe called for sweet oil - I used an olive oil. When they say to add a little bit of oil at a time, they really mean it - I was never able to get a completely smooth texture. Then a little bit of vinegar.

 I tore up some leaf lettuce, added it to the chicken and then tossed it with the dressing. I had read in Godeys from 1861 that chicken salad should be served with rolls, crackers and butter, so we had all of that on hand. For presentation's sake I put it in a pretty ironstone bowl lined with lettuce leaves, and added the rings of egg yolk as garnish. I think it's pretty enough for the White House!

Time To Complete: About 45 minutes, including carving the chicken. I took my time with it and let the dressing sit for a while to let the flavors marry.

Total Cost: About $12, and serves 4 to 6.

How Successful Was It?: It was really good! The seasonings were good, and although the dressing got a little grainy, it wasn't bad. I held back a bit on the mustard - the original recipe calls for A LOT - and I wish I hadn't, because it really could have used that kick, but with the cayenne it had a nice flavor. Mom enjoyed it as well.

How Accurate Is It?: No heirloom ingredients, as usual, but beyond that I followed the recipe to the letter. I even used a wooden spoon when it called for it.


  1. Was there a strong yolk taste? I don't like yolks but so many recipes use them for flavor.

  2. A simple salad - chicken, celery and lettuce. Most of the work and ingredients seem to be centred around the dressing. :-)