Thursday, May 15, 2014

Abraham Lincoln Deserved a Father's Day Barbecue

Abraham Lincoln with youngest son, Tad.

Abraham Lincoln's children "literally ran over him and he was powerless to withstand their importunities."  That's what the family's Springfield neighbor Joseph Gillespie recalled. He summed it up this way. "He was the most indulgent parent I ever knew." 

Abraham Lincoln was a doting father for his four boys, especially the younger two--Willie and Tad. Scamps in Springfield, they were just the right age to take advantage of the White House experience. They put on a play in the attic and invited the staff members to attend, changing a nickel for the privilege. They pretended the roof of the White House was a battle ship and Tad even fired off a loud toy cannon into one of Lincoln's cabinet meetings. Julia Taft, whose two brothers came to the White House for school and play with the Lincoln boys, described how she walked into the presidential office to see Lincoln being pinned down on the floor with a boy holding down each of his arms and legs. She remembered how heartily he laughed. 

For all his indulgences, Lincoln did instill a strong sense of right and wrong in his sons. 

It seems fitting to consider Lincoln on Father's Day and to share a delicious barbecue recipe from the era of his political campaigns. These recipes are all adapted from period sources and appear in my book-- Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times, published by Smithsonian Books. 

Slow-Cooked Barbecue for Grill or Oven 
 Like the man, this simple-looking recipe ends up being deliciously complex. 

5 pounds chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup mild molasses
additional 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
Wash the thighs and pat dry, removing the skin if desired. Mix salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly over the chicken then brush both sides with a light coating of molasses. Place in a single layer, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. When ready to cook, gently wipe the chicken pieces with a damp cloth. Most of the molasses will come off, leaving just the barest layer and that which has soaked into the meat. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up. Place a wire cake rack on the sheet to hold the chicken up off the bottom surface. Mix the additional half-teaspoon salt with one cup warm water. Baste the chicken with this salted water and bake, basting and turning about every 20 minutes until chicken is deliciously browned and cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. You may cook these thighs on a grill with a very low fire as well. Basting, turning and watching carefully as molasses has a tendency to burn. 

And what's a barbecue without some delicious sides? 

Cucumber Relish
Don't let the small amount of seasoning fool you, this tasty relish packs a zesty punch.

2 large or 4 medium cucumbers
1 teaspoon salt
10 green onions, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
3/4 cup white or cider vinegar
Juice of one lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Chop into about 1/2-inch dice. Place in a non-reactive bowl and mix with the salt. Let stand for at least an hour. You may keep the cucumbers salted down for about 4 hours at most. Drain off the accumulated juices and rise well under cold water. Add the sliced green onions.  

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, cayenne and ginger. Heat to boiling and pour over the vegetalbes. Let stand for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. 

Saleratus [baking soda] Biscuit
Simple to make, and richly chewy, these biscuits round out a Father's Day meal.

2 teaspoons vinegar
2/3 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine vinegar with milk, stir and set aside to sour, about 5 minutes. Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add butter to boiling water to melt and then stir into the flour mixture. Then add the sour milk. Stir with a fork and then knead briefly. You may need to add a bit more milk or flour to make a dough that is firm enough to work and not sticky. Break off pieces about an inch in diameter. Place on lightly greased baking sheets and bake until browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.
What became of the Lincoln sons?
Only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's sons lived to raise a family and that was their first born, Robert. Eddy died in Springfield just before his fourth birthday. Willie died at the age of twelve in the White House from what most consider to be typhoid fever. Tad died when he was eighteen just six years after his father's assassination. 

Copyright 2014 Rae Katherine Eighmey, all rights reserved.