If you’re one of the lucky 600-or-so people who paid $500 to eat a piece of Mary Todd Lincoln’s white cake, don’t read any further. But if you already know the menu or you didn’t want to fork over that much dough — even if it is for a good cause — then read on and find out what might have been on the menu at a White House dinner during Abe Lincoln’s era.
Stacks of old recipes and historic documents were researched as a means of shedding light on how to re-create an era-appropriate menu befitting the 16th president while also pleasing the palate of today’s audience.
The dinner, sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, will be held Monday, April 18, at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. Originally set to be held at the Renaissance Springfield Hotel, which is catering the food, the event was moved to accommodate 200 more people because tickets were selling quickly.
Susan Mogerman, the foundation’s chief operating officer, says that research on presidential dinners during Lincoln’s era, including information from the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, was used to create the menu. The Davises were friends of the Lincolns’, and documents from that historic site provided insight into what was served and how the room would have been decorated. However, when organizers began reading about what people in Lincoln’s day actually ate, they had to do some tweaking to make the menu more appetizing.
“The difficulty you have with a Victorian palate is they liked meat served with meat, followed by meat,” Mogerman says. “It wasn’t a varied menu.” A presidential dinner probably would have featured a buffet offering six varieties of meat and fowl, as well as many appetizers and dishes containing oysters.
The re-created Lincoln dinner will feature seasonal braised-root vegetables such as squash, which would have been available during Lincoln’s time, even if they were not frequently eaten at these events. Fresh crab salad will be served with butternut-squash soup as the first course. Even though oysters were found on many vintage menus, Mogerman says, crab, which was also eaten back then, was chosen to please more palates.
“You try to keep it as authentic as possible, but obviously a lot of things they used at that home, like heavy cooking oils, are not what we would choose today,” Mogerman says.
The dinner will also feature breast of pheasant stuffed with seasonal-fruit compote, fillet of beef stuffed with wild mushrooms, turnip whipped potatoes, Mary Todd cake, bonbons, and champagne punch. The white cake will be made from a recipe used by Mrs. Lincoln, with fresh strawberries for added color.
The décor will also reflect the Victorian era: pewter-colored linens accented with deep purple and pink, plus pedestals dripping with crystals and holding vases of hydrangeas, sweet peas, peonies, and roses. The floral arrangements will be executed by James Michaelyn Designs. Crystal chandeliers and topiaries will complete the look.
In addition to food, the event will also feature thank-you speeches to supporters of the museum project. Scholar and author David Herbert Donald, who wrote a Lincoln biography, will receive a prize created in his name, the David Herbert Donald Prize for Excellence in Lincoln Studies. The 312th U.S. Army Reserve Band will perform Victorian-era music.
The deadline for reservations is Saturday, April 16. Proceeds from the dinner will help defray costs for the four-day celebration of the opening of the museum, to be held April 16-19.
A taste of Springfield
Twenty local restaurants and businesses will be serving up tasty treats for tourists and local residents in conjunction with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Even if you didn’t get a ticket to the presidential dinner, you can fill up on fried catfish and cherry crêpes, among many items, at the Culinary Courtyard.
The food will be served from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, on Washington Street between Fifth and Sixth streets.
Downtown Springfield Inc. is sponsoring the food courtyard.
Still stirring the pot
Big Mike’s Prize-Winning Chili celebrates its 15th year in business this month.
Owner Mike Butchek has been stirring large pots of his secret recipe since opening his doors in 1990, after a 28-year career as a barber. Butchek, who has won more than 30 awards in various chili cook-offs, sells 10 to 13 gallons of chili a week, in addition to spices (which come with a recipe) and bottles of his special sauce.
Big Mike’s Prize-Winning Chili is located at 101 S. Fourth St.; 217-544-1013. Hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.