Posts tagged #Washington DC

How the Willard Hotel Made the Mint Julep Famous BEFORE the Horses Ran at the Kentucky Derby

On the first Saturday in May since the year 1883, the “Run for the Roses” has championed horse racing at the famed Kentucky Derby in fair Louisville. Events begin two week earlier with “Thunder Over Louisville”, the largest fireworks display in the world. The Great Balloon Festival, the Great Steamboat Race and the Pegasus Parade all follow, leading up to the fabulous Derby Day.

Yet despite all these activities set to the restless sound of the waiting horses, it is the culinary traditions of racing’s royalty that many remember and enjoy year after year.

Most famous, of course, is the mint julep, a nearly magical drink with an often misplaced history.  The mint julep is a classic American cocktail, long beloved in the South. Yet few know its national fame began, not south in Dixie, but further north in Washington DC at the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel.

Prior to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, many senators worked tirelessly but unsuccessfully to resolve the issues of taxation, representation and black emancipation that were threatening to tear the nation apart.

One of the hardest working senators was the esteemed Kentucky son, Henry Clay. An experienced hand at matters diplomatic, he often gathered those in conflict over state sovereignty and the issue of slavery together at the Willard Hotel and ordered that his favorite southern drink, the mint julep, be served.

For you see, the Willard’s Bar was actually round so no one and no point of view could hold center court. No individual could dominate from a head table there. He hope that, with a relaxing mint julep in their hand, cooler heads would prevail. Sadly his efforts to reach a resolution failed and a great national war occurred.

Yet many remembered his valiant efforts and when horses, northern or southern, later raced at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby after the Civil War, well, when combined with local traditions, the mint julep seemed (and still is) the perfect drink for the nervous horse owners and the waiting racing fans. So enjoy this liquid classic and don't forget to pick your winner before the buzzer sounds!

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2011

How Lemonade Lucy Saved the White House Easter Egg Roll

While staffers all over London are busy fine tuning the last details of the upcoming royal wedding, the chefs at the U.S. White House have just finished arranging the boiling and dyeing over 14,500 eggs (yes, 14,500 eggs!) for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

This delightful child-centered event is an annual pleasure that everyone in Washington DC looks forward to - yet few people know how the Easter Egg Roll almost didn’t happen.    

America’s beloved very first First Lady Dolley Madison (1808 – 1817) started the tradition of rolling Easter eggs, not at the White House, but on the grounds surrounding the U.S. Capitol Building.

At that time much of Washington DC was either under construction or still a swampy marsh so the elevated grassy area around the Capitol Building was simply the best spot available for a dry egg hunt on the Monday after Easter Sunday.

Indeed, these Easter events proved so popular that pre and post Civil War thousands upon thousands of children and adults marched across the Capitol lawns looking for colored eggs.

By 1876 Congress had had enough of all these laughing children messing up their congressional lawn, not to mention their legislative dignity.

So in one of the nation’s less than child-loving moods, Congress passed the Turf Protection Act, banning all Easter egg rolling, hunting or carrying on the velvet green lawns that surrounded the oh so sartorial Capitol Dome.

But take heart, First Lady Lucy Hayes (also known as “Lemonade Lucy” as she would not serve demon rum or the like at her White House events) had a kinder heart. She invited the local children (yes, one needed to be invited – no more free-for-all as before) to come and celebrate on the White House's even more meticulously manicured lawns. Well done, Lucy!

World Wars and sometimes weather have caused the event to be cancelled or delayed but on the whole it is one of the most delightful annual events any President and First Lady can look forward to.

Over the years a costumed ‘rabbit’ had been added, along with music and healthy treats (thanks the nation’s present first lady, Michelle Obama). Admission tickets are still required but no longer to a chosen special few.

Thanks again to Michele Obama, they are issued nationwide now through a far more democratic website lottery. And oh yes, no adult may enter WITHOUT a child.

Perhaps that will teach any congressman who longs for the dictatorial powers of the past not to be so hard-hearted about sharing a little of their 'green' with any nation's greatest treasure -the children, the children - always the children. 

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2011