Friday, May 30, 2008

John Adams' Stomach

I start and end each day thinking about food, and much of the time in between is spent pondering all things culinary. Fortunately, this obsession can be indulged while maintaining a veil of normalcy. However, if people pulled the curtain back and crawled inside my head for a bit, they might question my sanity.

I do though try to live a balanced life, and there are many things other than food that I value and appreciate. For one, I love to read. In addition to the many cookbooks I browse, I'm usually reading a couple of books at any given time. I love to read about as much as I love to cook.

I'm currently reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams. This might be the best book I've read this year. I love it because it can be read on so many different levels. It's a book about many different topics: politics, marriage, leadership, a particular time in history, how to get the most out of life, human nature, and intriguing personalities. Of course, I'm also interested in the food of the time period. Adams was a prolific writer, who spent a lot of time recording his observations in journals and letters. When he was traveling the court circuit of New England he sometimes wrote his wife as many as three times a day. As I read this book, I always perk up when Adams shares reflections on meals shared with dear friends. For example, he writes about developing a fondness for the beer produced by Philadelphia's finest brewers when he attended the first Continental Congress. In the following journal excerpt he lists some of the foods he ate during a feast with fellow congress members in Philadelphia.

Turtle and every other thing. Flummery, jellies, sweet meats of twenty sorts. Trifles, whipped syllabubs, floating islands . . . and then a dessert of fruits, raisins, almonds, pears, peaches - wines most excellent and admirable. I drank Madeira at a great rate and found no inconvenience in it.
As I read this I realize that John Adams was much more than a politician; he was a foodie. If he took time from planning the American Revolution to list the foods he ate, I can assume that he appreciated good food. I wondered where he would rate if someone ranked the top-foodie Presidents. This question deserved consideration, so I researched and found a great little article at that explores my curiosity.

Anyway, the above passage also piqued my curiosity because I had no idea what flummery, whipped syllabubs, and floating islands were. It sounds like Mr. Adams drank too much Madeira and was just making up stuff. Here's the lowdown from wikipedia on the following:
  1. Flummery is a sweet, thick pudding made with stewed fruit. According to several sources this dessert is very bland.
  2. Syllabub is a traditional British dessert made with cream, sugar, and wine.
  3. A floating island is a British dessert of soft custard with mounds of beaten egg whites or whipped cream floating on its surface.
Those Brits loved their puddings and custards. Maybe on some subconscious level the American Revolution was a revolt against bland pudding. Does the Declaration of Independence contain any grievances against the British cuisine?

I've rambled enough. As I savor this book, I'll be sure to give you the lowdown on John Adams' stomach.

Never eat anything bigger than your head,

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