Dinner with the President by Alex Prud’homme EPUB & PDF – eBook Details Online
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- Author: Alex Prud’homme
- Language: English
- Genre: Gastronomy History
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- Size: 62 MB
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No Bread, No Soldier!
An army marches on its stomach.
—attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte
On Christmas night of 1777, General George Washington huddled over a
wavering candle in a small stone house in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
He was cold and hungry. As his officers sipped water and grumbled about the
lack of alcohol, the general spooned a slurry of mutton, cabbage, and potatoes
into his tender mouth. A battered spoon was his only eating implement. In the
chaotic retreat from the well-fed, well-armed redcoats at the Battle of
Brandywine in September, the general had lost his treasured camp chest, a
handsome wooden box outfitted with a cookstove, pots, platters, plates,
bottles, glasses, and a full set of silverware.
To add injury to insult, he found eating painful. Washington was forty-five
years old and had lost all but one of his teeth, a bicuspid, the consequence of
cracking walnuts in his mouth as a boy, he said, but also due to genetics, poor
dental hygiene, and the teeth-grinding stress of war. To compensate, he wore a
set of serious dentures. Fashioned from bits of lead and steel with gold
springs, and a base of hippopotamus tusk inlaid with cow and human teeth
(nine of which he bought from slaves), they seem more of a torture device
than an aid to mastication.
The apparatus rubbed Washington’s gums sore and
pushed his lower lip out, which gave him a hissing lisp. He avoided giving
long speeches and preferred soft foods, such as pickled tripe. The ivory
dentures were stained brown by the dark Madeira wine he favored, which led
to the false assumption that Washington’s choppers were made of wood.
When people stared at his mouth, the hero of the American Revolution grew
self-conscious and kept his lips clamped shut.
Valley Forge was a rolling upland twenty miles, or a day’s horseback ride,
from British-occupied Philadelphia. On paper, it appeared to be an excellent
strategic winter redoubt—protected by high ridges, surrounded by deep
woods, with plenty of freshwater—that blocked the redcoats from piercing the
American heartland. Though not as snowy and cold as some years, in the
winter of 1777 Valley Forge was an icebound cul-de-sac, “a dreary kind of
place,” Washington confided to his diary. And it lacked one essential: food.
When Washington’s fourteen thousand men, five hundred women and
children, and untold numbers of slaves and pack animals arrived in the snowy
Pennsylvania valley, it was as if a teeming, grimy city had suddenly been
dropped onto the pristine landscape. The Continental army was a grand name
for the rough collection of farmers, shopkeepers, sailors, and other
nonprofessional fighters who had volunteered from the thirteen colonies and
Europe. Nearly every one of them was shivering, disease-ridden, and slowly
starving to death.
The quartermaster reported that he had just twenty-five barrels of flour and
a bit of salt pork left. Soldiers went for days without food or water and
subsisted on whatever they could scrounge—mushrooms, crab apples, tubers,
a bit of rice flavored with a tablespoon of vinegar. They hunted, fished, and
foraged as much as possible, but quickly depleted the valley’s larder.
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