While living at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion, I discovered that menus and recipes had changed drastically over the years. Newspaper accounts revealed that Gov. B. Gratz Brown and his wife, Mary, delighted the first guests to the Victorian home with a pyramid of spitted snipe. The smallish, but flavorful bird was considered a delicacy at the time.
A lavish meal was enjoyed by guests Col. George Custer (he was a mere colonel at the time) and the Grand Duke Alexis, son the the Russian Czar. The pair had been on a buffalo hunt out West and paused from their cross-country train trip to visit the City of Jefferson.
In time, spitted snipe found its way off the Mansion tables and into the history books.
A 19th Century Mansion Favorite
By the turn of the century, first ladies became enamored with the beaten biscuit machine or biscuit brake (or break). The handy kitchen device resembled an oversized pasta roller and was designed to tenderize biscuits.
Beaten biscuits, like their name denotes. had to be slapped around for more than an hour (about 200 whacks) before being shaped into rounds for baking. With the coming of the biscuit brake, dough could be run through a pair of steel rollers operated by a hand crank.
First ladies spoke of the biscuit beating device fondly and passed it on to their successors with pride.
Tea Time at the Mansion
By the 40s and 50s, afternoon teas became prominent pastimes. Well-dressed women gathered in the double parlor of the Mansion for tea and platters of fancy cookies, breads, and sandwiches.
Salad lunches grew in popularity during the 70s and 80s. I revived one of the timeless recipes of First Lady Carolyn Bond in my mansion cookbook 20 years later: curried chicken salad.
With a growing interest in healthy fare, First Lady Janet Ashcroft introduced a vegetable steamer. Like the beaten biscuit machine, it became an essential part of day-to-day food preparation.
During the 90s, I frequently got compliments and recipe requests for the basil vinaigrette we served. I thought of it recently as Robin harvested a few handfuls of basil from our herb garden to make a pesto pasta. The recipe for the salad dressing is in my cookbook Christmas at the Mansion and also in the recipe section of this blog.
Looking back, I’m thinking those bony, little snipes of yesteryear might’ve benefited from a dash or two of yummy basil vinaigrette.
Mixed Greens, Pears, and Gorgonzola Cheese topped with Basil Vinaigrette
- 3/4 lb. mixed salad greens
- 3 Bosc pears, halved, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1/2 cup diced cranberries (optional)
- 2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- 1/2 lbs. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Combine mixed greens, pears, dried cranberries, and pecans in large bowl. Lightly dress sald just before serving Refrigerate unused vinaigrette. Crumble cheese over top salad.
- 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar (or less)
- 3/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup salad oil
Use a food processor, blend garlic, sugar, basil, salt and pepper until basil is chopped very fine. Add vinegar and blend. Pour in oil slowly and blend until smooth. Serves 12.