Monday, 15 August 2016

A Sherry for the President

An excellent programme had been organised for President Barack Obama for his recent visit to Sevilla which he was forced to cancel at the last minute after the shooting of five police officers in Dallas. It consisted of local gastronomy and lots of Sherry, a drink which has found favour at the White House since the first President, George Washington.

In the XVIII century New England received a great many shipments of Sherry at its ports of Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. It was often taken in the form of “sack posset”, a hot drink of milk curdled with Sherry and sometimes spiced, which fortified the body without coddling the brain. The puritans of the day drank it at weddings, baptisms and funerals having adopted Sherry drinking from their British cousins.

A posset cup

Spending Christmas at Mount Vernon, George Washington used to prefer an egg nog made from a quart of cream, a quart of milk, twelve tablespoons of sugar, a pint of brandy, half a pint of rye whisky, a half pint of Jamaica rum and a quarter pint of Sherry. He was also fond of his wife Martha’s Sherry crab soup. This dish would later be revived during the presidency of Gerald Ford.

Benjamin Franklin, considered one of the founding fathers, was able to give plenty of sage advice to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on European wines. Seeking French support for the young nation, Congress sent him as ambassador to the court of Versailles. One of his first preoccupations was to ensure a good supply of the best wines, and it is known that two years later his cellar contained over a thousand bottles, many of which were Sherry.

Before his tenure as second President, John Adams visited Spain, where he was well looked after en route to Paris, and wrote in his diary that of all the wines he tried, Sherry was among the best. Franklin was later ambassador in London which gave him the opportunity to familiarise himself with the wines drunk during the reign of George III, a great Sherry drinker. Just before his return to America, Franklin’s wife, Abigail, wrote to a relative asking them to pay the freight on a shipment of Sherry to share with him when he got home.

Benjamin Franklin

As we have seen with Martha Washington, the first ladies played an important role in the use of Sherry in White House cuisine. Abigail Adams’ beggar’s pudding with sack sauce is considered something special even now. Abraham Lincoln, while more moderate in his wine consumption, still loved two dishes involving Sherry sauce: chicken fricassee and escalope.

From the beginning of the XIX century the temperance movement grew, culminating in Prohibition between 1920 and 1933 and naturally presidential consumption declined, yet Warren Harding enjoyed a filet mignon in Sherry sauce prepared by his wife Florence. By the 1950s things were back to normal and Mamie Eisenhower served green turtle soup reeking of Sherry at state banquets, while Sherry was the aperitif for the visit of King Paul of Greece in 1955. Jackie Kennedy brought glamour to official dinners in the 1960s with her boula-boula soup, well-seasoned with Sherry.

Among his many other virtues, perhaps the most knowledgeable of US Presidents about wine was Thomas Jefferson, who knew about vine cultivation and a great deal about Sherry, which he loved. In a letter dated 10th May 1803 he confessed to the American Consul in Cádiz, Joseph Yznardi, how much he had enjoyed the Sherry the latter had sent him and that not having a glass every day would be a “privation”. Yznardi supplied Jefferson with important quantities of wine, among which were Pajarete, Tintilla de Rota, old Pedro Ximénez and exquisite Pale Sherries.

Thomas Jefferson

Other Presidents who succeeded Jefferson were also enthusiastic about Sherry, if less passionate. The fifth President, James Monroe, enjoyed a Sherry cobbler, while seventh president Andrew Jackson liked a syllabub infused with Sherry. Fifteenth President James Buchanan, however, was more passionate. One of his close friends wrote “the Madeira and Sherry he has consumed would fill more than one old cellar.” But the good image of White House Sherry would be marred by Jimmy Carter who used Californian “Sherry” from Paul Masson and Almadén, presumably for patriotic reasons, but by now Sherry was a DO wine.

This is translated from an article by Jose Luis Jimenez in today's Diario de Jerez.

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