January 8th, 2010 by Diann Benti
If Abigail Adams were planning an Independence Day feast what would she make? According to a 1964 New York Times article: “green turtle soup, New England poached salmon with egg sauce and apple pan dowdy.” In fact, the article claims she served this fine menu to John Adams on the very first Independence Day. Is the story sounding a bit strange to you, too?
Edible Queens, a local food magazine for Queens, New York, tasked Sarah Lohman (author of the blogs Four Pounds Flour and Ephemera) with recreating an early Fourth of July menu. Research led her to the New York Times article but she had her own doubts: apples in early July? So she wrote to AAS with a question, was the article’s claim true or just a myth?
We call myth. As we all know, John was busy in Philadelphia that July 4th. And poor Abigail had an eye infection. In fact, she wrote John on July 13, 1776 from Massachusetts apologizing for a silence of nearly a month, “I have really had so many cares upon my Hands and Mind, with a bad inflamation [sic] in my Eyes that I have not been able to write.”
But dear readers, that is as far as we got. And now we need your help. Where did this myth come from? Is there truth to any of it? The New York Times article described the meal in context of its recreation for the 1964 World’s Fair.
At the Festival ’64 Restaurant in the Gas Pavilion, George Lang, director of the restaurant, came up with a meal served by Abigail and John Adams at their home on July 4, 1776. Actually the Adams family first served this meal in 1773. It was such a memorable meal that Mrs. Adams served it on the first Independence Day. (“Fourth of July Glorious as Usual, But Especially Glorious at Fair” by Philip Dougherty in the New York Times, July 5, 1964 page 44.)
Rumors of Abigail Adams’ 18th century handwritten cookbook float around, but does it exist? The Massachusetts Historical Society has an extensive digitized collection of Adams Family Papers, but we had no luck there. Given the success of our first reference question post, we’re trying again. Anyone have any answers or thoughts? As usual we offer the weighty prizes of admiration and praise.
Even if this mystery goes unsolved, be sure to look for Sarah’s article on a historically inspired Fourth of July feast in the summer issue of Edible Queens.