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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Perk It Up!


My parents were big coffee drinkers. I know this for a fact because, I was the designated coffee maker. "Dee, make a pot of coffee" were words I heard often. Our method of preparing coffee was via a percolator. I can still picture the waft of the steam of the percolating coffee streaming down the hall way and gliding through the cracked doorway of my bedroom. Even then, it was the best part of waking up.

Brew a Pot of Coffee

Granted, I'm no connoisseur of coffee. My preferred method of preparing coffee is also by the percolator. Surprised? Now, I know not everyone perks coffee but surely, someone must. If you do, I really would like to know. Really...I know it may seem a bit "old-fashioned" to be discussing perked coffee in these days of quick stop coffee refills and automatic drip coffee makers, but I must tell you, "don't knock it till you try it." Try it on a Sunday morning when you have a case of the mubblefubbles or you're just plain feeling melancholy. Sure it takes a bit more time and you have to "babysit" the pot until it reaches perking stage but, I'm telling you, the next time you see one of those aluminum coffee percolators at a thrift store or yard sale, pick that baby up, give it a good cleaning, (vinegar works for me) and Perk It UP! For me, it's the essence of comfort, steeped in fragrant childhood memories. I sometimes still hear the echo of my father's voice "Dee make a pot of coffee" and, I do.
Curious as to how to make coffee with a percolator, it's really pretty easy. I found directions at a website that sells coffee percolators.

Roosevelt's Coffee?

I should tell you what day today might be. Today just might be the day the aromatically successful slogan "Good to the last drop" was uttered by none other than former President Theodore Roosevelt. According to a legend from Tennessee, it was Roosevelt's pert remark after enjoying a cup of Joel Owsley Cheek's perfected special coffee blend served at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. This episode is suppose to have taken place on October 21, 1907. You can read about the legend at this Tennessee website.
Theodore Roosevelt paid a short call on October 21, 1907, to pay respects and pledge federal support to the restoration of The Hermitage. While he was there he took what may be the most famous sip of coffee ever taken. While touring The Hermitage, Roosevelt said he was impressed with everything that he saw. Then, as he was entering the dining room, he asked for a cup of coffee. "I must have the privilege of saying that I have eaten at General Jackson's table," a Nashville newspaper quoted him as saying.
There seems to be much discrepancy about whether Theodore Roosevelt quaffed his java at The Hermitage, which by the way was the palatial estate of Andrew Jackson, or whether he indulged at the Maxwell House Hotel. There's also a rumor that Roosevelt drank up to a gallon of coffee a day. In either case, the Maxwell House Hotel and Maxwell House coffee are ingrained in America history. The Maxwell House Hotel opened to great grandeur on September 22, 1869. It was erected by Colonel John Overton Jr. of Traveller's Rest and named in honor of his wife, the former Harriet Maxwell Overton. It was a grand hotel visited by many notable figures in American history eagerly craving luxury. They included, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinely, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Cornelius Vanderbilt were all guests at some time or other of the Maxwell House Hotel.
...After the war Overton resumed construction of what became Nashville's largest hotel, which local citizens initially called "Overton's Folly." Opening in the fall of 1869, the five-story, 240-room hotel cost five hundred thousand dollars. The Maxwell House Hotel advertised steam heat, gas-lighting, and a bath on every floor. Rooms were four dollars a day, meals included. The building fronted on Fourth Avenue and the infamous Men's Quarter; an entrance for women opened onto Church Street. Eight Corinthian columns flanked the main entrance; the elegant main lobby featured mahogany cabinetry, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and chandeliers. There were ladies' and men's parlors, billiard rooms, barrooms, shaving "saloons," and a grand staircase to the large ball or dining room. source


Published by the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company, the pictured Maxwell House booklet was authored by Ida Bailey Allen. It should come as no surprise that there is no mention of Theodore Roosevelt and the Good to the last drop proclamation. However, the statement is noted in the booklet.
Maxwell House Coffee is truly purchased, prepared and sent forth ready for countless homes according to the high standard of Maxwell House service and a service which is built upon the ideal of providing the public with the best coffee that man can grow and intelligence prepare for use. That is why Maxwell House Coffee is fragrant and mellow in flavor, clear as an amber mountain brook; why every morsel of it counts; why it is literally Good to the last drop...
The first couple of pages in the Maxwell House Coffee booklet discusses the coffee making process in the home. In essence, How To Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee.
Three methods of making coffee are in general use: the old fashioned boiled method, the drip method and the percolator method. Any one of these three will give good results if care is taken in measuring the amount of Maxwell House and water and if the coffee making utensils are kept in a truly cleanly condition. Cleanly?
I have also scanned Ms. Allen's directions for the preparation of coffee using all three of her methods. I also scanned a page of recipes which use coffee as an ingredient. The recipes are for Cuban Coffee Cream, Coffee Cream Jelly and Coffee Ribbon Bavarian.
The coffee cream tart and coffee whipped cream recipes below are not as avant-garde as the Coffee Cream Tart in a Cocoa-Espresso Crust found at epicurean.com but I have chosen to include them for their sheer simplicity. Enjoy...
Coffee Cream Tarts: Prepare flaky pie crust by the usual method (I suppose you could also buy it pre-made) then bake it over inverted muffin pans to form little tart shells. Just before serving, half fill these with apple butter, jam or sliced and sweetened strawberries and top with Coffee Whipped Cream which may be put on with a tablespoon or by means of a pastry tube and bag. Garnish each tart with a bit of currant or brightly colored jelly.
Coffee Whipped Cream: Beat a cupful of heavy cream until almost stiff, then gradually whip in a 1/4 cup of Maxwell House Coffee made according to the recipe for After Dinner Coffee (scanned above.) Add three tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar and a few drops of vanilla and finish beating. If the weather is very warm measure a half teaspoonful of gelatin into a cup, pour a little of the Maxwell House Coffee over it, let stand for five minutes, then dissolve it by setting the cup in hot water and gradually add to the cream with the remaining coffee.
I would like to take a moment to once again thank T.W. over @ Culinary Types for reminding me, although I'm not quite sure how I could forget, "Theodore Roosevelt, Oyster Bay’s most famous son, is the inspiration behind the Oyster Festival," which is held annually in Oyster Bay here on Long Island. I missed it this year but it is usually held each October around the day of his birth which is October 27th. It is said it is the biggest festival on the east coast and if you LOVE oysters, it is not to be missed!
March, 1884: Theodore Roosevelt signs a contract with the firm of Joseph Wood & Sons of Lawrence, Long Island, to build a home in Oyster Bay at the insistence of his sister Bamie, who convinced him his daughter would need a home. He had originally planned the home with his wife Alice, and was planning to name it Leeholm in honor of her family name. The house, completed in 1885, would later be named Sagamore Hill in honor of Sagamore Mohannis, the Indian chief who used the hill as a meeting place and signed his people's rights to the land over to the settlers in the 1660s. source
FYI: As usually is the case with many inventions, there is some discrepancy as to who invented the first percolator. I did post a brief history of the percolator last year for Christmas if you want to read it, the title of the post is "Present in a Perk." The post is decorated with a charming Santa Claus covered die-cut booklet. I must say, it's cute and the post is very short: Resources
1. Maxwell House Coffee History
2. Fortunes by the Coffee Grinds and the story of the coffee filter
3. Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Coffee Mascarpone Cream (from Food & Wine)