Cooking up history

NEWPORT BEACH — Not many people would connect President James Madison to strawberry ice cream.

But, as a local historian tells the story, Madison's wife, Dolley, must have loved the dessert because, for the first time ever, a "magnificent pink dome of cream" was served at the president's second inaugural ball.

Suzy Evans, a Newport Beach mother of four, has read hundreds of passages in old cookbooks and personal records kept by many of the nation's historical figures, including the above description written in a letter by one of Dolley Madison's dinner guests in 1813.

The research is for her blog, the History Chef!, in which she combines historical facts with adaptations of actual recipes used as far back as the 18th century.

"I was never what you would call a 'foodie,'" said Evans, who earned her doctorate in history from UC Berkeley. "But, once I started doing this, I found that the material is really fun and exciting."

Evans originally wanted to captivate her daughter, who was learning about the nation's presidents.

"Like most parents, I first tried to have her just memorize the names," Evans said of her now 7-year-old daughter, Teddy. "She would get up to about six and become bored."

However, now that Evans combines history with delicious recipes, like Mamie's Million Dollar Fudge (named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower's spouse) or Richard Nixon Grapefruit Avocado Salad, her daughter is literally eating up the lessons.

And Teddy isn't the only one of Evans' children enjoying the unconventional history lessons — all four of her children and her husband, Eric Woods, have their favorite stories, Evans said.

Her youngest daughter, Katie, knows more than most 4-year-olds about Abraham Lincoln. Although for now, she might say that the greatest thing about the 16th president was the family pet turkey named Jack.

Jack was so loved by the Lincolns that they pardoned the bird, which was slated to be served as Christmas dinner, Evans said.

"It's a way to teach children so that they see the presidents as real people, not just names," Evans said.

Evans just finished submitting a proposal for a book version of the History Chef!, which she said was started as a children's book but quickly developed into something more advanced.

"The history of food intersects at so many different points in time with politics and changing diplomatic policy," Evans said. "I don't think I will ever run out of stories."

As for Teddy, she can now name all the U.S. presidents up to Abraham Lincoln — and cook a pretty impressive Harry Truman Tuna Noodle Casserole.

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