Happy Birthday, President!
Having celebrated President’s Day this week, and with George Washington’s actual birthday on Saturday, most Americans can tell you a little bit about our two most famous presidents.
But how many people can name one of Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite foods?
Soren Ashcraft can. It was pudding, a form of rice pudding.
Pudding was also included on the lists of several other presidents’ favorite foods, he said.
Not bad for an eight-year-old. But, then, Soren is on a yearlong quest to celebrate the birthdays of every U.S. president, not just Lincoln and Washington. To do so, he researches each of the presidents and their favorite foods in his books or online, sometimes with the assistance of his parents, Richie Ann and Marty Ashcraft. Then Richie prepares a meal that includes something from the list.
Celebrating George Washington’s Birthday has been a long tradition in this country. And why not, since he is considered the father of our country. Congress designated Feb. 22 an official national holiday back in 1879.
Celebrating Lincoln’s birthday throughout the country took longer. A single day to honor both wasn’t adopted by
Congress until 1968. Celebrations for Lincoln were more regional endeavors, because, while people in the North, Midwest and West paid homage to him, many people in the states of the Old South reviled him.
That revulsion, Soren correctly explained, led to his death. “He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, in a theater with his wife. He was shot in the back of the head,” Soren said. “The guy that shot him loved the Confederacy and not the Union.”
Soren’s stories about Washington are not so dark.
“There’s a myth that people say he chopped down a cherry tree, but that’s not true,” he said. “But he did like cherries.”
Washington also raised cherries and many other kinds of fruit at his home, Mount Vernon, according to the website, http://www.mountvernon.org. That’s why cherry pie was included in the Ashcraft family meal celebrating Washington and Lincoln’s birthday last weekend. So was fish, a staple of Washington’s diet.
Richie Ann Ashcraft is the web-content administrator here at The Daily Sentinel, but she didn’t suggest this column to me. Nor did she originate the presidential-birthdays project for Soren. And he isn’t doing it for any school assignment or extra credit. It was his New Year’s resolution “because I thought it would be fun,” he told me.
Soren does have one personal connection to a president. He was born on Feb. 6, the same day as Ronald Reagan.
But his interest in presidents and history goes beyond that. He eagerly reads and watches history programs about the Civil War and World War II, his mother said. He is also the manager of the U.S. flag and enforcer of proper flag etiquette in the Ashcraft household.
When he sees people who are wearing veterans’ hats or otherwise appear to be veterans, he often stops and shakes their hands, Richie said.
Washington is among Soren’s favorite presidents because “He was in the Revolutionary War. He was a general. But when he was younger, like a teenager (actually, in his 20s), he fought for England” during the French and Indian Wars.
“He had wooden teeth because his teeth rotted out,” Soren added.
Lincoln makes his favorites list because he freed the slaves and was president during the Civil War.
Grant is also on the list “because he is the general who won the Civil War.”
Soren briefly included Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his list of favorite presidents, then thought about it, and rescinded his “favorite” status.
He is not afraid to offer comments about the presidents as they appear in official portraits or in books. “He looks scary,” Soren said of John Adams. “And he looks like a butler” was his description of Calvin Coolidge.
As for the dietary delights of the presidents, Soren is happy to eat fish, pudding or cherry pie. But he was skeptical when his mother told them they were having squirrel stew, a favorite of William Henry Harrison.