The other day I had a conversation with a friend about an event we had both attended years ago. We discovered we both had very different memories of it even though both of us thought we remembered it clearly. We had a good laugh about it.
For me, the incident was a perfect illustration that history is not always “facts”. Our records of the past are a collection of recollections that have often been shaded or even compromised by emotion or a point of view. Sometimes it’s a blindered, narrow view (attention so focused on some element that the larger picture eludes them entirely) or a Cinemascope, ultra-wide view of the event (so wide the details are lost). It can happen to the best of us.
Grace in her green dress that President Kennedy recognized as Givenchy
Why am I am telling you this? Because when I discovered the Jacqueline Kennedy White House menus on Pink Pillbox a few weeks ago (when looking for a famous use of Sauce Chasseur that I wrote about HERE), I found myself irresistibly drawn to investigate the luncheon given at the White House for Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco.
I got the Kennedy White House chef Rene Verdon’s The White House chef cookbook to check out the recipes for the food and guess what? He remembered the dinner wrong! He had everything else right including the wine vintages but not the main dish. He remembered serving Princess Grace a crisply breaded chicken breast with spinach and mushrooms –– Supreme de Volaille Gismonda (delicious, if I may say –– I made it last week using some of my frozen Sauce Espagnole) –– but that's not what they ate.
According to the original, dripped-upon menu from the event (that the Master of Menus, Henry Voight of the indispensible menu blog The American Menu, was kind enough to share with me) the group of 11 dined on soft shelled crabs, “Spring Lamb à la Broche aux Primeurs” (skewered Lamb with Spring vegetables), Salade Mimosa (made with greens and finely chopped egg) and Strawberries Romanoff (strawberries with orange liqueur, ice cream and cream garnished with candied violets) with Petit-fours sec and Demi-tasse to finish –– Lamb, not “ Supreme de Volaille Gismonda” was the main course even though Verdon says in his own cookbook, “ I recall the occasion when I first prepared Supreme de Volaille Gismonda at the White House. It was a luncheon for Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, in May of 1961.”
This was long before people could do quick internet searches but you would imagine that Jackie, Grace and Letitia who were very much alive in 1967 might have gone, hmmm, really (Letitia wrote about the event and gave recipes for the menu in her 1996 book, In the Kennedy Style: Magical Evenings in the Kennedy White House)?
I tracked down an interview that Princess Grace gave to Paul Gallico at the Kennedy Library in 1965 that Henry tipped me off about (the interview is much longer –– I have just given you a selection). In it she speaks of the President and of the 1961 luncheon at the White House:
GALLICO: Do you happen to recall what was served at the luncheon?
GRACE: Yes, I do. For I kept the menu. I’m one of those people who keep everything. We had soft-shelled crabs and spring lamb and strawberries Romanov.
GALLICO: And what happened after the luncheon?
GRACE: The President and Mrs. Kennedy took us around the White House and showed us many of the rooms….
GALLICO: Was this the first time that you had met the President?
GRACE: Actually, no. The first time was before he became the President, during that year he was in the hospital in New York with his back. I had been to a dinner party where I had met Mrs. Kennedy and her sister [Lee Bouvier] for the first time. They asked me to go to the hospital with them to pay a visit and help cheer him up. They wanted me to go into his room and say I was the new night nurse.
GALLICO: That was a quaint idea. Did you?
GRACE: Well I hesitated! I was terribly embarrassed. Eventually I was sort of pushed into his room by the two girls. I introduced myself, but he had recognized me at once and couldn’t have been sweeter or more quick to put me at ease.
Now, there has been much said that Jackie and Grace were not chummy. It was said that it was a put-down that the Prince and Princess of Monaco were given a luncheon and not a dinner. Letitia Baldrige said Jackie’s decision to make the change to a less formal luncheon may have been “a bit of jealousy perhaps”. I wonder, was Jackie worried that Grace may have pulled out the crown and jewels and out-shown her at a formal dinner or did it have something to do with the rumor that there had been a brief romance years before between Grace Kelly and Jack Kennedy? If the mini-feud’s true, nothing of the sort came through in the 1965 interview on the Princess’s side. Grace was incredibly gracious.
GRACE: President Kennedy’s youthfulness and vitality appealed so strongly to my husband [Rainier III, Prince of Monaco] and myself.
GALLICO: Yes, it would, of course.
GRACE: We felt somehow that at last the United States had a leader who, from the point of view of age, appearance, and dynamic personality, genuinely reflected his era. My husband often remarked what a pity it was that a great country like America, which in Europe is still regarded as such a young nation, should be represented seemingly only by old or infirm men—I don’t mean this as any reflection upon past presidents, but then all countries mostly have older men at their head, with the younger ones so rarely given a chance.
GALLICO: Until Mr. Kennedy.
GRACE: Yes, he was almost too good to be true—he was just like the All-American boy, wasn’t he, handsome, a fighter, witty, full of charm....
GALLICO: Your highness, you mentioned before your spiritual as well as emotional involvement. What did you mean by spiritual?
GRACE: I was thinking of the background of Irish Catholicism of both of our families, as well as the fact that Monaco is a Catholic country. This was another bond between us and brought him closer to us here, perhaps, more than any other president and made his death an even greater blow—to lose such a man and such a mind.
GALLICO: And when we most needed him.
GRACE: And he and his wife made such an appealing and attractive young married couple, too. We all identified with them. I think for the first time the White House was brought so much closer. People began to read about it and take an interest in it almost as they did in their own homes. When Jacqueline Kennedy [Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy] redecorated it, every young housewife was decorating it with her.
Wonderful words, wouldn’t you say?
The seating plan as prepared by White House calligrapher, Sanford Fox
This recipe was a happy discovery for me because my Cooking Crew is getting together again this month and our topic is meat and potatoes and this certainly qualifies… in a deconstructed, elegant way. I used a bit of Verdon’s recipe and some of Letitia, especially her marvelous technique with the vegetables which I am assuming was something done by Verdon (although it wasn’t in his cookbook). The sherry glaze is brilliant. The dish reminded me of my mother who went through a real affair with pearl onions and mushroom caps. I can see why now, you will too. It’s all simple to make and terribly good with lots of flavor and not too many calories!
Spring Lamb à la Broche aux Primeurs serves 4
1½ pounds lamb loin or trimmed leg cut in 1” cubes (make them larger if you want them rare)
¼ c olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 bay leaf
2 T each fresh rosemary, parsley and thyme
1 clove minced garlic
12 - 24 mushroom caps (I used creminis, you could you the more classic white mushrooms)
¼ c Mint or Herb jelly (optional)
12 each baby carrots, tiny turnips or other baby vegetables **** small new potatoes, unpeeled or potatoes carved into small pieces (I used my favorite purple potatoes), pearl onions, peeled
2 c chicken stock
3 T demi-glace (optional)
1 bay leaf
¼ t salt and pepper
18 green beans or asparagus
1 c peas
1/2 c sherry
Stir together the oil, lemon, herbs and garlic. Toss with the lamb and marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Put the lamb and mushrooms on skewers (if you don’t have metal, soak wooden skewers for at least 15 minutes before using. Coat liberally with the marinade.
Peel and trim the vegetables. Put the butter and stock in a pan and simmer 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and onions and your other root vegetables.
Cook for about 10 minutes, covered, until cooked but still firm, tossing the vegetables once or twice. Add the beans or asparagus and peas and cook through (my peas were frozen so I just put them in for a minute).
Remove the vegetables from the pan and reduce the liquid till thickened. Add the sherry and boil till reduced to glaze. Return the vegetables to the pan and coat in the glaze.
Broil the meat for about 3 minutes, brush with jelly and cook 2 minutes longer (you might want to do a test with your broiler for this to get it right)
Place the vegetables and meat on a platter or on individual plates and serve.
**** Since this is the wrong season for little spring vegetables, I baked regular sized beets and carrots. I peeled and sliced them and then used small cutters to make shapes of them. I warmed them in the reduced stock
The Cooking Crew Roundup can be seen HERE at Lazaro Cook's site -- lots of delicious meat and potato dishes.