teaching

James K. Polk’s favorite food was…?

The answer, is obviously (as any good red-blooded American should know) Corn Pone.

This delicious (I use the term loosely, particularly if you choose to use the mid-nineteenth century recipe that Polk ostensibly enjoyed) snack pictured above served as the centerpiece of one of my ninth grade classes impromptu birthday celebrations yesterday.

Now why would ninth graders be interested in making corn pone (which, if you’re interested, can be replicated using this recipe) to bring to a history class to celebrate a friend’s birthday?

Well, that’s a really good question, but I can tell you where they got the idea. A number of years ago one of my history department colleagues decided to revive an old departmental tradition of having a “Presidential Dinner” where each member of the department would choose their favorite president, look up his favorite food from a cookbook full of presidential recipes, make it, bring it to the dinner, and have the opportunity to talk about why they liked that president (and potentially his food choices as well). My impetus for choosing Polk was purely a gimmick — I wanted to play the They Might Be Giants song about said president.

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So, while I wasn’t otherwise a huge James K. Polk fan for any political reason (though his achievements tend to be amenable to Texans, so he’s a safe guy to pick in these environs) I did like the song and therefore decided to choose him. Now, I discovered that while Polk may have accomplished a great deal as a President, the sophistication of his palate was not quite as distinguished. The recipe that my wife and I used to make Polk’s corn pone ended up creating objects that would best function as sandpaper. Somehow I ended up sharing this anecdote with this particular class and it really seemed funny to them. I think the story was funny largely because it involved the word “pone,” whose homonym has attained a degree of popularity through its current existence as the hacker language-cum-mainstream idiom “pwn” or “pwned,” meaning to thoroughly dominate someone else. In any event, someone like Polk who enjoyed this meal in earnest could in no way be characterized as a n00b (at the very least that pejorative term could not apply to his gastrointestinal system).

Obviously, corn pone has benefited from the marvels of modern technology and improved ingredients because the corn pone that this student brought in was relatively ambrosial given my initial reference point. However, more important than getting to enjoy a small pre-lunch treat, it was nice to see how this goofy anecdote had transformed into an inside joke that served as the basis for a really memorable — and surprising — experience. I mean seriously, who wants corn pone for their birthday?!? While I hadn’t intended the anecdote about corn pone to become the centerpiece of anything (I didn’t dedicate a whole day to it, and it certainly isn’t that vitally important to a solid understanding of the subject matter we’re covering — imagine that) it was nice to see that it had resonated with my students. I guess it’s funny to find out the unintended ways in which your effect your students and what they remember.

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2 thoughts on “James K. Polk’s favorite food was…?

  1. Western Dave says:

    Well, at least JKP had one good outcome from his Presidency. BTW, looking at Keene Visions of America for US history next year. Really good text, although I’m concerned the reading level is too hard for 10th grade.

  2. Pingback: Have I become one of those online sources? « The History Channel This Is Not…

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