Fran’s Favorites: A visit with David McCullough


What a thrill it was last week to have author David McCullough and his wonderful wife Rosalee to the Governor’s Residence for breakfast.

Mr. McCullough was in Columbus to speak to a group from the the Ohioana Library about his new book, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, which came out last month. We were just delighted that he accepted our invitation to have breakfast with a few of our family members who adore his books. Mr. and Mrs. McCullough had spent the weekend in Marietta with all of their family, and I think all of Marietta! He said it was a really great celebration about the settling of Marietta and the beginning of the Northwest Territory.

We each kept in mind our favorite David McCullough book during his visit. Mike’s favorite is Truman. (Mr. McCullough noted just how well worn Mike’s copy was!) My favorite is The Wright Brothers, maybe because I have, like many other folks from the Miami Valley, a great interest in the Wright Brothers. I see their hard work, determination, thriftiness, and creative, innovative thinking in so many people I know — I see these as Ohio traits. And I love how Wilbur and Orville’s sister Katherine is so much a part of the story and their success. I really prefer the audio version of this book because Mr. McCullough narrates it — so you hear it just the way he wants you to, in his own voice.

The Pioneers is a unique Ohio story about men and women who came to Ohio to settle and to really make that American ideal happen. Mr. McCullough got the idea to write the book when he was the graduation speaker at Ohio University in 2004. He was in Cutler Hall and asked, “Who was Cutler?” Manasseh Cutler was a minister from Massachusetts who, along with Rufus Putnam, was instrumental in opening the new Northwest Territory to veterans and their families at a bargain price in compensation for their service. Mr. McCullough did some research there at Ohio University, which led him to more research at Marietta College, where he said he found a treasure trove of personal letters and diaries. The book follows the lives of five pioneers who came to the Ohio country. It’s about their struggles. But it’s really about the opening up of the Northwest Territory and making it a place with absolute freedom of religion and a great emphasis on education, and the total exclusion of slavery. Slavery was present in all the original states and Manasseh Cutler lobbied the new Congress to keep the Northwest Territory free of slavery.

Since the McCollaughs’ visit, I now think of David and Rosalee as an Ohio story. They actually met at a camp in Conneaut, Ohio, and have been married 65 years. And they have spent a great deal of time in Ohio researching his last two books.

There are no recipes in David McCullogh’s book but there are many references to the abundance of wild game: deer, wild turkey, passenger pigeon, otter, beaver, elk and buffalo, as well as catfish, sturgeon and pike. He also tells about the clearing of the land, and the fertility of the soil. He tells about the really hard seasons when the frost came early so the settlers lost their corn, and how they shared their food when everyone was hungry and suffering.

I don’t have any of the pioneers’ original recipes, although I’m sure there are many among all those letters, and many passed down through families. I picked a couple of recipes that they might have made and hope you enjoy them. The first is a recipe for Hasty Pudding, also sometimes called Indian Pudding. It was served in New England. We do know this was something that was fairly inexpensive to make, and sweet and flavorful, too. Serve it warm with ice cream, or slice the cold pudding and sauté it in a little butter for breakfast and top with maple syrup. Venison stew is something that we make today. It’s a good basic stew recipe, and you can use beef instead of venison if you prefer. Enjoy!

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Hasty Pudding

2 cups milk

1 cup cornmeal

½ cup raisins

1/2 cup brown sugar or molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 tablespoons melted butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat milk over medium heat. Remove from heat and slowly add the cornmeal, stirring it in a little bit at a time with a whisk. Once it’s blended, put the mixture back on the burner and cook it until it’s fairly thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the raisins, brown sugar, spices and butter and whisk them all together until well blended.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs well and then add the cream into the eggs and whisk until well blended. Add this egg/cream mixture to the cornmeal mixture and blend thoroughly with a spoon. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 inch pie plate or an 8 inch square casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm or cold. Can heat up by frying slices in a little butter and serving with maple syrup.

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Venison Stew

2 pounds venison stew meat

1/2 cup flour

salt and fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons oil

4 carrots, peeled and cut

1 celery stalk, cut

1 large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup red wine (optional)

4 cups beef stock

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

Season the stew meat with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot or cast iron Dutch oven. Working in a couple of batches, brown the meat and remove it from the pot. Toss in the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Let them soften for 2 minutes and then add the liquid.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the meat. Turn the heat way down and keep the stew at a low simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and simmer for 1 more hour.

By Fran DeWine

First Lady Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native and guest columnist.

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