The Cherry Blossoms and Their History
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. has been on my list of things to do for a very long time. So this was the year, and figuring out the best time to go became a challenge because of our super long, super hard winter. We visited the Tidal Basin on April 11, and it turned out to be a perfect day, weather-wise and cherry-blossom-wise. The challenge for the day was to find a way to stay out of everybody else’s picture—and get a few good shots of my own. I have truly never seen so many people with so many cameras of every different kind imaginable, in one place, at one time. I found that the only way to get a picture without people in the shot was to aim the camera above their heads. So…
So, what’s the story behind the cherry blossoms? We have all been taught that the cherry trees were a gift from the nation of Japan to the United States. While this is true, it is only a small part of the story.
Long before the cherry trees appeared on the Tidal Basin, a woman named Eliza Skidmore was advocating their being planted along the Potomac River. When she returned from a trip to Japan in 1885, she approached officials of the United States government, asking them to purchase cherry trees from that country. She was unable to convince anyone in the government that it was a good idea, but the idea had indeed been planted!
In 1906, Dr. David Fairchild ordered two different varieties of cherry trees from Japan which he planted on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He found that the trees grew very well in the climate of the area, and he began to encourage the government to plant cherry trees along the avenues in Washington, D.C. On Arbor Day, 1908, Fairchild gave saplings of his cherry trees to each school in the District of Columbia to be planted on the school’s grounds.
When Eliza Skidmore learned of Fairchild’s plan for cherry trees, she sent a letter to the new first lady, Helen Taft. Mrs. Taft was very excited by the idea and made plans to purchase cherry trees to beautify the Tidal Basin area, which at the time was a huge swampland. At that same time, the country of Japan asked the United States if it would accept a gift of 2,000 additional trees as a gift from the city of Tokyo to be planted in the nation’s capital. The trees that were purchased turned out not to be cherry trees at all, while the trees sent from Japan were infested with insects on arrival and had to be destroyed. The city of Tokyo decided to replace the infested trees, and on February 14, 1912, Japanese authorities shipped 3,020 trees of twelve different varieties to Seattle, WA, where they were moved to freight cars and carried by rail to Washington, D.C.
A mistake was made when the trees were planted. The instructions for planting the trees were written in Japanese. Rather than find someone who could translate these instructions, the men planting the trees decided to plant them as they thought best. They should have been planted in groves instead of close together along the edge of the Tidal Basin. Planting the trees close together at the water’s edge caused them to be stunted in their growth. Ann McClellan, an expert on cherry trees, has said, “What that does is it creates this lovely cloudlike effect because the branches intersect but it means that they can’t grow to their full height…We’re all agog, so it’s fine, but that is one of the reasons they tend to be a little smaller here.”
Today, the cherry blossom trees are cared for by the National Park Service. They bloom each year, any time between March 5 and April 18. The blossoms last for approximately fourteen days. They are beautiful and well worth a trip to our nation’s capital!
To learn more about the cherry trees in Washington, you can visit these online sites from which I got my information:
National Park Service–http://www.nps.gov/cherry/cherry-blossom-history.htm
To learn more about Arbor Day and how it can be celebrated, you can visit the Arbor Day Foundation at https://www.arborday.org
President Taft’s Broiled Buttery Steak
President William H. Taft was a big man and an equally big eater. He enjoyed good food and lots of it. During his years in the White House, he is said to have enjoyed an 8 oz. steak each morning for breakfast. In the book, The President’s Cookbook, by Cannon and Brooks (Funk & Wagnells: New York) 1968, the authors tell us of a typical lunch enjoyed by President Taft. It might include, “Bouillon, smelts with tartar sauce, lamb chops, Bermuda potatoes, green peas, and—for dessert—raspberry jelly with whipped cream, salted almonds, bonbons, and coffee”. And in her article of October 31, 1935, for the Washington Post entitled “Favorite Foods of Famous Folk”, Pattie Ellicott provides us with a recipe for Taft’s favorite food, broiled steak.
“Select a T-Bone, tenderloin, or sirloin. Wipe the meat dry, remove the outside skin and some of the fat if there is a large quantity of it. Then, with some of the removed fat, grease the broiler. Place the steak on the broiler over a clear fire or under the gas flame; sear quickly on both sides to prevent the juices escaping. Turn again and cook on both sides until done, 10-15 minutes for a medium thick steak if desired rare; allow a few minutes longer if steak is preferred well done. Remove to hot platter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread with soft butter.”
I would add that you should never pepper your steak before grilling or broiling. The black pepper may burn and become bitter.
We went to our Farmer’s Market shortly after returning from our trip and bought some beautiful radishes with their greens. The roasted radish side dish in the picture went great with our steak. You can find the recipe for the dish at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/roasted-radishes-with-radish-greens.
You can learn more about the food various other Presidents ate, as well as the foods of many centuries by visiting http://foodtimeline.org
Enjoy a great steak and take an opportunity one spring to see the magnificent cherry trees in Washington D.C.!