What would George Washington eat? Filmmakers Ken Magos and Lee Howard hope to find out with their latest series, Drive By History: Eats. A follow-up to Drive By History, their popular public television series that first premiered on NJ PBS, Drive By History Eats revisits their previous investigations with a knife and fork to dig in to New Jersey’s culinary past.
With the help of Dr. Libby O’Connell, an historian specializing in food and culture, Drive By History: Eats specifically seeks out old recipes and menus that would appeal to today’s palate. We’ve asked host and producer Ken Magos to share some of the backstory about the delicious new series.
What inspired the Drive By History: Eats series?
Food and culture historian Libby O’Connell often says, “Food provides a unique lens for examining the past.” On Drive By History, we’ve delved into the various story angles behind the history markers — the people, the events, the locations — but never focused specifically on the food, which so often plays a major role in these narratives.
For example, Theodosia Burr (at the time, Theodosia Bartow Prevost) entertained George Washington and several of his senior officers at The Hermitage in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey in July 1778, just weeks after the Battle of Monmouth. Washington, highly cultured and famously knowledgeable about food, was arguably the most famous man in the Colonies at the time, so the stakes were high for Theodosia as she worked to entertain and impress. The wife of a British officer, Theodosia needed to secure Washington’s favor at a time when her family and farmstead were both at risk. In the series premiere episode, we recreate recipes, as interpreted by Libby O’Connell, that employ food trends of the day, taking into account ingredients Theodosia would have had on hand mid-summer as she attempted to elevate her menu to match the status of her VIP guest.
Any surprises discovered along the way?
So far, the most surprising — and delicious — recipes came from the WWI “meatless and wheatless” campaign, spearheaded by none other than Herbert Hoover (then head of the United States Food Administration). It encouraged Americans to sacrifice for the war effort by consuming less meat and wheat products so that those food supplies could be sent overseas to our allies and troops.
Who helps you cook up history?
In addition to the guidance of O’Connell, I’m joined by New Jersey-based chefs Melissa Fairchild Clark and Anthony Murgola, who create the dishes on camera — sometimes in their original form, and sometimes with a few adjustments for a modern palate. They each bring a unique perspective to their cooking styles, focusing on a sustainable, farm-to-table, fresh-is-best approach.
Will you continue to produce the original Drive By History series in addition to Eats?
Yes! We’ve already begun production on new seasons of both shows — Season 6 of Drive By History and Season 2 of Drive By History: Eats.
Drive By History: Eats Season 1
The first season of Drive By History: Eats airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m., October 27 through November 24, 2021. See schedule, including late-nights.
Theodosia Burr Revisited
Wednesday, October 27 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS
Discover some dishes likely prepared by Theodosia Burr, a prominent New Jersey hostess in Colonial America, at a grand party she threw for George Washington and his troops in July of 1778, during the thick of the Revolutionary War.
Walt Whitman Revisited
Wednesday, November 3 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS
As America’s poet, Whitman is certainly known for his literary canon. But did you know that he also had a lot to say about food? Discover how to prepare a delicious Whitman-style meal from the 1850’s, including the unique cake he made himself and frequently gave away as gifts.
Wednesday, November 10 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS
Considered “sacrifice-for-the-cause” meals at the time, delicious meatless and wheatless recipes were developed by the Woodrow Wilson Administration in 1918 to help conserve precious pantry staples for U.S. troops. And, over a century later, these same dishes provide tasty alternatives for people choosing meatless and wheatless lifestyles today.
Point Breeze Revisited
Wednesday, November 17 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS
Rivaled in its day only by The White House, the New Jersey home of Joseph Bonaparte was a regular early-19th century destination for political thought leaders and power brokers. Discover savories and sweets Bonaparte might have served his esteemed guests in an attempt to influence their opinions and win their favor.
Parsippany Rock House Revisited
Wednesday, November 24 at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS
Discover some favorite foods of New Jersey’s Native Americans, including a clever combination of corn, beans and squash, known to Indigenous Americans as The 3 Sisters. Also, a grape-flavored indulgence still enjoyed by the Lenape at celebrations today!