Constable: Unlike namesakes, presidential cookies always 'nut-free'
By Burt Constable
When it comes to memorizing the names of our nation's presidents, today's first-graders have it 36.5 percent tougher than a young Donald Trump once had it. Starting school when Harry S. Truman was our president, Trump needed to learn the names of only 33 presidents. Today's grade-schoolers need to learn 45 names. Thanks, Trump.
It's not easy to memorize the names of 45 family members at a wedding (How have you been … you old son of a cousin?). It's tougher to learn the names (in order) of a bunch of strangers, most of whom were dead before you were born.
For years, teachers have tried to develop easy ways for kids to learn the presidents. There are songs -- from one with the melody of an offensive folk song originally about Native Americans or blacks to myriad "rap" versions that are to rap what former President Gerald Ford was to rap. There are interactive toys and puzzles and even a set of Presidential Rubber Duckies bathtub toys. Others suggest a good way to memorize the presidents is to create a mnemonic device using the first letters of the last names of presidents from Washington through Trump.
I came up with: "What annoying joker made mnemonics a justifiable venture? Hounding the pupils through forty-five presidents barely lets juveniles grow, hardly gives anyone comprehension. How can merchants retool that? We, however, can hear real truths everywhere. Knowledge just needs flavorful cookies. Real bakers can bring out truth."
Which brings me to Dick & Jane Education Snacks, makers of presidential cookies, which, unlike the men who have held that office, are entirely nut-free.
"We do all of the presidents," says Dick, who prefers to go by his first name only, as does his wife, Jane, who teaches first grade in Troy, Mich. They sell cookies featuring the likeness of each president directly to schools and educational groups, but I bought two boxes at a Whole Foods in Schaumburg.
In the spirit of research, I ate three Calvin Coolidge cookies (they are whole grain with no trans fat, just saying), who was our 30th president. My first box had cookies boasting Abraham Lincoln (No. 16) John Kennedy (No. 35), Rutherford B. Hayes (No. 19), Ulysses S. Grant (No. 18), Ronald Reagan (No. 40) and even a William Henry Harrison (our ninth president who died 30 days after his inauguration). I had to break open a second box before I found Barack Obama (No. 44), Richard Nixon (No. 37), Dwight D. Eisenhower (No. 34) and Andrew Jackson (No. 20).
"Some a little more, some a little less," Dick says in explaining how each box contains a random mix.
The cookies are created by pouring batter into 360 individual molds on a 40-inch brass plate. Unlike animal crackers, where it can be difficult to discern a lion from a hippo, the president cookies are much more defined.
"We wanted to upgrade that whole animal cracker mentality," Dick says, noting that a graphic artist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, draws all the presidents. "The most difficult face was probably Ronald Reagan because he had the most lines, or wrinkles."
Dick & Jane plan to unveil the new Trump cookie by Feb. 15, which is the federal holiday in honor of Washington's birthday but often is referred to as Presidents Day.
"If we can create some curiosity among kids, that's a good thing," says Dick, who notes that cookies endeavor to avoid any political bias. "We try to keep it as generic as possible. We're not trying to make a political statement. Nixon is a president. Obama is a president. Trump is a president."
The cookies taste the same, even if you might find some actual presidents half-baked and hard to stomach.