Wednesday, December 31, 2014

History Challenge for 2015

Do you have plans to enjoy history more in 2015?
Take the 2015 History Challenge to get started!
  • Pick topics of interest to you and start completing the challenge.
  • Choose the activities that work for you.  
  • Keep track of your progress during the year.
  • Share your accomplishments with the Histocrats using the hashtag #enjoyhistory15 on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
We look forward to seeing what challenges you accept and complete.
As we go through 2015, we will also be sharing our activities and will tweet and blog about our favorites.
Be sure to make the challenge even more enjoyable by sharing it with friends and family. 
We know enjoying more history in 2015 will help make it a great year.
Have a great year and we wish you great success in getting more history into your life!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Enjoying Christmas Traditions

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D

I really do like the Holiday season—the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas to the New Year.  It is a time for reflection but also of deep sentimentality of a bygone era.  Many of the traditions in my family are just that—traditions that have been passed on from each generation to the next.  While each family has their own time honored tradition, I wanted to share a few of mine.

Each year, as a family we decorate the house.  Over the years, as new additions are made it seems as though my house is bursting with decorations from the new to the sentimental to the gotta have items.  When it comes to decorating, we have made it into a tradition—we do it as a family.  My husband and girls decorate the tree, which can be an all day event.  While I love the smell of  a real tree, my daughters allergies and asthma have made having one impossible.  So, our tradition is decorating the tree, not picking one out.  While we decorate the house, the holiday music is playing and the girls enjoy opening the boxes that store their ornaments and picking just the right spot on the tree to hang them. We usually finish the day by watching Christmas specials like Charlie Brown and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Another holiday tradition is getting in the car and riding around to look at all the decorated houses and the various light displays.  Growing up there was a house in the neighborhood that would go all out in decorating.  On Christmas Eve they would even hand out candy canes to the cars that drove by.  I always thought how awesome it was and how great the people were who had created such wonderful memories for the community.  Although I have never decorated the outside of my house with anything other than a wreath on the front door, I do enjoy the fact that others decorate.  For us, it is simply great fun driving around as a family talking about the lights and debating which house was the best.

We also love giving a traditional gift.  In another blog, I wrote about some of my most cherished gifts which are not store bought presents but rather those that were hand made.  I have tried to make sure my girls have at least one thoughtful, keep forever gift.  When my oldest daughter was little, we began the tradition of an ornament in her stocking.  It has grown into each of us receiving an ornament in the stocking.  Some have been handmade but most are store bought.  No matter the origin, each reflect the personality of the recipient.  When you look at our tree, it is easy to associate each person with an ornament. Even though we each know that an ornament will be in the stocking, it is still great fun to see what the ornament will be.

Just like many families, food is a great tradition in my family.  We can cook, bake and eat for days.  The Christmas dinner spread alone can send us into a food coma for days.  One item we look forward to making each year is the traditional gingerbread house.  Simply put, we lo  Although they will never win an award for construction or beauty, it is great fun making them.  We also bake a variety of goodies, especially cookies.  Again, they might not look like anything Martha Stewart would serve, but the point is the fun of doing them together.  For years, I would bake so much that I would give it as presents for colleagues and family members.  I always wanted to make sure people had plenty to eat.  Come to our house during the holiday season and you will be greeted by the holiday smells emanating from our kitchen.

So, these are some of my most cherished and sentimental Christmas traditions.  What are yours?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fruitcake Lovers, Unite!

By Jeff Burns

It’s time to end the hate. I’ve never understood the depths of hatred and vitriol at this time of year directed toward one of the greatest foods known to man:  fruitcake.  Jokes abound in popular culture, and too many people refuse to even give it a try.  Even in the latest Christmas episode of the television series Grimm, writers couldn’t resist.  In the story, the good guys are on the trail of three pubescent boys who turn into Christmas-destroying demons for the 12 days of Christmas.  The only thing that can stop their rampaging is to fill them with fruitcake.  After a fruitcake binge, they awaken in their normal state.  The writers had fun with some jokes about both pubescent boys and fruitcake.

Fruitcakes are practically as old as civilization. Ancient Romans mixed pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins with barley mash. In the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added.  The triangular trade of the 17th and 18th centuries made sugar much more available and created an excess of candied fruit, so fruitcakes became even more affordable and widespread.

In many countries, fruitcake is eaten in the winter, around the Christmas season, because that’s when nuts and preserved fruits are available, and it has a long shelf life, especially when soaked in alcohol.  Immigrants to America brought their own country’s recipes, like stollen from Germany, panforte from Italy, plum puddings from Britain, and gateau aux fruits from France. In the early 1900s, fruitcakes became a mail order staple, and two towns, Claxton Georgia and Corsicana Texas, became famous for their fruitcake companies. Fruitcakes are still found in gift catalogs and used as fundraisers.  They’re everywhere, and probably millions of pounds of fruitcake are baked each year, and yet fruitcakes seem to be more reviled than broccoli or liver.  I say enough!  I’m proud to say I love homemade fruitcakes.

Just about every year of my childhood saw my mother baking fruitcakes, the same way her mother and grandmother had for many years.  She grew up in the late 1930s in South Georgia, and her family consisted of sharecroppers and hardscrabble subsistence farmers. For her and her brother, Christmas stocking treats were often such exotic gifts as navel oranges and brazil nuts.  However, every year, the women would use whatever nuts and preserved fruits they had to make fruitcakes, usually mixing the ingredients in a large washtub with a paddle.

I don’t have her recipe; she rarely used recipes for anything.  For fruitcakes, it was just a matter of mixing together what she had.  Several years ago, I found a traditional southern recipe published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that looked and tasted like my mother’s, and I used it several times. This weekend I decide it’s time to bake, and I can’t find the recipe anywhere.  So I searched online and found a couple of similar recipes, but neither one was perfect, and I went ahead, combining recipes and improvising along the way.  That’s my style of cooking anyway; I guess it’s in the genes.

First, I combine the nuts and fruit in a dishpan. I used walnuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts and an assortment of candied fruits available this time of year in any supermarket.   (Warning:  last year, I didn’t get into the fruitcake mood until after January 1 and couldn’t find fruit as a result.  Store managers tend to pack up or get rid of leftovers as soon as Christmas is done.)  I like a dense cake, with lots of fruit and nuts in every bite.  Next, I poured in some bourbon and let it all sit for an hour or so.  Then, I mixed in a couple of cups of flour to keep the fruit and nuts from sticking together.  At this point, I can eat the mixed fruit and nuts by the handful, and did.

All that’s left is to mix the batter ingredients together and combine.  Then spoon the mixture into pans and bake for 2 ½ -3 hours at low temperature. Fruitcakes are baked low and slow.  I use different size loaf pans so that some cakes can be given away or wrapped and frozen for use all year.  Fruitcakes mellow and develop an even better taste over time.

Don’t let yourself be a hater! Find a fruitcake recipe and give it a try or find a baker and share their version.  I bet you’ll actually like it.


Fruitcake 101, Smithsonian Magazine
Traditional Southern fruitcake recipe from at least 1921
One of the recipes that inspired my creation.

The other recipe that inspired my creation
1 lb. mixed candied fruit (2 c.)
1 lb. whole dates -- pitted
1/2 lb. whole candied cherries (1 c.)
1/4 lb. chopped citron
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup walnut halves
4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup butter or regular margarine
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. buttermilk

Prepare baking pans by cutting parchment or brown paper liners for bottoms.  Grease each piece of paper with shortening. Place in pans. Top with a layer of waxed paper. Grease top of paper and inside of pans generously with shortening.

Place candied fruit, dates, cherries, citron, raisins, pecan and walnut halves in 6-qt. bowl.  Sift together flour, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; reserve 1/2 cup. Add reserved dry ingredients to fruit/nut mixture; mix to coat.  Cream together butter and sugar in bowl until light and fluffy at medium speed of electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add baking soda to dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Add batter to fruit/nut mixture, mixing well. Turn into prepared 10-inch tube pan or three 8x4x2 inch loaf pans. To decorate, place fruits and walnuts on top of batter to form a design.  Bake in 300ºF. oven 2 hours 30 minutes for 10-inch tube pan and 1 hour 30 minutes for loaf pans. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool on racks. Wrap In waxed paper; then in aluminum foil. Store in covered container in cool place. Let mellow 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Give History as a Gift this Holiday Season!

By Nina Kendall

During the holiday season our thoughts turn to family, friends, and the things we love. It is a great time to connect with people and share what we treasure like history. While anytime is a great time for a history book, this holiday you can make someone’s day with a history book supported by the Georgia Humanities Council. As part of the mission of to ensure that culture and humanities remain a part of the life of all Georgians, the Georgia Humanities Council contributes to book projects throughout the year with the University of Georgia Press.  These projects highlight the experiences of Georgians from the Revolutionary War to modern times. From guide books inspired by the Works Progress Administration to modern nonfiction, there is a selection for every reader to enjoy.  Check out the book partnerships below and add one to your holiday gift list.

Are you interested in history? Look at these options!

African American Life in the Georgia Low Country
Explore the history of the Atlantic world via the story of African Americans along the Georgia coast for more than 200 years.   African American Life in the Georgia Low country is a broad look at the complexity of life in this region.  This work includes essays on the double-edged freedom that the American Revolution made possible to black women, the Low Country as site of the largest gathering of African Muslims in early North America, and the coexisting worlds of Christianity and Conjuring in coastal Georgia and the links to African practices.

Crossroads of Conflict
Crossroads of Conflict is based on a comprehensive survey of sites identified by the Georgia Civil War Commission in 2000. It features covers 350 historic sites in detail, bringing the experience of the war to life.  This geographically organized guide includes color photographs and period images that document the sites of the Civil War in Georgia. From battlefields to cemeteries, the war experiences of all Georgians, are included in this updated text.

Democracy Restored
Democracy Restored: A History of the Georgia State Capitol explores the history of the State Capitol and highlights some of the many important events and decisions that have taken place there.  It also examines the symbolism of the building, including its architecture and monuments. Democracy Restored, is a beautifully-illustrated volume co-written by Dr. Timothy Crimmins and Mrs. Anne Farrisee and featuring the work of award-winning photographer, Ms. Diane Kirkland.

Georgia Odyssey
Georgia Odyssey is a lively survey of the state’s history, from its beginnings as a European colony to its current standing as an international business mecca, from the self-imposed isolation of its Jim Crow era to its role as host of the centennial Olympic Games and beyond, from its long reign as the linchpin state of the Democratic Solid South to its current dominance by the Republican Party.

Oglethorpe's Dream
Oglethorpe's Dream combines the powerful writing of Georgia's Poet Laureate, David Bottoms, with the stunning photography of Diane Kirkland. From the mountain forests to the sea islands, from the architecture of the cities to lunchtime gatherings in small towns, Kirkland gives us a gallery of spectacular images, showcasing the state in its breadth, beauty, and diversity. Marrying landscape to history, Bottoms gives voice to a people filled with courage, pain, conviction, and above all, hope. Together they capture the natural beauty of the diverse landscape, the richness of the state's storied past, and the essence of its spirited people.

The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion
The Civil War in Georgia reflects the most current scholarship in terms of how the Civil War has come to be studied, documented, and analyzed.  It provides a comprehensive introduction to many aspects of the war.  This edited volume of articles from the New Georgia Encyclopedia explores the Civil War and its impact on Georgia. The book also explores home-front conditions in depth, with an emphasis on emancipation, dissent, Unionism, and the experience and activity of African Americans and women.

Interested in Literature? These books are for you.

After O'Connor
After O'Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia is an anthology that showcases Georgia's thriving literary scene of the past fifteen years. Edited by noted literary scholar Hugh Ruppersberg, the volume includes thirty works of short fiction by authors who were born in Georgia or who spent a significant part of their lives and careers in the state. Embracing the social, cultural, and ethnic variety in today's Georgia, After O'Connor both advances and helps redefine the great southern storytelling tradition.

New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion to Literature
The New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion to Georgia Literature, is the first of the New Georgia Encyclopedia to be presented in print. The volume contains biographical discussions and analysis on Georgia's writers from nineteenth century to the present. It also explores authors' works, their contributions to Georgia 's history and culture, and their connections to our regional and
national story. The Companion covers the state's important books like Jean Toomer's Cane, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind and Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit. Georgia's literary journals, literary prizes and some of Georgia's literary organizations are also covered in the volume.

Writing the South through the Self: Explorations in Southern Autobiography
What does it mean to be Southern? For over twenty years Dr. John Inscoe of the University of Georgia has been teaching a class on southern history through autobiography. In Writing the South through the Self, Inscoe draws on the reflections of Maya Angelou, Rick Bragg, Jimmy Carter, Bessie and Sadie Delany, Lillian Smith, and more to illustrate the complexities of life in the South. The power of place, strength and struggles of family, and questions and conflict concerning race, class, and ethnic identity are all explored. 

Book descriptions from