Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tasting History with Martha Washington’s Great Cake Recipe

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Recently, I was able to visit Mount Vernon and meet Martha Washington. Okay, so it wasn’t really her but a reenactor instead.  However, while in the dining room, she shared her Great Cake recipe with us.  The recipe shared is one of the few recipes that have survived that are directly associated with Mrs. Washington.  Legend has it, the Great Cake was so well liked that she had her granddaughter, Martha Parks Custis copy it down to give out to other family members.  The Great Cake, as it was called is a basic fruitcake that would have been served as part of the Christmas holidays.

Her original recipe reads:
“Take 40 eggs divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of the eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manners then put it in the Youlks [sic] of eggs & 5 pounds of flower [sic] & 5 pounds of fruit.  2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg half a pint of wine and some frensh [sic] brandy.”

Thankfully, the recipe that is given out and the one I baked is adapted for modern bakers.  The first step was soaking the candied fruit pieces and nuts in the Madeira for three hours.  The cake includes so much brandy and wine that when finished it was really moist and quite good.  The biggest change I had to make to the cake was using regular raisins instead of currants.  After several stores and an internet search, it was apparent that finding currants just wasn’t going to happen. 

French Brandy, Madeira, Candied Orange Peel, Citron, Lemon Peel & Raisins.
Soaking in the Madeira for at least 3 hours.

Also, I did not make the modern adaption of an 18th century icing that was part of the recipe.  I had on hand an extra bottle of rum icing that we put on the plum pudding we make on Christmas Eve.  To say that the cake turned out to be incredibly tasty is an understatement.  My daughters usually refuse to eat fruitcake—they don’t like the taste and texture of fruits in cakes.  However, Mrs. Washington’s Great Cake was a huge hit.  My usually picky eaters gobbled up every bite.

The cake ready to be baked and fresh out of the oven with icing.

Bon Appetite to baking your very own Great Cake and tasting a bit of history!

Recipe card from Mount Vernon

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Recent Holiday History: Thanksgiving

In schools, students are taught about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. The story of a the survival of a small hardy group is repeated. Who hasn’t seen an elementary school reenactment of Thanksgiving? While the spirit of the day continues, modern history reveals new additions to our celebration. As a nation of more than 300 million people, recent history illustrates how the tradition has changed.

Holiday Help
The Turkey Talk line operated by Butterball has been in operation since 1981. Every year advice is offered to thousands of callers. You too can get help as you prepare for your holiday gathering.

Be Aware. Avert Disaster.
Thanksgiving is the number one day for for house fires. The US Fire Administration part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA)has issued a advice on how to keep yourself safe while cooking your turkey.

Not interested in a traditional turkey? The 20th century has introduced new options like jellied cranberry sauce and turducken. Canned jellied cranberry sauce began as an industry in 1912. A turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. This creation has been a pop culture phenomenon since the late 1980's. Today you can order one to be delivered to your home.

Get in the Spirit!
Are you foregoing turkey altogether? You are not the only one. President Obama is set to continue the tradition of pardoning a turkey in the next few days. The 2016 turkey hails from Iowa. The tradition of pardoning a turkey began in the mid 20th century. Want another way to celebrate together? Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The 2016 parade is the 90 parade. As a special treat, check out this online interactive of past Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What do you think will be the next addition to your pantheon of holiday traditions?

No matter how you celebrate. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Art of Fermentation: Everything Old is New Again

By Jeff Burns

One of the oldest methods of preparing food, found in cultures around the world, is fermentation.  The fermentation process has been used in beverage making since 7000-6000 BCE, in China, India, Georgia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Central America, and throughout Africa and Asia.  All sorts of foods have been fermented including beans, grains, vegetables, fruits, meats, milk, fish, and tea. Fermented foods are an important part of the cuisines of many different cultures.  Lately, researchers have been touting the health benefits of fermented foods, citing their probiotic effects and vitamin enriched nature. 

We already make a lot of relishes and pickles, so we decided to try some fermenting with a couple of popular fermented foods:  sauerkraut and kimchi.  Both are fermented cabbage dishes.  Sauerkraut is mostly associated with German and eastern European cultures, while kimchi is Korean.  Sauerkraut immigrated to America along with German and eastern European immigrants in the 19th century. In the immigrant neighborhoods of cities across America, it quickly became a staple.  In the tenements of New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s, men would go door to door with their cabbage cutting mandolins, shredding heads of cabbage for a penny each.  This saved the housewife time, labor, and space, and once she had her shredded cabbage, she could use her own family recipe to make the sauerkraut.  Our attempt turned out great.

Encouraged, we tackled the kimchi.  We found a recipe online, ordered a Korean spice mix, shredded, spiced, and then let fermentation take its course.  That’s one of the advantages of the process:  you just let nature take its course.  We jarred it, and a week and a half later, it was ready for tasting.  Another homerun!.  Now to find ways to use up jars of sauerkraut and kimchi.

Want to learn more about fermentation and maybe give it a shot yourself?  There are lots of websites full of information about the health benefits of fermented foods and recipes and how-to guides.  There are lots of books as well.  A great book to start with is The Art of Fermentation  by Sandor Ellix Katz, a James Beard Award winner (a big deal in the food world), considered a bible of fermentation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reluctant History

By Jeff Burns

Recently, on a summer trip to Montana and Wyoming, my wife and I visited the Heart Mountain Japanese Relocation Center historic site.  Located near Cody Wyoming, Heart Mountain was home to about 14,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast (and one Caucasian woman who refused to leave her Japanese husband) from 1942 to 1945.  Because of Executive Order 9066 which essentially deemed all Japanese-Americans security risks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and authorized their relocation to 10 internment camps in some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the country.  Families were forced to sell or give away their farms, stores, and homes.  They were allowed to pack a single suitcase each, loaded on buses and trains and moved to camps like Heart Mountain, where they were to live in hastily built barracks, each family allotted a single small room.  There was no privacy or freedom anywhere, and they were constantly surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Government propaganda photo of life in camp
Candid photo of actual family room

Today, little remains physically of the structures at Heart Mountain. There are a couple of buildings and a smokestack of the hospital complex and a barrack building that has recently been donated and moved back to the site.  None of the buildings are open for visitors.  There is a memorial site and observation posts on top of a hill from which visitors can get a little idea of how the camp was set up. There is an excellent interpretive center with interesting and well done exhibits showing life before Pearl Harbor, the deportations and life in the camp. 

But this is not an “On the Road” Histocrats blog; I’m writing to share an experience at the interpretive center that made me really think about history and the teaching of history. While we were in the museum, a family of three came in: an older Japanese-American man, his Caucasian wife, and their granddaughter who appeared to be in her twenties.  It’s a relatively small museum, so we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation with the museum staff.  Turns out, the man was an internee at Heart Mountain as a small boy, and this was his first visit there since 1945.  The museum staff immediately asked if he wanted to give them his contact information so that his oral history could be added to their collection.  He quietly refused, saying he wasn’t interested.  His wife and granddaughter said that he had never spoken about his experiences, that one of the cultural characteristics of Japanese people is not to dwell on the past, especially unpleasantness, and that had been drilled into him by his family. 

The family followed us into the theater for the excellent film about the camp; the film was produced by the son of an internee and features about a dozen internees telling their stories, including a couple who lived in the same barracks block as the visiting grandfather. Throughout the fifteen minute film and the museum exhibits, I watched the grandfather.  While his granddaughter sobbed during the movie, he sat stoically, without changing expression.  That stoicism persisted as he looked at photographs and exhibits, including reproductions of the rooms.  I could tell that his stoicism frustrated his granddaughter, who obviously wanted him to open up, and his wife, presumably after decades of marriage, appeared to be resigned to his quietness.

When I awoke early the next morning (body clock still on Georgia time), I thought about what I had seen, and I wondered what if I should have introduced myself to the family as a history teacher and told the grandfather how much his story and first person accounts like his mean to my students. Every year, I bring in Vietnam veterans to speak to my classes, and I often share stories of my encounters with Holocaust survivors and civil rights activists.  Their stories bring history to life for my students, and they create more thought, discussion, and reflection than any textbook or lecture can.  However, I know that there is a lot of history within people that they are reluctant to share, so much pain that they can’t bear to speak it. Unfortunately, that grandfather may never be able to share his story, but I developed a deeper appreciation for those who have shared, and I have a renewed desire to use primary sources and personal accounts in my class this fall.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Find Your Favorite History Tee

As History Fans our favorite T-shirts and road trip souvenirs reflect our interest in the past. From “Got Liberty?” shirts in Philadelphia to a FDR Campaign tie from the Roosevelt Library and Museum, we happily share our interest. However, we know that great stuff for History Fans is hard to find. The things we love aren’t found in one central place. You have to hunt for the items that reflect your interest in the past. 

History Tees is a great place to start your collection of shirts. With a wide variety of shirts that reflect events in World History, you are sure to find one that appeals to you. Do you admire the leadership of Attila the Hun? Pick a shirt that shows you are a fan of the Huns. Are you more interested in Roman history? Show your interest with a “Keep Calm and Destroy Carthage” t-shirt.

Are you ready to proudly proclaim your interest this summer? The Histocrats and History Tees can help.

We are giving away THREE History Tees shirts.  Check out History Tees and follow them. The lucky winners will be able to select the shirt of their choice. To enter, please complete the form below.  

Terms and Conditions
·                     No P.O. Boxes
·                     Must be 18 years of age or older. Winner will be chosen at random from correct entries.
·                     No cash alternative.
·                     Competition closes Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at 11:59 pm (EST).
·                     Winner will be notified and contacted via email within 24 hours after contest ends.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Enjoying History in 2016

By Nina Kendall

It is April and we are well on our way to meeting the #enjoyhistory challenge in 2016. Here are a few of the highlights of our year thus far.

Visit a museum or historic site.
            It was great to get the chance to visit the Center for Human and Civil Rights in Atlanta again. This museum is an engaging collection of sights, sounds and experiences to engage all of the senses. The exhibits weave the words of Martin Luther King, Jr into the complex and compelling images of the period. From segregated Atlanta to the continued quest for civil rights after the death of Dr. King, your move through time and issue to the soundtrack of the past. 
 This time I was lucky enough to tour the museum with my brother. It was his first visit. He too lingered at each historic and human rights exhibit he encountered.

See a documentary or history themed movie.
            Earlier this year, I got the chance to see the movie Race. This drama explores the life of Jessie Owens as he faces the challenges of life in the 1930s and the issues raised by the 1936 Olympics. I had only the most basic knowledge of the story. This movie highlighted the character of Jessie Owens and included the challenges brought by the NAACP and the discord of the Olympic Committee. The complex emotions and varied personalities in this biopic sparked my interest in this event.

Road Trip and Connect with Others who Enjoy History
           Spring Break was great time to take a road trip to St. Augustine, Florida. America’s oldest city is great place to experience early American history. With famous forts and pirate reenactment, history and adventure combine for fun. As I watched pirates attack, my friends and I swapped l stories about historic sites.  This trip was Greek history in Spanish Florida. The St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine is an institution of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This beautiful site shares the story of the first colony of Greek people who came to America in 1768 and their settlement at New Smyrna. The visit to the shrine and exhibit were free and great addition to our road trip

How have you been enjoying history this year?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning about History through a Traveling Military Exhibit

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
Russ Vermillion, Lamar Scott, Buddy Simpson, Marty Potash

Recently, my school was lucky enough to host a traveling exhibit of historic military items ranging from World War I through Vietnam.  The exhibit contains items from the personal collection of two local Marine Veterans, Buddy Simpson and Lamar Scott.  They have been amassing the collection for over a decade and have been offering it to schools for the last six years, free of charge.  Not only do they set up the exhibit but they, along with fellow Veterans man the exhibit during the day.  Students get to see all the artifacts, and the Veterans are on hand to explain all the items and answer questions.  Plus they often tell stories to go along with the artifacts.

Vietnam Era Items
Picture of Lamar Scott as well as
helmet he wore in Vietnam
For our school, the exhibit was set up in our Media Center and occupied all available space possible.  Originally, we had booked the exhibit for one day, however, scheduling conflicts pushed it to two days.  Once the exhibit was set up, we were grateful for the mix up and happy to have the exhibit longer than originally planned.  The exhibit is so massive it takes a full day for set up and another for take down.  Over the course of two days, all World History and US History students were able to tour it.  However, the exhibit turned out to be so popular that by the second day, Geography and Government students were asking to go.  So, next year the plan is to expand to a full week and even create a community night so that students can bring their families to tour. 

Mannequins clad with uniforms from different eras. 

Mr. Simpson showing students items
“I started off with just a little bit of a collection. I went from a few shelves in the bedroom to a 6-by-12-foot trailer. And now we have an 8-by-20-foot trailer,” said Mr. Scott.  Really the collection is much larger than we had expected and the look on our faces when the Veterans first opened the trailer was priceless. However, as we helped unload and set up it was exciting.  Many of us enjoyed looking over the exhibit and holding many of the historical items.  For example, our AP Psychology teacher was able to flip through a book from World War II, Psychology and the Fighting Man.

Why amass so many artifacts and create a traveling exhibit?  According to Mr. Simpson, “We do it to teach students about history, if you forget your past, you have no hope for the future. We’re preserving history through wartime collection.” Indeed, student’s reaction to the exhibit was very positive.  For many students, this was the first time they had ever seen so many historical items, military or otherwise. 

For the length of the exhibit, Mr. Scott and Mr. Simpson were joined by fellow Veterans Russ Vermillion (Marines), Terry McClure (Army) and Marty Potash (Air Force).  All of the men volunteer their time helping show off the historic artifacts and engage students with stories and answering questions.  As a teacher, I have known Mr. Vermillion for over a decade as one of my annual Vietnam Veteran speakers. 

Authentic Tuskegee Airmen Uniforms

World War I Uniforms and Saddle
One of the stand out parts of the exhibit was the 56 mannequins on display.  Each mannequin was adorned in antique uniforms.  The uniforms are all authentic and show off the evolution of military dress over time.  One of the most talked about uniforms was the two Tuskeegee uniforms on display.  According to Mr. Scott, “The mannequins represent men and women that died for our freedoms.”

Mr. Simpson and Mr. Scott told us how they regularly receive donations from people who might otherwise toss the historic items in the trash.  Something very sad for a history teacher to hear.  Indeed, there was one photo from WWI that was given to them at a local mall.  The woman said she had planned on throwing it away if they didn’t take it.  Not only did they gladly take the photograph, Mr. Simpson then hand made a wooden oval frame for it to be displayed in. 

Variety of medicines.
World War II German items

The exhibit also contains dozens of cases, hand made by Mr. Simpson containing hundreds of items.  Artifacts ranged from WWI cavalry items to flasks to medical supplies to war medals to money to disabled weapons.  Mr. Scott was able to show off the discontinued miniature cigarette brands and lighters as well as the still-thriving personal hygiene products used in their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations. Other great curiosities included a saddle from WWI, an Army issue portable phonograph player, a typewriter, huge walkie-talkies and the wire and phones from WWI. 

I have told all my teacher friends at other schools all about the exhibit.  It was a wonderful week and I look forward to my school hosting it each year.  It really was exciting to have a mini-museum in our school, if even for just a few days.