Tuesday, March 21, 2017

George Washington: Assassin

In May of 1754, George Washington, the 22 year old future American patriarch, was serving as Lieutenant Colonel in a regiment of soldiers assigned to protect English settlers in the Ohio territory. They were on a mission to help secure an area on the site of present day Pittsburgh.

English soldiers had begun to build a fort on that spot, but French soldiers had seized it and renamed it Fort Duquesne. An Indian ally named Tanacharison (a.k.a. The Half King) sent Washington word of what had happened. According to Joseph J. Ellis in his book, His Excellency,

"Washington decided to build a makeshift fort near Tanacharison's camp, rally whatever Indian allies he could find, and wait for reinforcements. Tanacharison promised his support, but also warned that the odds were stacked against them."

What happened next is arguably what led to the start of "The Seven Years' War" (or as we call it in the U.S. "The French and Indian War.") While trudging through the woods Washington and about 40 men came upon a group of French soldiers camped in a small clearing. Washington's soldiers and their Indian allies quietly surrounded the group. No one is clear on who started the shooting, but a battle did occur. Washington himself provided a brief description of what happened next in a letter he sent to Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie.

"I there upon in conjunction with the Half King (Tanacharison)...formed a disposition to attack them on all sides, which we accordingly did and after and engagement of about 15 minutes we killed 10, wounded one and took 21 prisoners, amongst those that were killed was Monsieur De Jumonville, the commander."

Washington left out the details and based on eyewitness accounts of what happened next Washington may have omitted some of the facts to protect himself. After the firefight ended, Jumonville presented a letter, in French, that stated that the French soldiers were on diplomatic mission. The letter was sent by a French governor in Canada warning the English that their presence in the Ohio River Valley would not be tolerated. According to Kenneth C. Davis in his book America's Hidden History, here's what happened next...

"The chief who had guided and advised Washington, the Half King [Tanacharison] moved beside Jumonville. Without warning, the Half King swung his hatchet, burying it in the wounded Frenchman's head, saying in French, "Thou are not dead yet, my father." Reaching into Jumonville's shattered skull, the Half King pulled out some brain matter and smeared it on his hands. As if on signal the rest of the Half King's warriors fell on the wounded French captives. The Indians methodically scalped and stripped the Frenchmen as they were killed. One French soldier's decapitated head was then impaled on a stick."

The Half King's actions were apparently to avenge his father who had been killed by the French. It was alleged that he was boiled and eaten as well.

Washington was an inexperienced soldier and this was his first taste of combat. The shock of what happened around him left him helpless as he realized he had no control over the situation and was probably too frightened to intervene.

Shortly after these events, Washington would surrender his makeshift fort, Fort Necessity, to the French. As a condition of his surrender he signed Articles of Capitulation. The papers basically stated that he and his troops were responsible for the assassination of a French emissary. On July 4 Washington and his men shuffled away from the fort headed for home. For the rest of his life Washington denied realizing that the document he was signing was an admission of guilt. However, it is more likely he was fully aware what he was signing and did so because it was the only way to walk out alive.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Historic Foods and Christmas: Yorkshire Pie and a Trifle

Our family's Thanksgiving meal has never deviated from the traditional fare of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie. With food being one of the few traditional aspects of that holiday, making a change in the menu might disrupt the very fabric of the day. As an unintentional compromise, our Christmas meal has always diverged from the holiday standards. For almost as long as I have been married, we have chosen to have enchiladas on Christmas Day.

This year we agreed to take a break from enchiladas and try something new. We do this occasionally with some of our family traditions to keep them from growing stale. For this year's meal we took our inspiration from our interests in English and Colonial American History in selecting our main dish and our dessert.

For the main course I selected a Yorkshire Pie which were commonly served at Christmas time in England. They are  made with a standing crust and filled with the meat of fowl. Each bird is boned and placed in the pie with the larger birds progressively wrapped around the smaller birds. Depending on the recipe, the cook may start with a pigeon or a partridge and work all the way up to goose or a swan. It was essentially an antiquated version of the Turducken.

Yorkshire pies were also a staple on George Washington’s Christmas table at Mount Vernon. The recipe used by Martha Washington is found in her copy of “The Art of Cookery” by Hannah Glasse which was published in several editions in the mid to late 1700s. 

In a December 1786 letter to David Humphreys, a colonel and aide de camp to General Washington during the Revolutionary War, Washington makes reference to the pies being served at Mount Vernon. In the letter dated the day after Christmas, he laments that Humphreys was not able to “aid in the Attack of Christmas Pyes,” and adds that they shared quite a large pie on Christmas Day.

"We had one yesterday on which all the company (and pretty numerous it was) were hardly able to make an impression."

Our Yorkshire Pie
We chose to use a version of the recipe that was featured recently on Mount Vernon's website. It was a modernized variation of the Glasse recipe, found in Nancy Crump’s 2011 book, “Dining with the Washington's. ”  This version dispatches with the pigeon, the partridge, and the goose and wrapping each bird around the other. The recipe only uses chicken and turkey in layers separated by vegetables such as carrots and celery. We also substituted turkey bacon into our pie.

The choice of our dessert was left up to my wife, who decided to make a Trifle. The Trifle is made from a thick or solidified custard, diced fruit, and a layer of sponge cake soaked in port or a fruit drink. The earliest known recipe for the Trifle was published in 1596 by Thomas Dawson in the book, “The Good Husvvife’s Jevvell”

"Take a pinte of thicke Creame, and season it with Sugar and Ginger, and Rosewater, so stirre it as you would then have it, and make it luke warme in a dish on a Chafingdish and coals, and after put it into a silver piece or bowle, and so serve it to the boorde."

My wife's version of the Trifle
This recipe bears little resemblance to the modern trifle, which began to emerge in the 1700s. In the modern version the bottom layer is commonly made from cake such as fund cake, sponge cake, or macaroons. The cake is usually doused with alcohol such as sherry or port. In our case my wife chose to use sparkling cranberry juice and fresh squeezed lemon juice. On top of the cake are alternating layers of custard and raspberries. The dish is then topped off with whipped cream. 

Once slice of the Yorkshire Pie proved more than enough for each of us. The recipe was meant to serve 8 to 10 people, so with only four of us we understood why George Washington and his guests were unable to make much progress in finishing their pie. It was especially difficult with mashed potatoes and green beans added to our plates.

The Yorkshire Pie from the inside
The Trifle was a bit too lemony, but it was very light and sweet. It was a welcome change from our usual Christmas desserts of pecan and pumpkin pies and chocolates.

We all enjoyed our tribute to English Christmas food, but I do no think it will become our yearly meal. If anything it will inspire us to research and cook holiday foods from different parts of the world which should prove to be an exciting new holiday tradition in our home.

We hope you had a Merry Christmas full of family and food as well.