Friday, December 9, 2011

James Monroe, the Long Winter at Valley Forge, and Virginia Spoon Bread

So did you know that while serving in the Continental Army, James Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington, fought at the Battle of Trenton, and endured the long winter at Valley Forge? Among the patriots encamped there were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

Another soldier there was Dr. Albigence Waldo, a surgeon from Connecticut, whose diary provides perhaps the best account we have of conditions that winter at Valley Forge:

Dec. 21st., Preparations made for hutts. Provision Scarce...sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoiled with continual smoke. A general cry thro' the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, "No Meat!, No Meat!", the Distant vales Echo'd back the melancholly sound, "No Meat! No Meat! "What have you for our Dinners Boys?" Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir." At night, "Gentlemen the Supper is ready." What is your Supper, Lads? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir..."

Dec. 22nd., Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night, my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit's eyes, occation'd by a great Cold, and Smoke. What have you got for Breakfast, Lads ? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir." I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one...But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat...

Before the end of the war, Monroe returned to Virginia and studied law under Thomas Jefferson, then served as governor of Virginia and was appointed U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a taste for fancy French cuisine while serving overseas, but biographers say that he retained a fondness for Chicken Pudding with Rice, Spoon Bread, and other simple foods of his youth.

Because it has a consistency similar to pudding, Spoon Bread is usually served straight from the baking pan with a spoon. If you'd like to whip up a batch of spoon bread this winter, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from

1 cup sweet potato, mashed
1 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup evaporated milk
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. In a heat proof bowl, mix cornmeal and salt. Add boiling water and mix well. Add mashed sweet potato, sugar, baking powder, and milk mix well. Add eggs and mix well. Set aside for a few minutes. Grease cast iron skillet or metal baking pan with oil, allow extra oil to stay in pan. Heat pan with oil in it over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Pour batter into hot skillet and place in hot oven. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Spoon bread should rise like a souffle, pull away from sides, and brown on top.

FAST FACT: In Emmanuel Luetz’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm. If you would like to see this painting some day (it measures 12 feet high and 21 feet long!), it is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.