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 soldiers at Valley Forge were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Another soldier encamped 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...
After the war, Monroe returned to Virginia and studied law under Thomas Jefferson, then served as governor of Virginia and was later appointed as U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a fondness for fancy French cuisine, but historians say that he retained a boyhood taste for Spoon Bread and other simple foods of his Virginia youth.
Because it has a consistency similar to pudding, Spoon Bread is usually served straight from the baking pan with a large spoon. If you'd like to whip up a batch today, here's a quick and simple recipe to try:
¾ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
Combine cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add boiling water. Stir in melted butter.
In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add egg and milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture. Add baking powder and mix.
Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Serve straight from the baking dish with a spoon and enjoy!
FAST FACT: In Emmanuel Luetz’s famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm. Measuring 12 feet high and 21 feet long, it's on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.