Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's 1776!

(An Aside: This is fun. I never took stock in painted portraits of people, because I never thought they looked like ANYONE. The features or the proportions or even the clothing just looks so wrong that even if the living subject was standing right in front of me, I wouldn't know who it was. Until I saw this portrait. This is George Washington's Mother. See the resemblance?)

Last week I attended Old Fort MacArthur Days at San Pedro. I've never even heard of it before, but I was promised WWII and Spanish American War re-creators, so I was determined to go. I've been trying to get good information off the internet about my grandfather's company during the Span-Am War with no luck, so I thought I could hit up the guys who live it, figuring they would have some good knowledge that I haven't seen yet. And of course, you know how I am about to 40s, so I just had to go say hello to "the boys".

Well right off the bat, Morgan's Riflemen just blew everyone else away.

The 4th of July had just passed and it had caught my attention. Like so many other people, I had caught the Cliff Notes version of the war in school and look at it (as most do, I suppose) as something so categorically WON as to be an inevitability. Well of COURSE we were going to win, right? But this time I started getting curious as to WHY we went to war. It couldn't be just because "a bunch of rich landowners didn't want to pay taxes anymore', as an acquaintance so annoyingly put it. So I started looking into it and was disagreeably surprised at how little I knew. For instance, call me part of the TV generation, but I always thought Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were contemporaries. Maybe it was because they both had such a strong resemblance to Fess Parker.

So, I wandered over to the Revolutionary-looking guys and hung around for a while. The British Fusiliers were busy filming something, so none of them were even remotely interested in talking to me, although I did watch two men making bullets, and that was pretty nifty.

But ooohhh, then I saw Morgan's Riflemen. Talk about a great period in history, these were the first sharpshooters who came out of the hills and joined up right at the beginning of the war. Just about everyone fought with the Brown Bess but the Riflemen had the much more accurate Rifle and could pick off the enemy with astonishing skill. They also have a very distinctive look with their fringed shirts and leather leggings. I went up and started talking to them and didn't stop for several hours. They were SOOO friendly and answered all my questions with excellent information, but most impressive of all was how deeply they got into it! They were an amazingly self-sufficient unit, each man carrying his own sleeping, cooking and shooting gear with an efficiency that I can only aspire to. The tall fellow I spoke to the most, Mike, said he takes his gear (including his period gun) on his hunting and camping excursions so he can really live the lifestyle. Apparently a lot of them do. I got handlw a couple of rifles, a Brown Bess and a blunderbuss. I'm sure they could tell by the way I held them so gingerly that I was a beginner, but thank heavens they didn't laugh at me. They showed me their cast iron pans and how to field clean them, showed me how to chop a perpendicular notch in a hill so you don't roll off in your sleep. The womenfolk of the camp showed me how they cooked all their food over a small fire in dutch ovens, and how they used just about every piece. Scraps from last night's roasted chicken were today's chicken soup. They get so into it that I'm not even sure they used the porta-potties set up nearby to do their business. I fell so in love with the company that I came back the next day and spoke to them for another chunk of the afternoon. Unfortunately I was so entranced that I didn't realize until I was driving home that I hadn't taken a single picture.


They'll be setting up camp again in October, so I'll have to stop by and say hello and take pictures then.

I can't describe how amazed I was at how self-contained the riflemen were. I would love to be that secure with my skills, especially in economic times where it seems inevitable that people thrown out of their houses and running out of unemployment checks will probably have to move onto the street. To be able to shoot your own food and travel freely with such a small pack seems impossible to my stove/oven/microwave mindset. I really think the Riflemen should take tenderfoots out on sort of an Historical Survivalist Boot Camp. You know, in their spare time. To fund their corp. Of course.

Further reading:

Ever since I got home I've been consuming literature about the revolution, the most important of which is The Declaration of Independence. Of course everybody knows about it, but when was the last time you read it? If nothing else, just read the list of grievances. It delineates all the reasons the Americans felt like the red headed stepchildren of England, and why it felt like the King was happy to take our money and the fruits of our labor, and in return, give us troops to stay in our houses, eat our food, and murder us with impunity if we protested. On the other hand, if any of us killed a soldier and the ensuing trial found us not guilty, the king would try us again until he got the outcome he wanted.

1776 is the modern definitive tome about the war, and it comes in an illustrated version as well, which is good for me because I can only take so many wordy descriptions before they all bleed together. Having portraits of the main players and diagrams of the weapons they used (unless you know off hand how to tell a musket from a rifle) is VERY helpful. The only thing that I'm not crazy about is that it starts you right at the day England declared war against the colonies, but doesn't touch so much on the issues that actually caused the war. It assumes you already know about The Boston Tea party and the French and Indian War. (Yeah yeah, I'm sure you know about the Boston Tea party, but tell me, who led it and why was this the straw that broke the camel's back? And who fought in the French and Indian War? If you guessed it was the French against the Indians, you're wrong.)

The Revolutionary Soldier: 1775 - 1783 , though technically a juvenile book, is an EXCELLENT resource for beginners as it it a completely illustrated book so you can SEE what the clothes and equipment were like. See all the things the soldiers made out of bullets in their down time, like fishing weights and buttons. Seeing it makes you appreciate how ingenious they were with what they had.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's 1950!

It's been about 100 degrees here the past few days, and it doesn't cool down enough to cook until late at night. Even then, we're talking about the high 80s inside the house (my a/c is on the fritz, just in time for the heatwave). So, I haven't really been in the mood to get all hot and sweaty and blast the house with even more hot air just as it's cooling down. Still, my friend Martha of Gram's Recipe Box posted this old recipe for Chicken Paprika, and it just sounded so good I had to have it!

It SOUNDS like a wartime variation of a peacetime recipe, because of the call for "fat" instead of something more specific like lard, butter or oil, and because of the scant amount of sour cream used. Sour cream was fairly easy to get, just leave your cream out by mistake, it'll happen. Waste not, want not. In other recipes I've seen for sour cream based sauces, you use a cup or more. So, even though Martha says the recipe is from around 1950, I suspect it's actually a bit older and it just took a while for anyone to write it down.

It also sounds Hungarian. I can just see Cuddles Sakall cooking it up for a dinner party and shaking his jowls in glee.

I don't have a whole chicken, and there's only one of me tonight (no family), so I halved the recipe and made one huge chicken breast as an audition for my recipe book.

I started out by frying the onions in a small amount of bacon fat, maybe a 1/2 teaspoon, then browning the chicken as directed. I must say here, you can't get a better smell in your kitchen that onions and bacon, it's just heavenly. I thought about adding more oil to the pan for the chicken, but apparently it didn't need any more. The chicken browned up quickly and didn't stick to the pan at all.

When I flipped over the chicken, I noticed some of the onions were starting to burn. I checked the recipe and it says that after you brown the chicken, you cover it, put the flame on low and let it cook for 40 minutes. I was afraid my onions wouldn't be able to survive that long, so I took them out of the pan. I added them again toward the end of the cooking.

The original notations claim that this would be good served over noodles or rice, but I don't know if it makes that much "gravy". The gravy was very thick and there was just enough to spoon onto the chicken, but certainly not enough to get noodles or rice wet. Maybe if you stretch it with a bit of broth, it will make a nice, soupy gravy, but not this time.

The chicken was moist and savory and, oddly enough, sweet. I can't imagine why it should taste sweet, I didn't put any sugar in it. Maybe it was the paprika? Does paprika turn sweet when you warm it up? Maybe the onions caramelized just so? I don't know, but the taste was delicious. The paprika and the bacon fat were so aromatic together that the onions seemed almost like an afterthought. After the first swallow, though, it's the sweet/onion flavor that lingers in the mouth.

I also had my first ripe tomato of the year for a garnish. It ripened up just in time, so I plucked it from the vine and sacrificed it to my dinner plate, and it made a lovely accompaniment, echoing the slight sweetness in the sauce. Ahhhh!


Thank you, Martha, for the recipe!