Today is the birthday (1741), according to the Gregorian calendar [O.S. January 3, 1740], of Benedict Arnold, a general during the American Revolutionary War, who fought for the American Continental Army, and later defected to the British Army, making his name in the US a byword for “turncoat” or “traitor.” I will give you the short version here. You can read about the complexities on your own. Rather uncharacteristically these days, I want to focus more on my recipe than on the anniversary it celebrates.
Arnold was born in Connecticut and was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. He joined the growing army outside Boston and distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776 (allowing American forces time to prepare New York’s defenses), the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that halted his combat career for several years.
Despite Arnold’s successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress, while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and concluded that he was indebted to Congress, even though he had also spent much of his own money on the war effort. Arnold was frustrated and bitter at this state of affairs.
Arnold was also not happy with the American colonies’ alliance with France and the failure of Congress to accept Britain’s 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies. He decided to change sides, and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was awarded command of West Point, New York (at the time a fort which would become the site of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802), overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender them to British forces. His scheme was to surrender the fort to the British, but it was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers which revealed the plot. Upon learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.
Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He led British forces on raids in Virginia and against New London and Groton, Connecticut before the war effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown. In the winter of 1782, he moved to London with his second wife Margaret “Peggy” Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but rather coolly by the Whigs. In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick. He returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.
The name “Benedict Arnold” quickly became a byword in the United States for a person who commits some sort of betrayal. At one time the fact that Arnold betrayed his country by leading the British army in battle against the men he once commanded, was common knowledge. Benjamin Franklin wrote that Arnold was worse than Judas because “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three millions.” Nowadays, what Arnold actually did is less well known, but his name is still invoked for someone accused of being a turncoat. Why he did what he did is really hard to fathom. Being unfairly overlooked for promotion can make you bitter, and wanting a long, drawn-out war to end when there is a chance for peace that is rejected by your seniors, can make you frustrated. Those things might make you disaffected enough to want to quit, even to leave the country, maybe migrate to England. But why would you become a commanding officer for the country you had been fighting against? There are answers to these questions, but I will leave you to find out more about Arnold and decide for yourself. Meanwhile I want to talk about foods that are turncoats.
When I get round to it – if I get round to it – I am going to write a cookbook on some basic dishes that we can make in the classic way, or we can change in some fashion or another so that they become “turncoats” of a sort. One will be eggs Benedict. If you check around you will find that eggs Benedict have absolutely nothing to do with Benedict Arnold, even though you can find recipes called “eggs Benedict Arnold.” The recipes are usually standard eggs Benedict with a change of name. But what if we change the ingredients? Then we would have true eggs Benedict Arnold. As it happens, this is by no means a new thought. In fact, I have already given a recipe for eggs Florentine which uses spinach in place of Canadian ham: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/machiavelli/
Standard eggs Benedict are a toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, and a poached egg smothered in Hollandaise sauce. You can switch out any one of these four ingredients for another and you have your turncoat dish. Here’s a list (and partial gallery) of these Benedict Arnold egg dishes (with the names they sometimes are called by):
Eggs Blackstone: streaky bacon instead of ham (sometimes with a tomato slice).
Eggs Blanchard: béchamel sauce instead of Hollandaise.
Eggs Chesapeake: Maryland blue crab cake instead of ham.
Eggs Mornay: Mornay sauce instead of Hollandaise.
Eggs Omar: a small steak instead of ham, (sometimes replaces the hollandaise with béarnaise).
Eggs Atlantic (also Eggs Hemingway, Eggs Copenhagen, Eggs Royale, Eggs Montreal, or Eggs Benjamin): smoked salmon instead of ham.
Huevos Benedictinos: sliced avocado and/or Mexican chorizo instead of ham, and salsa with the Hollandaise.
Irish Eggs Benedict: corned beef or Irish bacon instead of ham.
This is just a start for you. Take any of the ingredients and substitute something else. Eggs need to be poached, I think, but what about using a duck egg? What could you substitute for ham, or for the English muffin?