May 062017
 

Today is the first Saturday in May, the day, traditionally when the Kentucky Derby is run in Louisville, Kentucky, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The race is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds at a distance of one and a quarter miles (2 km) at Churchill Downs. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds (57 kilograms) and fillies 121 pounds (55 kilograms). The race is known in the United States by many nicknames including “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” or “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” for its approximate duration, and is also called “The Run for the Roses” for the blanket of roses draped over the winner. It has been run every consecutive year since 1875. This year’s (2017) race will be the 143rd running with a $2 million guaranteed purse.

Derby Day was always a special day in our house when my wife was alive because she was born in Louisville and was extremely proud of her Kentucky heritage. Her family had celebrated Derby Day with a party all the years that she was growing up, and we continued the tradition. I only stopped when she died because it was too sad a reminder. The week before the Derby she would buy racing forms and newspapers with details on the year’s horses and after spending some time poring over them would pick her favorite. Sometimes we had the party at our house, sometimes at a neighbors’ house, but it was always the same: burgoo, cornbread, and mint juleps (recipes below) for everyone with the television on from the morning hours until the race itself.

The food is all traditional, served at the track and in homes all around Kentucky. Other longstanding traditions include the bugle call to post:

. . . the singing of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses are paraded to the starting gate:

. . . not to mention the women’s hats:

. . . and the blanket of roses at the end.

My wife would sit glued to the set through all of this, and always sang “My Old Kentucky Home” with tears pouring down her face. At this point you could either be deathly silent or sing along – otherwise she would kill you. This was the pinnacle of the year for her: more than her birthday, Christmas, New Year, and Easter, even if you rolled them all into one.

In 1872, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, traveled to England to see the Epsom Derby, a famous race that had been running annually since 1780 (and is still run – replete with men in formal wear and women in startling hats). From there, Clark went on to Paris where in 1863, a group of racing enthusiasts had formed the French Jockey Club and had organized the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, which at the time was the greatest race in France. Returning home to Kentucky, Clark organized the Louisville Jockey Club for the purpose of raising money to build quality racing facilities just outside the city. The track would soon become known as Churchill Downs, named for John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack.

The Kentucky Derby was first run at 1 ½ miles (10 furlongs or 2.4 kilometers), the same distance as the Epsom Derby. The distance was changed in 1896 to its current 1 ¼ miles (8 furlongs or 2.0 kilometers). On May 17, 1875, in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000 people, a field of 15 three-year-old horses contested the first Derby. Under jockey Oliver Lewis, a colt named Aristides, who was trained by future Hall of Famer Ansel Williamson, won the inaugural Derby.

Although the first race meeting proved a success, the track ran into financial difficulties and in 1894 the New Louisville Jockey Club was incorporated with new capitalization and improved facilities. Despite this, the business foundered until 1902 when Col. Matt Winn of Louisville put together a syndicate of businessmen to acquire the facility. Under Winn, Churchill Downs prospered and the Kentucky Derby then became the preeminent stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses in North America. Derby participants are limited to three-year-old horses. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without having raced at age two.

I gave my personal recipe for skillet cornbread here in honor of Aristedes, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/aristedes/  and my recipe and thoughts about Kentucky burgoo here in honor of Stephen Foster http://www.bookofdaystales.com/stephen-foster/   Now let’s turn our attention to the classic mint julep. There are scores of variations, but mine is classic. You can use special silver julep cups if you wish. Being poor we used glass tumblers which are perfectly traditional also.

You have to start on the day before (or sooner) by making the mint syrup. It needs time for the flavors to develop. I always picked fresh peppermint from the garden for this. Make a simple syrup by taking one part sugar and one part water in a pan and bringing it to the boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Take it off the heat, dump in a handful of mint leaves, bruise them a little in the syrup, then pour it into a glass jar and leave it overnight (room temperature or refrigerated).

On Derby Day place your tumblers in the freezer in the early morning to chill thoroughly. Strain the mint syrup into a small jug. You’ll need crushed ice. In the early days I attacked a bag of ice with a hammer for this, but later I got an ice crusher attachment for my food processor. To prepare the juleps take the tumblers from the freezer. On occasion we would rim the glasses with powdered sugar. To do this place powdered sugar on a plate about ¼ inch deep and invert the glasses in the sugar and give a little twist. This part is not necessary, it just makes the glasses a little more festive. Place a tablespoon of mint syrup and a few fresh mint leaves in the glass and fill it with crushed ice. Add 2 jiggers of the best bourbon you can find. We always used 100 proof bottled and bond — Gold Maker’s Mark if we could find it. NEVER use Jack Daniels. They make some fine whiskies, but they are not from Kentucky, they are from Tennessee, and, therefore, cannot be designated as bourbon. The amount of bourbon you add is up to you, of course. Deborah made some that were PDS (pretty damn strong !!). Stir with a long-handled spoon and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Some people (especially bartenders) top off the bourbon with water. This is rank heresy. A classic mint julep is mint syrup, bourbon, crushed ice, and NOTHING ELSE. I don’t drink alcohol any more, so I will forego the pleasure this year; but there’s nothing stopping you.

 

Dec 242015
 

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The Eggnog Riot, sometimes known as the Grog Mutiny, was a riot that took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826. It was caused by a drunken Christmas Day party in the North Barracks of the academy. The riot eventually involved more than one-third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. A subsequent investigation by academy officials resulted in the implication of seventy cadets, and the court-martialing of twenty of them and one enlisted soldier. Among the participants in the riot—though he was not court-martialed—was future Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis. The following account is lifted (edited) from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggnog_Riot

Sorry! It’s a busy time for me.

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In 1817, Sylvanus Thayer took command at the United States Military Academy. By 1826, the academy had 36 men serving as faculty and staff with four recognized departments – mathematics, engineering, natural philosophy (now physics, chemistry and life sciences), and military tactics. Alcohol possession at the academy was prohibited along with drunkenness, both of which could lead to expulsion. Tobacco use and gambling could lead to demerits, minor incarceration, or a loss of privileges. By 1826, concern had been raised that drinking was starting to get out of hand among the 260 cadets at the academy. The cadets were informed that, due to the alcohol prohibition on the site, their Christmas eggnog would be alcohol-free, prompting the cadets’ decision to smuggle liquor into the academy.

Timeline of events

22 December 1826

20:50 – 22:15

At Martin’s Tavern, cadets William R. Burnley (Alabama), Alexander J. Center (New York), and Samuel Alexander Roberts (Alabama) almost got into a fight with the proprietors of another tavern concerning getting whiskey back to West Point. Private James Dougan, the duty security guard, agreed to let the three cadets take a boat across the Hudson to smuggle the whiskey. The cadets planned to purchase a half-gallon of whiskey as an alcohol base for the eggnog party that would take place in the North Barracks two nights later. Phillip St. George (Virginia) was the 24-hour duty cadet guard of the day. Burnley, Center, and Roberts successfully obtained two gallons of whiskey, smuggling them into North Barracks room No.33. Cadet T. M. Lewis (Kentucky) also returned with a gallon of rum from Benny’s Tavern to North Barracks room No. 5.

Thayer

Thayer

23 December 1826

07:00

Thayer met with George Bomford (New York) and Robert E. Lee (Virginia). Bomford was questioned about his parental correspondence by Thayer, while Lee questioned Thayer about trigonometry problems for artillery gunnery. Classes and barracks inspections continued as usual that day.

17:45

A Christmas party took place at Thayer’s residence at which wine was served. Reverend Charles McIlvane, the academy chaplain, was among the attendees. During the party, a conversation ensued between Thayer and Major William J. Worth, the commandant of cadets, about Jefferson Davis’ (Mississippi) disciplinary problems. Entertainment was provided by the West Point band. The party ended at 21:30.

18:00

Four cadets, Walter B. Guion (Mississippi), Davis, John Stocker (Pennsylvania), and David Farrelly (Pennsylvania), met at Benny Haven’s tavern. They left before academy quartermaster Aeneas Mackay arrived.

Meanwhile at the North Barracks, cadets were planning the party. Preparations included stealing bits and pieces of food during their visits to the mess hall. During this time, cadets residing in the South Barracks found out about the North Barracks’ planned Christmas party.

Hitchcock

Hitchcock

24–25 December 1826

22:00 to 04:15

Nathaniel Eaton (Massachusetts) was the cadet in charge of the external post of the North Barracks. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a faculty member in military tactics, was also stationed in the North Barracks. Eaton and Hitchcock met and discussed the smuggled liquor in the North Barracks.

The eggnog party started among nine cadets in North Barracks room No. 28. Numerous cadets appeared as the party progressed, while another party began in room No. 5, mentioned by seven cadets including Davis. Farrelly went again to North’s or Havens and returned with another gallon of whiskey early on Christmas morning.

Cadet Charles Whipple (Michigan Territory), the division superintendent during the first part of the incident, went to North Barracks room No. 5 at 02:00 after hearing a commotion, interrupting a round of singing among eight cadets, including Davis. Whipple returned to his room after a verbal exchange with Davis and the other cadets. Hitchcock made another patrol around the barracks at 03:00. Lieutenant William A. Thornton was asleep while the events unfolded.

By 04:00, voices from the floor above Hitchcock were loud enough to cause the faculty member to investigate room No. 28, where Hitchcock knocked on the door and found six cadets drunk from the eggnog, as well as two others sleeping on a bed. Hitchcock ordered two of the cadets back to their rooms. After they left, Hitchcock woke the two sleeping cadets and ordered them to leave as well. Then he confronted cadet James W.M. “Weems” Berrien (Georgia), who responded with equal force. Hitchcock read the Riot Act to the residents of the room for possessing alcohol on the premises. The captain left the room at 04:15. Berrien began verbalizing his rage toward Hitchcock, which led William D.C. “Billy” Murdock (District of Columbia) to lead an effort to organize a riot against Hitchcock.

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25 December 1826

04:30 to 06:05

Hitchcock went down to his room to sleep. Three times he heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. After finding another cadet drunk, Hitchcock saw Davis head over to room No. 5 where thirteen cadets were partying. Davis, seeing Hitchcock’s arrival, warned the other cadets. The captain entered the room, ordering one of the cadets to open up another cadet’s footlocker, but the cadet refused. Hitchcock ordered no more disorder, left the room, and started looking for Thornton around 04:50.

Meanwhile Thornton had strolled the North Barracks between 21:00 on the 24th and 02:00 on Christmas Day observing the ongoing partying, before going to sleep at 02:00. He was awoken by loud yells and, once out of his room, was attacked by two cadets. Thornton then put cadet William P.N. Fitzgerald (New York) under arrest for brandishing a weapon. Fitzgerald retreated from Thornton, then told two cadets in room No. 29 about the arrest.

At this point, noises erupted from the South Barracks which distracted Thornton. While going to investigate that commotion, Thornton was knocked out by Roberts, who had been ejected from room No. 28 by Hitchcock earlier that evening.

Davis was asleep, but other cadets went looking for Hitchcock. Three other cadets were discovered by cadet James G. Overton (Tennessee), a relief sentinel and not involved in the parties, and questioned about their actions. They gave a drunken explanation about needing drums and a fife.

At around 05:00, Hitchcock found another inebriated cadet wandering the academy.

By this point, several window panes had been broken. Hitchcock returned to the room where he was staying, No. 8. Several cadets then attacked his door, Guion drawing his pistol and firing a shot into the room. Hitchcock opened the door and yelled at the cadets to stop. The captain then began arresting cadets.

Worth

Worth

Hitchcock ordered Eaton to find Worth’s headquarters. Overton asked Hitchcock to find Thayer and Hitchcock replied “No, Mr. Overton. Fetch the com(Commandant Worth) here.” Several of the drunken cadets thought Hitchcock had said that the bombardiers would be the ones to quell the riot, using heavy weapons, causing several cadets who were not drunk to take up arms in defense of the North Barracks. Thayer had been awoken at 05:00 by the sound of drums. He ordered his aide, Patrick Murphy, to get Major Worth because of what he could hear going on in the North Barracks.

Hitchcock continued restoring order in the North Barracks, getting into a fight with cadet Walter Otey (Virginia). Thornton awoke from the stairway where he had been knocked out and returned to his room. Hitchcock greeted him in his room at 05:45. By 06:00, other cadets who were not drinking were also involved in restoring order. The main rioters were attempting to recruit other cadets, but with no success.

Overton could not find Cadet Eaton, who was checking the South Barracks, but did find Major Worth. Hitchcock met Worth and told him what had transpired. By this time, Thayer’s aide had arrived in the North Barracks’ guardroom. The Second Artillery had arrived at the North Barracks by the time of reveille at 06:05.

06:05–18:30

Reveille sounded at 06:05, along with gunfire, the sound of glass breaking, profanity by cadets, cries of pain, and threats to academy officials. North Barracks residents who were not drunk from the eggnog were appalled by the damaged property. Cadets in the South Barracks were well rested, while other cadets in the North Barracks were disheveled. Some of the cadets remained in their rooms drinking, although some appeared in parade formation despite being drunk. Worth met with superintendent Thayer after the first formation to discuss what had happened in the North Barracks the previous evening. Thayer instructed Worth to get the officers into the North Barracks and restore order.

Captain Mackay, academy quartermaster, took down details of the damages to the property at North Barracks so repairs could take place in the following days. Many cadets who were drunk made it to company roll call at 06:20, though they were subdued. The mutiny officially ended when Cadet Captain James A.J. Bradford (Kentucky) called the corps to attention and dismissed them from the mess hall after breakfast. Chapel formation took place after breakfast, followed by two hours of service, with most of the drunk cadets still recovering.

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Thayer was advised by Worth regarding the events at North Barracks. Captain Hitchcock and Lieutenant Thornton were bruised, while several cadets suffered minor injuries, and Fitzgerald suffered a hand injury. Worth told Thayer that between fifty and ninety cadets had been involved in the mutiny. Later that day, Thayer met with Gouverneur Kemble, an ordnance manufacturer in Cold Spring, New York, to discuss different items, including the events at West Point. Kemble asked Thayer what he would do about the misconduct, to which Thayer replied he did not know.

26 December 1826

07:00–08:00

A faculty and staff meeting took place, with all but Captain Thomas C. Legate of the 2nd Artillery A Battery and a few assistant professors in attendance. Thayer informed them that Major General Alexander Macomb, Chief of Engineers and Inspector General of the Academy, had been told of the riot, and that he was awaiting orders from Macomb. The superintendent also informed the attendees that an inquiry would take place during semester finals in January 1827, so some of the cadets would face simultaneous examinations and inquiry.

Macomb

Macomb

Cadet Battalion Order 98 was read at formation and posted at several prominent locations at the academy. Twenty-two cadets were placed under house arrest until further notice; among them was Davis, who had been reported as a malefactor by Hitchcock and Thornton.

Davis was never charged, but 19 other cadets were. All but one (John Archibald Campbell – later Justice of the Supreme Court) were found guilty, and most were sentenced to expulsion. On review only 10 expulsions were upheld.

This post is, of course, merely an excuse to give a recipe for eggnog. Most people in the U.S. settle for cartons of commercially made eggnog (spiked with rum). Not me. My wife had an old family recipe which we made every Christmas Eve. If you try it you will never have commercial eggnog again. Warning !!! This recipe is made from raw eggs, so you must be careful about people with allergies, and must be absolutely sure that your eggs are bacteria free. My wife made it so strong it would fell a horse. It’s perfectly delectable, but not the same, without the bourbon. We always used Maker’s Mark, and you should use the best bourbon you can find. A full batch uses one dozen eggs, but we always made it with half a dozen, because a full batch would have killed us. I don’t believe you can go wrong with this recipe because it’s just eggs, cream, and sugar. You can vary the quantity of sugar to suit your tastes.  We always used a 1950s hand-held electric beater owned by my wife’s grandmother. Hand held is more convenient than a stand mixer. That way you can beat the yolks and cream directly in the punch bowl.

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©Blincoe Family Kentucky Eggnog

Ingredients

6 eggs, separated
1 pint heavy cream
½ cup caster sugar
½ bottle bourbon
nutmeg

Instructions

Beat the egg yolks to a creamy yellow. Add the cream and sugar and beat until frothy. Pour this mix into a punch bowl.

Beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff. Spoon on top of the mix in the bowl.

Gently pour the bourbon into the eggnog down the side of the bowl, and give the whole mix a gentle stir with a ladle.

Ladle into punch glasses and top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Jul 042013
 

foster1

foster2

Yes, I know full well that today is Independence Day in the United States; a day filled with parades, barbecues, and fireworks.  But people hardly need to be reminded of that fact.  So instead – so as not to stray too far from the theme of the day – I am going to celebrate the birthday of Stephen Collins Foster, sometimes called “the father of American music.”  Those of us who come from parts of the Americas south of the equator are not entirely thrilled that the U.S. has usurped “American” but I’ll let it slide this once.

Foster was born on July 4th 1826 in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania (not far from Pittsburgh).  For some reason his life and work are filled with common assumptions which are entirely false.  He was not, for example, an unlettered spendthrift who dashed off tunes to make a buck and died a penniless alcoholic.  It’s true that he died in poverty at the age of 37, but the rest has no merit.  He was a hard working, well educated man who made up his mind to be a professional song writer in an era when such a thing was virtually unheard of.  Consider this.  Foster lived in an age before records and radio; in an age when copyright laws were almost completely ignored; in an age when there were no such things as performance royalties nor hungry lawyers waiting to take people to court for performing without paying such royalties.  His only income was either from royalties paid for the sale of his sheet music by the original publishers, or else from outright fees paid at the time of publication.  For “Oh, Susannah,” for example, he was paid $100, and received nothing from its performance nor from unscrupulous publishers who took the sheet music and printed their own versions.

Many of Foster’s songs are often now considered to be nostalgic hymns for the old South.  This is also unfair.  Foster died in the midst of the U.S. Civil War and he was an abolitionist. He was not a Southerner, and barely visited the South. He was not writing about the “good old” past. He was writing about his present in which he saw much he wished could be changed. Many of his songs were written for minstrel shows where the performers were white men in black face.  But he insisted that there be no buffoonery or mocking of slaves as was common in black face performances of the time.  His whole point was that people, slave or free, are subject to identical emotions – love of home and family, care for those in need, desire for a better world . . .

Maybe some of his best loved works – “Camptown Races” “Old Folks at Home” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” “Beautiful Dreamer” – are a bit dated and quaint nowadays, but I still see teary eyes in the stands as people sing “My Old Kentucky Home” while the horses parade to the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. He captured something everlasting.  My favorite is a song that still gets a lot of air time and has been recorded and performed innumerable times: “Hard Times, Come Again No More.” It is a fitting epitaph to a man who deserves our praise for his endurance of suffering along with his sorrow for the suffering of others.

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Chorus:
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Foster died in New York impoverished and alone. He was living at the North American Hotel at 30 Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was reportedly confined to his bed for days by a persistent fever. He tried to call for a chambermaid for help in his delirium, but when he got out of bed he collapsed, falling against the washbasin next to his bed and shattering it, which gouged his head. It took three hours to get him to Bellevue Hospital. In an era before transfusions and antibiotics, he succumbed three days after his admittance. His worn leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, “Dear friends and gentle hearts,” along with 38 cents in Civil War scrip and three pennies.

Although it is not the right season I have to include a recipe, of sorts, for Kentucky burgoo in Foster’s memory.  The order on Derby Day goes as follows: mint julep (or two or three), singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” the race, burgoo and cornbread. Maybe there are more mint juleps in the gaps.  This “recipe” does not have the usual list of ingredients (in Imperial and metric measures) followed by a detailed set of instructions.  I just don’t cook that way – not for burgoo, nor anything else for that matter.  I’m a great fan of dumping stuff into a skillet or pot (based on what I have to hand), and letting things happen – tasting all the time to make sure that what I dish up is worthy.

Kentucky Burgoo

Making burgoo is a two day process (at least).  First day you cook the meats.  There are no set meats.  In “hard times” people put whatever they could find into the pot – rabbit, dove, crow . . . anything that came along.  But, you MUST include at least two meats.  Typically I use about 2 lbs of stewing beef (bone in), ½ lb of salt pork, and a whole chicken jointed.  Put the meats into a big pot and cover them with a rich stock.  Here’s the part that all modern recipes I have read fail to appreciate: you must cook the meats until they are absolute rags.  That means 3 to 4 hours on a slow simmer.  Take the meats out and reserve the stock.  When the meats are cool enough to handle, strip them from the bones, shredding them as you go.  Return the shredded meat to the stock and refrigerate overnight.  Second day, reheat the meat and stock, and add your choice of vegetables.  It is essential to include canned tomatoes (and if you are a good Southerner you will have canned them yourself).  After that I add corn stripped from the kernel, lima beans, and okra. If you choose you can include bell peppers, potatoes, and I don’t know what else. I have my preferences, you are allowed yours. You then cook it all down until it thickens on its own – maybe another two hours at minimum.  Don’t listen to anyone who says you should add thickening agents such as flour or cornstarch.  They are heathens.  Do, however, add salt to taste and mountains of fresh ground black pepper.  Some people (myself included) like burgoo served with pepper sauce.  Whatever your choice, you must have cornbread with your burgoo.

You really cannot make small quantities of burgoo.  My version typically serves about 12 people. As with any stew, burgoo is best the day after it is made.