Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 19: General Robert E Lee’s Birthday

by romanreb

How does one do justice to Marse Robert in so small a space? Or in any space? You all know his quality, and certainly no one exists---at least no one who will ever come in contact with this book---who doesn’t know the bare facts of his life. We celebrate him, as we do the saints, and for the very same reason---not only to honor, but to emulate. When one is faced with any sort of moral decision, the pop culture answer is WWJD? I submit to you that that is a silly admonition---too easily swept aside with “Oh, Jesus is God! He understands and loves me just the way I am. He already knows the worst about me anyway. He hung out with harlots and thieves…blah, blah, blah…ad nauseum.” I think, for the purposes of living as Jesus would want us to, we might do better to ask ourselves “What would General Lee do?” We won’t find nearly as many comforting excuses, we will, no doubt be shamed, and the result will be the same as that intended, but rarely achieved by WWJD.

Here is a good way to celebrate General Lee’s Birthday. I got these recipes from someone on the SCV Echo list, years ago, and although I have preserved most of the text, I don’t know who it was from.

Robert E. Lee Cake
FOR THE LEMON SPONGE CAKE: 8 egg yolks -- beaten 8 egg whites -- stiffly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest -- grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups White Lily Flour
salt to taste
4 egg yolks -- beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest -- grated
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 pinch salt
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated coconut
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon buttermilk
ice water

Make separately and then combine a lemon sponge cake, lemon-Orange curd, and coconut cream. First let's talk about making Lemon sponge cake for the first ingredient. You want to beat eight egg yolks
Until they are as light as a Virginia dawn. Add 2 cups of sugar in slow Southern style whilst beating the yolks into a thick mess. You then beat in 2 tsp.of grated lemon zest and 2 tbs. of lemon juice. Sift 2 cups of flour and salt together per taste. Afterwards, you sprinkle the flour over the egg yolks and fold lightly until smooth as a Georgia accent. You then beat the egg whites until stiff as Southern resistance to Yankee aggression and fold in nicely. Divide the lovely (tasty--I know) batter between 2 buttered and floured cake pans. Bake in an oven preheated to 325 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Check to see that the layers are golden brown and lightly pull away from the sides. Remove to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before turning out.

Now we're ready to make the lemon curd. Beat 4 egg yolks with 3/4 c. of sugar, 1 tb. grated lemon zest, 1 Tb orange zest, one Tb lemon juice and 4 Tb orange juice, and a pinch of salt. Using a double boiler for that purpose, place the ingredients over simmering water and stir frequently until thickened. Remove from heat and then add 6 tb. butter a bit at a time. You are then ready to split the sponge cake into layers and stack the curd in between the layers. You then spread the top with coconut cream, letting it drip deliciously down the sides. Here's how to make some coconut cream.

Having refrigerated the lemon-orange curd and the cake, you can wash your double boiler to make use of it again. Stir in 1 c. heavy cream, 1/4 c. grated coconut, 1 tb. plus 2 tsp. sugar, and salt together in the double boiler's top and heat over simmering water for 20 minutes. Melt 3/4 tsp. gelatin in 1 tb.buttermilk. You then stir into the cream and cool over ice water. Stir until the mixture thickens, then beat vigourously until it forms little peaks and is very cold. You can then drip the coconut cream over the cake. This recipe will feed 12 polite eaters at a Marse Robert dinner party.

Marse Robert's favourite dish which you should serve on this hallowed occasion was smothered chicken. We have this wonderful dish with fresh hot biscuits, rice, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and fig preserves. After readings of Father Ryan's "Sword of Lee", and Donald Davidson's "Lee in the Mountains", and a short narrative of his career, accompanied by stirring music of the time, serve the General's favourite dessert with good coffee. [unless we buy unroasted beans, we always use Community Coffee, every day. They’re Southern.] Then toast the Sword of Virginia with good Bourbon and end the evening with Southron songs, and toasts.

Smothered Chicken
2 ½ pound fryer
½ cup flour
salt and pepper
½ green pepper, sliced
½ large onion, sliced
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon thyme
chopped chives
1 large tomato, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons oil
½ cup chicken broth

Cut up chicken (see How to cut up a Chicken in the appendix—it matters a great deal), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix together the green pepper, onion, sage, thyme, chives, tomato and bay leaf and let stand for 30 minutes. Coat chicken with flour. Brown in large skill in the oil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables over the chicken, cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Add the broth a little at a time to prevent drying out. Remove chicken to platter. Thicken pan juices with a little flower and broth or water and pour over chicken. Serve over rice.

[We often substitute Country Captain chicken---see recipe in Charleston Receipts---for the Smothered Chicken. It is quite similar, but contains a bit of curry powder and currants]

Sublime Biscuits

Words of wisdom from “Cowboy Dave” regarding Sublime Biscuits:
Just remember, Syler, whenever you want to murry off one of them daughters, if
she's a Sublime Biscuit maker her value in horses and mules goes soaring. All
your girls are no doubt worth more than their weight in diamonds and rubies.
But if a girl is a Sublime Biscuit maker, I hate to think of all the
River-crossing raids for horses and mules it might take for a man to
demonstrate he has honourable intentions and is worthy. You shouldn't in any
case consider him a viable life form unless he has a lot of nu-ha (Comanche,
"power"), multiple degrees, and knows how to comport himself in both ballroom
and cow lot - you shouldn't even let him on the porch if he couldn't, say,
bust out ten broncs a day, pick a thousand pounds of cotton, build a mile of
fence after chopping the cedars to do it with, and provide the solution to
Fermat's Last Theorem in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Mandarin, Sanskrit, and/or
Kiowa. Of course it is most important that he fear God and show brashness in all
other relations, like any good Texan will, so some of these qualities may be
lacking or hard to demonstrate on the spur of the moment, especially if he is
befuddled with a whiff of Sublime Biscuits.

My maternal Grandmother Lucy, of blessed memory, was, by the way, a
biscuit maker of legend. I never had any of her biscuits as she'd
stopped making them when I was a little boy. Her husband and eldest son
had both passed away, and she lived in town, in a little house my father
had bought for her in Rotan. Later, after his death, we moved from Roby
to Rotan and she often stayed with us. But I heard about her biscuits
all of my life, from our family members. One day when I was in my teens
I was down at John's barbershop getting a haircut, and there were two
old codgers there, sitting and talking. Old cowboys. John had been a
cowboy up on the Matador Ranch (over 2,000 square miles in size), but
had evinced some barbering skills cutting other cowboys' hair, so he
decided to go to barber school. Anyway, while John was giving me a
haircut, I overheard some of the conversation of the two cowboy elders
as they talked. One osaid, "Yeah, we was ridin' out in the shinnery that
day and come up on that hill overlookin' Dave Key's place (my
grandfather, whom I'm named after). And from way off up there, we could
smell some of Lucy's biscuits cookin'," he said. "Lucy always did make
the best biscuits," the other one interjected. "Yeah... she did!" I
realized that family lore had a broad base of reaffirmation. Nobody has
her recipe. :)

But here is Syler’s, which is not too shabby:
2 cups flour
4 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lard
¾ to 1 cup milk
Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Work the lard in with your fingers. Dump in ¾ cup milk and pull together to make a soft dough [different schools of thought on how much to work biscuit dough will provoke welcome discussion]
Turn it out onto a floured counter, roll out to ¾ inches and cut with a round cutter---about 2 ½ to 3 inches. Bake on greased cookie sheet about an inch apart in a 475 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. Biscuits should be golden brown. Adjust time if necessary.

The Sword of Robert Lee by Fr. Abram J. Ryan
Forth from its Scabbard, pure and bright,
Flashed the sword of Lee!
Far in the front of the deadly fight,
High o'er the brave in the cause of Right,
Its stainless sheen, like a beacon light,
Led us to Victory!

Out of its Scabbard, where, full long,
It slumbered peacefully,
Roused from its rest by the battle's song,
Shielding the feeble, smiting the strong,
Guarding the right, avenging the wrong,
Gleamed the sword of Lee!

Forth from its scabbard, high in air
Beneath Virginia's sky -
And they who saw it gleaming there,
And knew who bore it, knelt to swear
That where the sword led they would dare
To follow - and to die!

Out of it's scabbard! Never hand
Waved sword from stain as free,
Nor purer sword led braver band,
Nor braver bled for a brighter land,
Nor brighter land had a cause so grand,
Nor cause a chief like Lee!

Forth from its scabbard! How we prayed
That sword might victor be;
And when our triumph was delayed,
And many a heart grew sore afraid,
We still hoped on while gleamed the blade
Of noble Robert Lee!

Forth from its scabbard all in vain
Bright flashed the sword of Lee:
'Tis shrouded now in its sheath again,
It sleeps the sleep of our noble slain,
Defeated, yet without a stain,
Proudly and peacefully!

Lee in the Mountains --by Donald Davidson
Walking into the shadows, walking alone
Where the sun falls through the ruined boughs of locust
Up to the president's office. . . .
Hearing the voices
Whisper, Hush, it is General Lee! And strangely
Hearing my own voice say, Good morning, boys.
(Don't get up. You are early. It is long
Before the bell. You will have long to wait
On these cold steps. . . .)
The young have time to wait

But soldiers' faces under their tossing flags
Lift no more by any road or field,
And I am spent with old wars and new sorrow.
Walking the rocky path, where steps decay
And the paint cracks and grass eats on the stone.
It is not General Lee, young men. . .
It is Robert Lee in a dark civilian suit who walks,
An outlaw fumbling for the latch, a voice
Commanding in a dream where no flag flies.

My father's house is taken and his hearth
Left to the candle-drippings where the ashes
Whirl at a chimney-breath on the cold stone.
I can hardly remember my father's look, I cannot
Answer his voice as he calls farewell in the misty
Mounting where riders gather at gates.
He was old then--I was a child--his hand
Held out for mine, some daybreak snatched away,
And he rode out, a broken man. Now let
His lone grave keep, surer than cypress roots,
The vow I made beside him. God too late
Unseals to certain eyes the drift
Of time and the hopes of men and a sacred cause.
The fortune of the Lees goes with the land
Whose sons will keep it still. My mother
Told me much. She sat among the candles,
Fingering the Memoirs, now so long unread.
And as my pen moves on across the page
Her voice comes back, a murmuring distillation
Of old Virginia times now faint and gone,
The hurt of all that was and cannot be.

Why did my father write? I know he saw
History clutched as a wraith out of blowing mist
Where tongues are loud, and a glut of little souls
Laps at the too much blood and the burning house.
He would have his say, but I shall not have mine.
What I do is only a son's devoir
To a lost father. Let him only speak.
The rest must pass to men who never knew
(But on a written page) the strike of armies,
And never heard the long Confederate cry
Charge through the muzzling smoke or saw the bright
Eyes of the beardless boys go up to death.
It is Robert Lee who writes with his father's hand--
The rest must go unsaid and the lips be locked.

If all were told, as it cannot be told--
If all the dread opinion of the heart
Now could speak, now in the shame and torment
Lashing the bound and trampled States—

If a word were said, as it cannot be said--
I see clear waters run in Virginia's Valley
And in the house the weeping of young women
Rises no more. The waves of grain begin.
The Shenandoah is golden with a new grain.
The Blue Ridge, crowned with a haze of light,
Thunders no more. The horse is at plough. The rifle
Returns to the chimney crotch and the hunter's hand.
And nothing else than this? Was it for this
That on an April day we stacked our arms
Obedient to a soldier's trust? To lie
Ground by heels of little men,

Forever maimed, defeated, lost, impugned?
And was I then betrayed? Did I betray?
If it were said, as it still might be said--
If it were said, and a word should run like fire,
Like living fire into the roots of grass,
The sunken flag would kindle on wild hills,
The brooding hearts would waken, and the dream
Stir like a crippled phantom under the pines,
And this torn earth would quicken into shouting
Beneath the feet of the ragged bands--
The pen

Turns to the waiting page, the sword
Bows to the rust that cankers and the silence.

Among these boys whose eyes lift up to mine
Within gray walls where droning wasps repeat
A hollow reveille, I still must face,
Day after day, the courier with his summons
Once more to surrender, now to surrender all.
Without arms or men I stand, but with knowledge only
I face what long I saw, before others knew,
When Pickett's men streamed back, and I heard the tangled
Cry of the Wilderness wounded, bloody with doom.

The mountains, once I said, in the little room
At Richmond, by the huddled fire, but still
The President shook his head. The mountains wait,
I said, in the long beat and rattle of siege
At cratered Petersbyrg. Too late
We sought the mountains and those people came.
And Lee is in the mountains now, beyond Appomatox,
Listening long for voices that will never speak
Again; hearing the hoofbeats that come and go and fade
Without a stop, without a brown hand lifting
The tent-flap, or a bugle call at dawn,
Or ever on the long white road the flag
Of Jackson's quick brigades. I am alone,
Trapped, consenting, taken at last in mountains.

It is not the bugle now, or the long roll beating.
The simple stroke of a chapel bell forbids
The hurtling dream, recalls the lonely mind.
Young men, the God of your fathers is a just
And merciful God Who in this blood once shed
On your green altars measures out all days,
And measures out the grace
Whereby alone we live;
And in His might He waits,
Brooding within the certitude of time,
To bring this lost forsaken valor
And the fierce faith undying
And the love quenchless
To flower among the hills to which we cleave,
To fruit upon the mountains whither we flee,
Never forsaking, never denying
His children and His children's children forever
Unto all generations of the faithful heart.

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