Sunday, October 31, 2010

The "Cartoon" History of Halloween

A fun explanation of the history of Halloween, in cartoon form...

thanks to discovery streaming...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Pie... A Staple Of Americana

Ever since I was a kid I can always remember enjoying a pumpkin pie during the fall season. Maybe even getting a hot cup of apple cider to go along with it. The idea of cooking pumpkins, mixing in sugar, spices, and cream all wrapped into a pastry has its origins as far back as the Middle Ages. Recipe books found from that time period show them creating these types of pies. However the pumpkin's roots are based in North America. Therefore it begs the question what were they using in the Middle Ages if they had not even discovered the New World at that point. In reality they were using gourds and squashes which are in the same family as the pumpkin but with a much different taste. Also known as winter squash, the pumpkin, once discovered, was quickly used by the European world and adapted into their recipes where originally they would have used those gourds or squashes. The reason for the change was that pumpkin simply tasted better. The earliest forms of the pie recipe which incorporate pumpkin are dated around 1653 from France. The word pumpkin itself is thought to have derived from the French word pompion which comes from the Latin word pepon which means melon. Being the fact that the first known recipe comes from France adds to the belief that the origin of the name comes from there.

With pumpkin itself having its original roots in North America it is no wonder that this delectable vegetable has become a staple of the American diet, especially in the fall due to its typical harvest time. Its also no surprise that the American Indian use of pumpkin was widespread.

"Among vegetables, the Northeastern Indians made particularly lavish use of squash, even more than other American Indians, and especially of pumpkin. Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire (in the case of squash, the acorn and butternut varieties were preferred) and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey; and both were also made into soup." --- Root & Rochemont, Eating in American: A History (1976), 41.

Learning from the Indians, the American colonists used the pumpkin as much as possible for the fall season. Even our founding fathers enjoyed the great pumpkin pie based from this recipe by Abagail Adams, wife to John Adams our 2nd President of the United States. I hope you all have the opportunity at some point this fall season to enjoy this delicious dessert with friends and family if you have not already.

--- Abagail Adams Pumpkin Pie Recipe ---
* 1 1/2 cups pumpkin
* 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
* 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated
* 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 3/4 cup milk
* 1/4 cup dark rum, or brandy
* 3 eggs, lightly beaten
* Pecans
* Whipped cream
* 10-inch pie shell, unbaked
Mix all ingredients together and our into the prepared pastry shell. Bake at 425 degrees F. For 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. And bake for 40 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Garnish with pecans and whipped cream flavoured with rum or brandy. ---

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Poetry of Thomas Jefferson

One could easily argue that Thomas Jefferson would fit into the category of a renaissance man along with men such as Leonardo da Vinci and his counterpart Benjamin Franklin. Philosopher, politician, architect, botanist, writer are all areas in which Jefferson studied and worked. Poet never seemed to be one of those arenas in which Jefferson dabbled into however Jonathan Gross, now a professor at DePaul University and was a fellow at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, came across some old scrapbooks. Originally believed to have been created by Jefferson’s granddaughters through careful study it has now been revealed that they were actually put together by the 3rd President of the United States himself. These scrapbooks are filled with poems on various topics from love and family to war and patriotism. It seems he would cut them out of papers, books and magazines or write them down in a scrapbook and give them away as gifts to his family. This revelation gives us an opportunity to look into these poems and writings which Jefferson cherished and get a glimpse into his personality, philosophy, and desires of his heart. I will continue to write about these poems which I come across in the book which I believe opens our eyes to who Thomas Jefferson was and what we may be able to learn from him.

          The Farmer’s Creed by Sir John Sinclair
 Let this be held the Farmer’s Creed ---
Of Stock seek out the choicest breed,
In peace and plenty let them feed.
Your land sow with the best of seed,
Let it not dung nor dressing need,
Enclose and drain it with all speed ---
And you will soon be rich indeed.

To learn only a little about Jefferson one discovers quickly his great passion for the agricultural sector of this country. Jefferson said he thought “our government will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural.” He firmly believed that the backbone of America was and should always remain farming. This idea went far beyond just its economic value and importance for the country. Farming benefited all aspects of an individual’s life. “From breakfast, or noon at the latest, to dinner, I am mostly on horseback, Attending to My Farm or other concerns, which I find healthful to my body, mind, and affairs.” For Jefferson farming was everything. It is no wonder that this poem is found under the heading “very useful lessons.”  

Gross, Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbook, 246.

Monday, October 18, 2010

History in Film: Master and Command (2003)

Set in nineteenth-century Europe, during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Command almost entirely takes place on board the ship, HMS Surprise. The story focuses in on two friends, Captain Jack Aubrey and the ships surgeon Stephen Maturin, whose opposing viewpoints on war and life allow for a fascinating juxtaposition. The driving force of the plot is the pursuit of a French privateer Acheron.

The director Peter Weir does a masterful job at paying strict attention to the details of what life was like at sea in the nineteenth-century. A vast majority of the production actually took place at sea on a replica nineteenth century ship which they later named the HMS Surprise in honor of the filming of this movie. I was very big fan of this movie. The story was well put together and truly captivates your attention from beginning to end. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone you enjoys a solid action film and especially for those that like a period piece. I felt that the portrayal of a life at sea during the Napoleonic Wars was spot on. They stayed true to language and form from beginning to end and allowed for the story itself to guide the movie and your imagination and not any special effects or dramatic licensure.

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently who mentioned reading the first few books of this series written by Patrick O'Brian. He stated that by far the books are better and dive deeper into a telling story about the two main characters and their involvement during the Napoleonic Wars fighting for the British Navy. My goal will be after reading the couple books I am currently involved with to pick up the first book in the series and find out what I am truly missing.

Entertainment Rating: 4 out of 5
Historical Value: 3 out of 5 (being historical fiction I'm basing this solely on their portrayal of the time period)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Update on the Ground Zero Shipwreck

If you read the blog back in July or followed various news websites you would have already heard about the eighteenth century wooden ship found below the rubble and under the foundation of what was once The World Trade Centers. Archaeologists were on the scene quickly to preserve the historical piece and learn about why it was there and maybe give us a small glimpse into what life was like in early America. For months the team of scientists, historians, and archaeologists have been examining the wreckage and revealed to the public some of there finding the other day.

They believe the ship was a two-masted trading vessel. It is still unclear if the boat sank on its own or was purposely sunk in that spot in order to fill more land for the ever expanding Manhattan Island. From what researchers can tell the ship was in the stages of deteriorating from what one marine biologist believes is a tiny burrowing clam found mainly in warm waters. Along with finding seeds, pits, and nuts it has some speculating that the ship was used to make trade runs between the Caribbean and New York harbor. Currently the ship is submerged in purified water to prevent additional decay until the money and okay is given to pursue better, more permanent means of preserving the ship, which will allow researchers the opportunity to study it further. One of the other interesting finds they made, which allowed them to better date the ship, was a coin inside one of the ships joints. Apparently, this is a custom which is still used today. The coin which they found was analyzed by an expert from the Smithsonian and determined to be a British coin issued during the reign of King George II, who ruled from 1727 to 1760. Aside from the shipwreck numerous other artifacts such as ceramic dishes, stemmed glasses, dozens of shoes, and much more have been found around the same area the ship was buried. It all makes one wonder what other revelations will be unraveled and interesting discoveries will be revealed about the people and life of eighteenth century America.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Hidden Symbol from our Nation's Past

I have seen the state flags of New York and New Jersey before. I have seen various state and army seals on numerous occasions as I have studied history and politics throughout the years. Every time I have seen this symbol I am more than likely dismiss it without even considering what it is or its significance. What am I talking about you may ask? Well examine the picture to the left. It is the Seal of the United States Army. Many of the images connect very well with us. We have the flag of the United States and of the army. We also see cannons and munition for them along with a Roman style breastplate, which for the most part all make a great deal of sense. However near the top you see what appears to be a red hat. Somewhat randomly in the top middle and very obvious for everyone to see. There is nothing military or threatening about a flimsy red hat. One must ask the question like I did, what is this hat doing there and what does it mean? This hat is known as the Phyrgian Cap or sometimes as the Liberty Cap.

The history behind the symbolism of the Phyrgian Cap dates back to the Greek and Roman time period when freed slaves were given the cap to symbolize their freedom. Although somewhat difficult to prove the belief is that this practice originated in Phyrgia when they would free their slaves there and the practice simply spread. As the Enlightenment era came around the use of the Phyrgian Cap as a symbol of liberty and freedom was used more and more. As the dawn of American independence was in full swing it was natural for patriots to use the cap as a symbol of a desire for their own personal liberty. One of the main uses of the cap was at the liberty pole which the New York 'Sons of Liberty' had erected as a symbol or defiance and a gathering place for their rallies. When the Sons of Liberty wanted their members to rally to the Liberty pole they would sometimes place a red Phyrgian Cap on top of the pole indicating that there was a meeting taking place and everyone should gather.

As I read about this cap and its history I immediately searched for images of the cap in our flag and insignias. I was surprised to find it numerous times normally hidden or obscure but it was there. Signifying in some way that we as Americans stand for liberty and freedom for all its individuals. Below are some images with the Phyrgian Cap in them. See if these are images you've seen before however never noticed the red cap so plainly in view.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is the History Behind... Oktoberfest!!!

When we think of Oktoberfest we consider it to be this grand celebration of all that is German beer and brewing. This year they celebrate its 200th Anniversary but you'd be interested to know that the event did not start at involving beer at all. 

The original event took place October 12, 1810 and was a public commemoration of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig (eventually becoming King Ludwig I) and his bride Princess Therese (today the grounds which hold Oktoberfest are named Theresienwiese which means field or meadow of Therese). The royal family organized a horse race to celebrate their wedding and bring the people of the Bavaria together. The people enjoyed the festivities so much they made the decision to renew the event the following year. That year the people decided to add an agricultural show to help boost the Bavarian agriculture. The agricultural aspect is still apart of the event however only done every third year. In addition the horse show remained a staple element of Oktoberfest all the up until 1960. The evolution of the event continues even to this day with different traditions coming and going throughout the last 200 years. One of the key traditions is the parade which came about first in 1835 and had been done every year since 1850. The parade is meant to honor the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria. Nearly 8,000 Bavarians take part in the parade, dressing in traditional costume and walk through the streets of Munich to the Oktoberfest celebration. Near the end of the nineteenth century a complete change occurred giving us more of what we see as Oktoberfest today. Originally there were booths everywhere involving games, dance floors, drinking, and much more. In order to allow more room for people to move around they built the beer halls that can be seen today. 

Various years Oktoberfest was cancelled, either because of war or pandemic. However despite various small set backs, Oktoberfest has lived on and become much more then just a Munich event. Similar to how on Saint Patrick's Day everyone drinks and celebrates everything that is Irish, people from around the world celebrate Oktoberfest and everything that is German. One of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Munich is found in Cincinnati, Ohio called Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati. So large the event is that the mayor of Munich annually decrees the celebrations as the largest outside their own.
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