The UNDERGROUND RAILROAD in Television

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Recently, the WGN Network began airing a new series about a group of Georgia slaves who plan and conduct a daring 600 miles escape to freedom in the Northern states called “UNDERGROUND”. However, it is not the first television production about American slaves making a bid for freedom. Below is a list of previous productions that I have seen over the years:

 

 

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN TELEVISION

“A WOMAN CALLED MOSES” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries adaptation of Marcy Heidish’s 1974 novel about the life of escaped slave-turned Underground Railroad conductor/activist Harriet Tubman during the years before the Civil War. The miniseries’ first half focused on Tubman’s years as a Maryland slave and her escape to freedom in December 1849. The second half focused on her years as a conductor with the Underground Railroad. Paul Wendkos directed.

 

 

“THE LIBERATORS” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott portrayed Virginia-born abolitionist John Fairfield and Bill, the escaped slave of the former’s uncle; who become conductors for the Underground Railroad. After the former helps the latter escape from Virginia, the pair reunite nearly a year later to rescue the relatives of African-American freedmen living in the North. Kenneth Johnson directed.

 

 

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” (1994) – Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred in this cable television movie about a group of slaves who risk their lives to escape from their master’s North Carolina plantation to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Look for the surprise twist at the end. The movie co-starred Glynn Turman, Dawnn Lewis, Michael Riley, Falconer Abraham, and Ron White. Don McBrearty directed.

 

 

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“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century farmer in North Carolina, who finds himself helping a runaway slave, while on his way home from the market. Co-starring Larry Drake and Sam Waterston, the movie was directed by John Duigan.

 

 

“CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” (1996) – Lou Gossett Jr. and Kate Nelligan portrayed a Canadian mixed race couple who sought a husband for their only daughter, Mary. The latter ends up marrying a Northern American. Upon their arrival in the United States, he sells her to a Virginian slave dealer and she ends up as a slave in that slave. After Mary manages to send word to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mink set out for Virginia to organize a rescue of their daughter with the help of the Underground Railroad. Bruce Pittman directed.

 

 

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Four of the productions on this list – “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, “RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD”, “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING”, and “CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” can be found on DVD. Only “THE LIBERATORS” has not been released on DVD. In fact, I do not know if it has ever been released on VHS.

 

Ten Favorite SOUTHERN GOTHIC Movies

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Below is a list of my favorite movies with the theme of Southern Gothic:

 

TEN FAVORITE SOUTHERN GOTHIC MOVIES

1 - Written on the Wind

1. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this lush adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1945 novel about the damaging effects of a self-indulgent Texas family whose wealth stems from oil. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

 

2 - The Beguiled

2. “The Beguiled” (1971) – Clint Eastwood starred in this surprisingly effective adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel about a Union soldier’s stay at a girl’s school in 1863 Mississippi. Directed by Don Siegel, the movie co-starred Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman.

 

3 - Eves Bayou

3. “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) – Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbie Morgan starred in this excellent tale about the affects of a Louisiana doctor’s extramarital affairs upon his family. The movie was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

 

4 - The Long Hot Summer 1985

4. “The Long Hot Summer” (1985) – Don Johnson and Judith Ivey starred in this excellent television remake of the 1958 film about an ambitious drifter’s experiences with a wealthy Mississippi family. Stuart Cooper directed this two-part television movie.

 

5 - Interview With a Vampire

5. “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this excellent adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a former Louisiana planter-turned-vampire, who recalls his past history with a young reporter. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt starred.

 

6 - Heavens Prisoners

6. “Heaven’s Prisoners” (1996) – Alec Baldwin starred in this interesting adaptation of James Lee Burke’s 1988 novel about a former New Orleans detective, who investigates the circumstances behind a mysterious plane crash. Directed by Phil Joanou, the movie co-starred Kelly Lynch, Eric Roberts, Teri Hatcher and Mary Stuart Masterson.

 

7 - The Story of Temple Drake

7. “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) – Miriam Hopkins starred in this controversial adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, “Sanctuary”; which told the story of a young Southern socialite who falls into the hands of a brutal gangster. Stephen Roberts directed.

 

8 - The Skeleton Key

8. “The Skeleton Key” (2005) – Kate Hudson starred in this atmospheric thriller about a New Orleans hospice, who becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding an old Louisiana plantation manor and Hoodoo rituals. Directed by Iain Sofley, the movie co-starred Gena Rowland, Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt.

 

9 - One False Move

9. “One False Move” (1992) – Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton starred in this fascinating crime thriller about a Arkansas sheriff anticipating the arrival of three violent drug dealers. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Cynda Williams and Michael Beach.

 

10 - The Long Hot Summer 1958

10. “The Long Hot Summer” (1958) – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in this original adaptation of three William Faulkner novellas about the experiences of an ambitious drifter with a wealthy Mississippi family. The movie was directed by Martin Ritt.

Macaroni and Cheese

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Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:

MACARONI AND CHEESE

Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.

Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century’s “Liber de Coquina”, one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled “Forme of Cury”.

The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book “The Experienced English Housekeeper”. Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” and included two recipes for the dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country’s third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”.

Below is a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese” from the MyRecipe website:

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked

Preparation

1. Whisk flour into butter

Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.

2. Whisk in warm milk

Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.

3. Whisk in cheese

Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

TIME MACHINE: Battle of New Orleans

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TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS

This year marked the 200th anniversary of the last of a series of engagements that marked the Battle of New Orleans. This battle marked the last one of the conflict between the United States and Great Britain, known as the War of 1812.

The Battle of New Orleans consisted of a series of engagements fought between December 24, 1814 and January 8, 1815. The two countries had been at war since June 1812 – for two-and-a-half years. With the end of the Napoleonic War (before it was briefly renewed, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape in early 1815), Great Britain was finally able to focus its full attention upon the war against the United States. The British military decided to focus its strategy upon capturing the port of New Orleans, Louisiana, which had been under American control for eleven years. Capture of the city would give the British control of the Mississippi River and sever the Americans’ vital commerce route to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Capture of the city would also allow full control of the agriculture industries that dominated the lower Mississippi River Valley region – namely sugar and especially cotton.

The British Army began gathering its invasion force in the summer of 1814. The army’s defeat at Fort Bowyer prevented it from capturing Mobile, Alabama in September 1814. Alerted, the U.S. government dispatched a frantic message to GeneralAndrew Jackson to immediately proceed to New Orleans and defend it. Jackson marched his army from present-day Alabama to New Orleans and arrived in the city on December 2, 1814. Ten days later, a large British fleet under the command of Sir Alexander Cochrane with more than 8,000 soldiers and sailors aboard, anchored in the Gulf of Mexico to the east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. At Lake Borgne, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy engaged in a battle on December 14, 1814 that left the British victors, but heavily battered. Although the British won control of the two lakes, the battle gave Jackson enough time to strengthen his defenses around New Orleans.

By December 23, 1814; a British Army vanguard of 1,800 troops under Lieutenant-General John Keane reached the east bank of the Mississippi River, nine miles south of New Orleans. When Jackson learn of Keane’s presence, who was awaiting reinforcements at Lacoste’s Plantation, he led a brief three-pronged assault on the unsuspecting British troops, who were resting in their camp. Then Jackson pulled his forces back to the Rodriguez Canal, about four miles south of the city. The unexpected attack made Keane even more cautious and he made no effort to advance. As a consequence, the Americans were given time to begin the transformation of the canal into a heavily fortified earthwork. The main body of the British Army underMajor-General Edward Pakenham arrived on January 1, 1815. The army attacked the earthworks using their artillery. An exchange of artillery fire lasted for three hours. Several of the American guns were destroyed or knocked out and some damage was done to the earthworks. The British guns ran out of ammunition, which led Pakenham to cancel the attack. Unknown at the moment to Pakenham, the Americans on the left of Line Jackson near the swamp had broken and run from the position. Pakenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 8,000 men to assemble before launching his attack on the city.

Pakenham finally ordered a two-pronged assault against Jackson’s position during the early morning hours of January 8, 1814. The attack began under darkness and a heavy fog, but as the British neared the main enemy line the fog lifted, exposing them to withering artillery fire and musket fire. Poor leadership of the British forces, confusion on the battlefield, the swampy terrain and American tenacity combined to create a debacle for the British, as they tried to overcome the parapet that served as the Americans’ defense position. Two large assaults on the Americans were made. Only a handful of British troops made it to the top, but they were either killed or captured. The only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a brigade under William Thornton, which comprised of the 85th Regiment and detachments from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, attacked and overwhelmed the American line. Since Pakenham was dead and both Keane and Major-General Samuel Gibbs were wounded, command of the British forces fell upon Major-General John Lambert. Lambert decided not to renew the attack and withdrew his forces.

In the battle’s aftermath, the Royal Navy attacked Fort St. Philip on the following day, January 9, 1815. The British laid siege to the fort for ten days before its ships withdrew on January 18, 1815. On February 4, 1815, the British fleet, with troops aboard, set sail toward Mobile Bay, Alabama. The British army then attacked and captured Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay on February 12, 1815. The following day, the British army began making preparations to attack Mobile, when news arrived of the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty, which officially ended the War of 1812, had been signed on December 24, 1814; in the city of Ghent, Belgium. The British abandoned Fort Bowyer and sailed toward the West Indies. Although the Battle of New Orleans had no influence on the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the defeat at New Orleans did compel Britain to abide by the treaty.

For more detailed information on the Battle of New Orleans, I recommend the following books:

*“Battle of New Orleans, The: ‘But for a Piece of Wood'” (1814) by Ron Chapman

*“The War of 1812, Conflict and Deception: The British Attempt to Seize New Orleans and Nullify the Louisiana Purchase” (1814) by Ronald J. Drez

Kentucky Burgoo

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Below is an article I had written about a dish called Kentucky Burgoo:

KENTUCKY BURGOO

Unbeknownst to me until recently, Kentucky Burgoo or simply, “Burgoo”, is a spicy stew that is similar to Irish or Mulligan Stew and especially Bruinswick Stew. Burgoo is a communal dish that is usually served during a social event in both the American South and the Midwest. However, it is believe that the dish first made its American appearance in the state of Kentucky.

It is believed by many that Burgoo first originated in Europe – specifically France and Belgium. The name “burgoo” came from a mispronunciation of the French word “burgout”, which is a kind of gruel; or perhaps it came from “ragout, which is a spicy vegetable/meat stew. I suspect that a ragout is more similar to the description of Kentucky Burgoo. It is also believed that a man named Colonel Gus Jaubart introduced the dish to the citizens of Kentucky around 1810, eight years after it became a state. Jaubart’s Burgoo was a version of a stew – possibly a ragout – that was fed to French sailors at sea.

However, the late Kentucky historian, Thomas D. Clark believed that Burgoo may have originated in the Appalachian region of late 18th century or early 19th century Virginia, where Brunswick Stew was popular. According to Clark, hunters would count their day’s kill and cook it in a stew or soup with vegetables and highly seasoned spices. There are some who believe that Clark may have been referring to what was known as an “Appalachian Hunter’s Stew” or the “Daniel Boone Stew”.

Below is a recipe for Kentucky Burgoo from the Simplyrecipe.com website:

Kentucky Burgoo

Ingredients

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pounds pork shoulder or country ribs, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
2-3 pounds chuck roast, stew meat, or other inexpensive cut of beef, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
3-5 chicken legs or thighs (bone-in)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 quart beef stock or broth
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 large potatoes (we used russets)
1 bag of frozen corn (about a pound)
1 bag of frozen lima beans (about 14 ounces)
Salt and pepper
4-8 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco or other hot sauce on the side

Preparation

Heat vegetable oil on medium-high heat in a large soup pot (at least 8 quart size). Salt the meats well on all sides. When the oil is shimmering hot, working in batches brown all the meats. Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam and not brown well. Do not move the meat while browning a side. Let the meat pieces get well seared. Remove the browned meats to a bowl.

Add the onions, carrots, celery and green pepper to the pot and brown them. If necessary, add a little more oil to the pot. After a few minutes of cooking, sprinkle salt over the vegetables.

When the vegetables are well browned, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant. Add back the meats, and the chicken and beef broths and the tomatoes, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 2 hours.

Uncover and remove the meat pieces. Strip the chicken off the bone and discard skin if you want. Break the larger pieces of meat into smaller, more manageable pieces. The reason you did not do this at first is because the meats stay juicier when they cook in larger pieces. Return all the meat pieces to the pot and bring it up to a strong simmer.

Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks about the same size as the meat pieces (if using new potatoes, you can skip the peeling, but russets you’ll want to peel). Add them to the stew and cook them until they are done, about 45 minutes. When the potatoes are done, add the Worcestershire sauce, mix well and taste for salt. Add more Worcestershire sauce to taste if needed.

Add the corn and lima beans. Mix well and cook for at least 10 minutes, or longer if you would like. Here is the point where you decide whether you want a burgoo that’s been hammered into a thick mass or a stew with bright colors in it. It is your call.

To serve, taste one more time for salt, and add either Worcestershire or salt if you want. Serve with crusty bread or cornbread and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.

Daniel_Boone_Sitting_at_the_Door_of_His_Cabin_on_the_Great_Osage_Lake_Kentucky_1826

TIME MACHINE: Battle of Bladensburg

Battle of Bladens-Waterhouse Painting

TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG

August 24, 2014 marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, which was a major conflict fought during the War of 1812. The battle was fought on August 24, 1814 in Bladensburg, Maryland; and played a major role in the fate of the United States’ capital, Washington D.C. and a future battle fought around Baltimore, Maryland.

Although the Royal Navy had controlled the Chesapeake Bay region since early 1813, the lack of substantial British troops due to the Napoleonic Wars had limited to mounting small-scale raids. However, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by April 1814, leaving the British Army to focus full attention to the war on the North American continent. Major General Robert Ross, assumed command of veterans from the Duke of Wellington’s army and other British troops serving along the East Coast. They were transported to Chesapeake Bay to create a diversion from a British invasion of New York, led by Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada and commander in chief in North America. Although Ross commanded the troops, the point of attack was to be decided by Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s North American Station.

When Ross and Cochrane’s forces arrived at the town Benedict, along the Patuxent River, President James Madison sent Secretary of State James Monroe to reconnoiter. President Madison received a dispatch from Secretary Monroe on August 23 that stated – “The enemy are in full march to Washington, Have the materials prepared to destroy the bridges, PS – You had better remove the records.” Unfortunately, Madison and his advisers ignored Monroe’s warning and reports. The Washington and Baltimore area served as the Tenth Military District and it was under the command of General William H. Winder, who had been an attorney before the war broke out. In theory, Winder was supposed to have at least 15,000 militia troops, but he actually had only 120 Dragoons and 300 other Regulars, plus 1,500 poorly trained and under-equipped militiamen at his immediate disposal. Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr. and other advisers incorrectly assumed that the British were destined for Baltimore and that Washington would not be attacked since he deemed it strategically unimportant.

Winder ordered the destruction of the two bridges across the Anacostia River as a precaution to protect the Capital. This act left a route through Bladensburg as the logical approach. He also sent troops to Marlborough to intercept the British at Upper Marlboro on August 20. Unfortunately, those troops quickly returned when the Americans learned that British troops were already entering Blandesburg. Following a brief clash with Ross’ leading forces on August 22, Winder ordered a hasty retreat. Several Maryland militia regiments were summoned from Baltimore to defend Washington. Winder ordered Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury to move from Baltimore to Bladensburg and take the best position in advance of Bladensburg in order to resist as long as possible. The latter deployed his force atop Lowndes Hill, just east of Bladensburg. The road from Annapolis crossed the hill, and the road from Upper Marlboro ran to its south and west. Furthermore, the roads to Washington, Georgetown, and Baltimore all intersected behind between it and Bladensburg. From this position, Stansbury dominated the approaches available to the British while controlling the lines of communication. Then on August 23, Stansbury received a message from Winder, informing the former that he had withdrawn across the Eastern Branch and he intended to fire the lower bridge. A surprised Stansbury was seized by an irrational fear that his right flank could be turned. Instead of strengthening his commanding position, he immediately removed his exhausted troops and marched across Bladensburg bridge, which he did not burn. Stansbury ended up tossing away almost every tactical advantage available to him.

The British forces reached Bladensburg on August 24, around noon. Around noon on 24 August, Ross’s army reached Bladensburg and Stansbury’s tactical errors quickly became apparent. Had he continued to hold Lowndes Hill, Stansbury could have made the British approach a costly one. With the use of Bladensburg’s brick structures, which were ready-made mini-fortresses, Stansbury might have drawn Ross’s troops into bloody street fighting. Since Stansbury failed to burn the bridge, he was forced to defend it. Stansbury’s infantry and artillery were posted too far from the river’s edge to contest an effective crossing. The British sweep across the Bladensburg Bridge proved to be very strong. Although the Americans repulsed the British forces three times by artillery fire and launched a counter-attack led by U.S. Naval officer Commodore Joshua Barney and his almost 600 seasoned Marines and sailors. Despite their valiant repulse, the authorities in Washington simply forgot about Barney for several days. Without orders they were tardy arrivals on the field of contest. Had they been supplied with sufficient ammunition and supporting infantry, the course of the battle could have been changed. But in the end, Barney and his men were flanked and overwhelmed by British forces. Barney was wounded and captured.

Although the British had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans, thanks to Barney’s guns; they had completely routed the defenders. The British are believed to suffer casualties of 64 dead and 185 wounded. Some of the British dead “died without sustaining a scratch. They collapsed from heat exhaustion and the strain of punishing forced marches over the five days since landing at Benedict. General Winder had not given any instructions to his commanders before the battle in regard to a possible retreat. When the American militia left the battlefield, he issued contradictory orders – either to halt and reform, fall back on the Capitol where Secretary of War Armstrong hoped vainly to make a stand using the Federal buildings as strong points, or retreat through Georgetown to Tenleytown. Most of the militia simply fled the field with no destination in mind, or deserted the ranks to see to the safety of their families. The Americans actually fled through the streets of Washington, D.C. President Madison and most of the rest of the federal government had been present at the battle, and had nearly been captured. They too fled the capital, and scattered through Maryland and Virginia. That same night the British entered Washington unopposed and set fire to many of the government buildings in what became known as the Burning of Washington.

If you are more interested in reading more information on the Battle of Bladensburg and the Burning of Washington, I suggest you read the following books:

*“When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington (2014) by Peter Snow

*“The Darkest Day: The Washington-Baltimore Campaign During the War of 1812” (2003) by Charles G. Mueller

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY Documentaries

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

Gumbo

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GUMBO

Gumbo is a dish that is not only popular throughout Deep South states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina; but is available to many Americans at restaurants that featured Gulf State cuisine throughout the country. For me, my first real introduction to gumbo was at a food stand inside Los Angeles’ Farmers Market called “The Gumbo Pot”. It is probably one of my favorite dishes ever . . . if prepared properly. 

It is believed that gumbo was first introduced in southern Louisiana sometime during the 18th century. No one knows exactly where in Louisiana or when it first appeared in the Americas. It is basically a stew that consisted of stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables that usually included celery, bell peppers and onions (known as the “holy trinity”). Gumbo is often categorized by the type of thickener used. Cooks usually used the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves), or roux. The name of the dish either came from the Bantu word for okra – “ki ngombo” or the Choctaw word for filé – “kombo”.

Gumbo combines the ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures like West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw. Gumbo may have been based on traditional West African or native dishes, or may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse. Some believed that gumbo is a reinterpretation of traditional West African cooking. West Africans used the vegetable okra as a base for many dishes, including soups, often pairing okra with meat and shrimp, with salt and pepper as seasonings. In Louisiana, the dish was modified to include ingredients introduced by other cultural groups. Surviving records indicate that by 1764, African slaves in New Orleans mixed cooked okra with rice to make a meal. Some believe that gumbo may have been derived from traditional French soups, particularly the fish stew bouillabaisse. When the Acadians moved to Louisiana in the mid-18th century, they were unable to find many of their traditional ingredients for the soups they usually made for the winter months, so they substituted fish, turnips and cabbage with shellfish and ingredients from other cultures. Culinary experts like Celestine Eustis insisted that gumbo was an early dish for native tribes. It was first described in 1802 and was later listed in various cookbooks in the second half of the 19th century. Gumbo gained more widespread popularity in the 1970s, after the United States Senate cafeteria added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. It is now the official state dish of Louisiana.

There are many types of variations on gumbo. Among them are:

*Gumbo Ya-Ya
*Seafood Gumbo
*Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Considering there are so many different types of gumbo dishes out there, I tried to find a recipe of the most basic kind prepared in Louisiana. Below is a recipe found on the Smithsonian Institute magazine website, from an article written by Southern Louisiana native, Lolis Eric Elie. The recipe came from his mother:

Creole Gumbo

Ingredients

• 5 quarts water
• 1 dozen fresh crabs, raw, boiled or steamed
• 2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the shells and heads to make seafood stock)
• 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch rounds (1 pound each of two different sausages is optimal)
• 3/4 pound Creole hot sausage (if available), cut into 1 inch rounds
• 2 pounds okra cut into rounds
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
• 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 5 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 bunch green onions, tops and bottoms, chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
• 1 pound crab meat, picked and cleaned of shells and cartilage
• 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
• 4 bay leaves
• 4 tablespoons filé powder
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 6 cups steamed white rice

Preparation

Clean the crabs, removing the lungs, heart and glands and other parts so that only the pieces of shell containing meat (including the legs, swimmers and claws) remain. Refrigerate the meaty parts of the crabs. Put the portions of the crabs that have been removed into a 6- or 8-quart stockpot. Add the shrimp heads and shells and 5 quarts water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Cook the sausages in a skillet in batches over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the pieces are slightly brown and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard the excess fat remaining in the skillet before cooking the next batch of sausage.

Once all the sausage has been cooked, wipe the excess oil from the skillet, being careful not to scrub away those bits of sausage that have stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and then add the okra. Lower the heat to medium and cook the okra until it is slightly brown and dried, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes.

While the okra cooks, place the 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-quart stockpot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, a tablespoon at a time slowly add the 1/2 cup flour to prepare the roux, stirring constantly. Once all the flour has been added, continue heating and stirring the roux until it becomes a medium brown color, somewhere between the color of caramel and milk chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to the roux, stirring constantly. Once the onions are wilted, add the garlic, parsley, celery, green onions and bell pepper. Strain the seafood stock into the large stockpot. Add the browned sausage and bay leaves and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook.

Once the okra is cooked, add it to the gumbo pot. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Add the reserved crabs and shrimp and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil with a ladle or large spoon and discard. Stir in the picked crab meat. Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.

chebert

Pumpkin Pie

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Below is an article the popular Thanksgiving dessert, Pumpkin Pie

PUMPKIN PIE

As many Americans know, Pumpkin Pie is a sweet dessert, traditionally eaten during the fall and early winter seasons. They are especially popular during the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the United States and Canada. Many view the pumpkin as a symbol of harvest time. The pie consists of a custard made from an actual pumpkin, canned custard or packaged pie filling made from the plant. The pie’s color usually range from orange to brown and is baked in a single pie shell, rarely with a top crust. Pumpkin pie is generally flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.

The pumpkin is a native of the North American continent. The oldest evidence of its existence were pumpkin-related seeds that dated between 7000 and 5500 BCE, has been found in Mexico. Despite the discovery of its seeds in Mexico, the pumpkin was first exported to France in the 16th century. From there, it was introduced to Tudor England. The English quickly accepted the flesh of the “pompion” as a pie filler. Following its introduction to England, pumpkin pie recipes could be found in 17th century English cookbooks such as Hannah Woolley’s 1675 book, “The Gentlewoman’s Companion”.

English immigrants such as the Pilgrims eventually introduced the pumpkin pie to the New England region. Recipes for the pie did not appear in American cookbooks until the early 19th century. During this same period, the dessert finally became a common addition to the Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, the English method of cooking the pumpkin took a different course. The English pumpkin pie was prepared by stuffing the actual pumpkin with apples, spices and sugar, before baking it whole. The dessert, which more or less remained traditional in the United States, inspired songs and poems. Nineteenth century activist Lydia Maria Child referenced the pumpkin pie in her 1844 song, “Over the River and Through the Wood”. And in 1850, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem called “The Pumpkin”.

Below is a recipe for a fresh pumpkin pie from the Full Circle website (which was adapted from a recipe found on http://www.rwood.com:

Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients

Your favorite pie crust dough, enough for one 9-inch shell.
1 pie pumpkin
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups organic cream
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, place the pumpkin halves in a pan, shell side up, and bake for 1 hour or until the pumpkin is tender, exudes liquid and the shell starts to sag.

Pour off accumulated liquid, scrape the pulp from the shell and purée it with a potato masher or in a blender. Measure 2 cups of the purée and set it aside. Reserve any additional pumpkin for another use.

Place your pie dough on a lightly floured surface and, starting from the center out, roll the dough to about 2 inches larger than the size of the pan. Loosen the pastry, fold it in half, lift it and unfold it into the pan. Press it into place, trim off the excess dough and crimp the edges.

Increase the temperature of the oven to 425°F. In a large mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the purée and the remaining ingredients and stir to blend. Pour the mixture into the dough-lined pan.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Boston Creme Pie

Bostoncreampie

Below is a brief look at and recipe for the famous New England dessert called the “Boston Creme Pie”

 

BOSTON CREME PIE

Judging by the name of this famous dessert, one would assume that the Boston Creme Pie was created in Boston, Massachusetts. And one would be right. However, there is a slight confusion over the dessert’s origins. According to John F. Mariani’s 1999 book, “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink”, the Boston Creme Pie originated during the Early American period and was known as either the “Pudding-Cake Pie”; or when made with a raspberry jelly filling, “Mrs. Washington’s Pie”.

But the current dessert that features the chocolate topping is known as the Boston Creme Pie. And according to many cookbooks, Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian created the dessert at Boston’s famous Parker House Hotel in 1855 or 1856. Like the Pudding-Cake Pie and Mrs. Washington’s Pie, the Boston Creme Pie is actually a pudding and cake combination that comprises at least two or three layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. In the case of the Boston Creme Pie, the cake is topped with a chocolate glaze called Ganache. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts declared the Boston Creme Pie as its official dessert in 1996.

The following is a recipe for the dish from thehungrymouse.com website:

Boston Creme Pie

Ingredients

Cake
1/2 cup butter (that’s 1 stick), softened on the counter for 20 minutes or so
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt

Cream Filling
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
6 Tbls. flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbls. butter

Preparations

Cake
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 8-inch round cake pans with oil, then line with circles of parchment paper. Set them aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of your mixer. Beat them together until well combined. Add in the egg yolks. Beat again until well combined and kind of fluffy. Scrape down the sides of your bowl with a spatula. Add the milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir them together with a whisk to combine well. Toss the dry mixture into the butter/sugar in the mixing bowl. Mix on medim-high for maybe 20 or 30 seconds to combine, just until the batter comes together.

The batter will be relatively thick and stiff. Give the batter a stir or two with a spatula to be sure that it’s mixed well and no dry ingredients remain in the very bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between your two prepared cake pans. Smooth it down with a spatula so it fills the whole pan and is relatively even. Bake cake the 2 cakes for 20-23 minutes at 375 degrees.

They are done when they are golden brown on top and feel firm (not jiggly) in the middle when pressed with a finger. When inserted in the center, a toothpick should come out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes. Then, gently run a knife around the whole edge to loosen it, and remove each cake from the pan. (Because you lined each pan with parchment paper, this should be easy). Set the cakes on a rack to cool completely. If your cakes wound up a little crusty on the edges, like this, don’t worry. You’re going to trim those crisp edges right off when you assemble your Boston Cream Pie.

Custard
Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. Then put the sugar and egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl. Whisk together until well combined. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Pour in the milk. And the vanilla. Whisk to combine. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Whisk it constantly for 5-7 minutes until it starts thicken. Keep whisking until the custard gets very thick. It’s done when it coats the back of a spoon. Give it a taste. It should have a nice custard-y taste, without any hint of raw flour. When it is done, take it off the heat. Cool it on the counter to room temperature, then pop it in the fridge to chill it completely.

Chocolate Frosting
Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water. Set it on the stove over high heat to bring it up to a boil. If you are making the frosting right after the custard, just use the same pot of simmering water. Chop up the chocolate. Put it into a large heatproof bowl. Pour in the cream. When your pot of water is boiling, drop the heat to low. Set the bowl on top of the pot of water. Toss in the butter. The chocolate should start to melt almost immediately. Whisk to combine. Keep whisking until all the chocolate is melted and you have a uniform mixture. Set the chocolate frosting aside to cool. As it cools, it will thicken up. If you put it in the fridge, keep a close eye on it. It can go from nice and thick to solid fudge in no time flat.

Assemble the Dessert

Do not do this until all of your components are completely cool. If you try to put it together when any piece is warm, you will wind up with a slippery, drippy mess.

Start by trimming your cakes. Carefully set them one on top of the other. With a serrated bread knife, cut the edges off. Go slowly and press down on the top of the cake with one hand to keep it from ripping. Should you have an accident with one of the cakes, like this, do not fret. Just use that cake as the bottom layer. The custard filling will help glue the whole thing together once it gets cold in the fridge.

Set one cake on your serving platter, bottom side facing up. Do this so that your custard goes on a flat—not slightly domed—surface. Grab the custard filling from the fridge. It should be nice and thick. Spoon it out onto the cake. Reserve a few spoonfuls of custard for later, to help stick the almonds to the side of the cake. Spread the custard to the edges with a rubber spatula. Put the second cake right on top. Grab your chocolate frosting. Spoon it out onto the top of the cake. Spread it around until the top of the cake is covered. Pop two toothpicks into the cake to hold the layers together for now, until it’s completely chilled. With your finger, brush the leftover custard onto the edges of the cake, so it’s covered in a thin layer.

Note

According to this recipe, the Boston Cream Pie is best served on the day that it is put together. The dessert has three parts – the cake, the custard filling and the chocolate frosting. Following the preparation of all three parts, they need to be completely cooled before the dessert is assembled.

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