Wednesday, January 14, 2009

As American as Martha Washington's Apple Cake

We're working on presidents. I'm terrible at dates and history was a personal bete noire. I can't believe now how I hated it in school.

The kids and I were listening to Boomerang in the car when, as luck would have it, a boomerang reporter traveled back in time to interview George Washington just before he crosses the Delaware. The kids lament in the intro about how the language arts teacher says that conflict makes for gripping reading, but the history teacher hands out texts that are a dry litany of dates and events.

An abstract from the New Yorker from 1979 sums up the problems with the history texts I grew up with:

Since the 1930's [American History textbooks] have maintained a consistent level of dullness. In part this is because of their silences. The longest of these silences is on the subject of intellectual history. The substitute has been editorial moralizing. The texts have been written without conflicts; there has been a tendency to minimize violent confrontation. Even the coverage of wars has been shortened. Connections between events are neglected. Historical development in American values and institutions are not shown.

Yup, that is how I remember it. Also I remember feeling that I didn't get enough details about everyday life. Our 5th grade trip to Colonial Williamsburg was one of the only times I enjoyed history as a child.

David McCullough, the historian who wrote 1776, wrote a short piece about putting faces to Revolutionary war soldiers called Faces. There are no photos of the time, of course, and even the paintings were made long after in a Romanticized style. McCullough collected descriptions of soldiers from desertion notices.

...seventeen-year-old George Reynolds from Rhode Island “carried his head something on his right shoulder...” Simeon Smith, “a thin-spared fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high, had on a blue coat and a black vest, a metal button on his hat, black long hair, black eyes, his voice in the hermaphrodite fashion.” Mathias Smith...was “apt to say, ‘I swear! I swear!’ And between his words will spit smart.”

I love those details that bring history to life and I remember history best through biographies.

So I thought we'd look at American history through the presidents. We got a book at the library called So You Want to be President? "Lots of people want to be President," the book says. "If you want to be President it might help if your name is James. Six Presidents were named James." And later, "You probably weren't born in a log cabin. That is too bad. People are crazy about log cabin presidents. They elected eight. William Harrison was born in a big Virginia mansion, though he won the election with a 'log cabin and hard cider' slogan". Look for it at your library--it's a fun read.

And I'm cooking up grand tour plans. The National Park Service has itineraries on various history topics including a new one on the presidents. Ev's in 5th grade and I'd like to take her to Colonial Williamsburg this summer.

Today I thought we'd bake a Martha Washington Apple Cake, but when I saw the lengthy instructions ending with Bake for 75 minutes I decided it was more of an apple fritter day. American colonists certainly fried up apple fritters (once Johnny Appleseed had passed by). The earliest known British recipe dates to the 15th century, and the recipe hasn't changed much since then. Fritter is "fretoure" in this version: "Take fayre Applys, & kut hem in man'er of Fretourys," then dip apple slices in the batter and fry them in "Oyle."

Here was today's Historic Moment!

It went by so fast all I got was this blurry photo. No, it is not a UFO. It is Clementine holding a raw apple. Can it be long before she pops one in her mouth?

We didn't have any vegetable oil so we were forced to fry them in butter. Mmm.

Powdered sugar.

Hey look, a whole new way to sugar coat history.


gina said...

Hey, we have apples, butter, and powdered sugar- we are so going to make these today!!

Susan said...

I left out the batter step in my photos (just stuck a blurry one in!). You need a cup of flour and cup of pale beer as well--and a bit of sugar and salt.

patricia said...

Oh my gosh, those fritters look delish!

Here's another apple/George Washington connection: when we visited Mount Vernon, one of my favorite things was seeing the old, old espaliered apple trees in his garden. Actually, seeing the garden in general was a highlight. If you head back east, consider putting Mount Vernon on your itinerary. Touristy, but fascinating nonetheless.

Any hey--that Charles Micucci book in your sidebar! We loved that book, but have you read his book on honeybees, which is done in a similar format? I *know* you'd like that one.

AM said...

President Kissinger was my personal favorite.

Kelly said...

We really liked "So You Want to Be President?" too. It was one of about 8 books that we got out on voting/presidents/gov't and the clear winner.