Saturday, April 17, 2010

State of Virginia Dinner

Ham and red-eye gravy
Collard greens
Sweet tea
General Robert E. Lee Cake

Virginia is famous for her country hams. Country hams are quite salty and may be hardwood smoked then aged anywhere from several months to a couple of years. Red-eye gravy is made from the drippings of pan-fried country ham and black coffee. One legend surround the name is that President Andrew Jackson requested ham with gravy as red as the eyes of his cook, which were bloodshot from a long night of drinking. To make ham and red-eye gravy, simply pan-fry slices of country ham in a skillet. Remove the ham. Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 a cup of strong coffee. Scrap all the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan. Boil until it has been reduced to about half it's original volume. Season with black pepper.

Grits is a corn-based porridge very popular in the southern United States. Corn is a crop native to America. Native Americans ate a mush made of softened corn and offered bowls of the boiled cornmeal to the early settlers and colonists in Jamestown, Virginia. One of Sir Walter Raleigh's men recorded notes on the foods of the Indians. Corn, he wrote, was "very white, faire and well tasted." I used Quaker's Quick Grits, found in the breakfast aisle at the grocery store.

Collard greens are a member of the cabbage family and date back to prehistoric times. The Southern-style of cooking greens originated with African slaves. Slaves were given the leftover food from the plantation's kitchens. Often these leftovers consisted of tops of turnips and other greens and ham hocks. The traditional Southern way to cook greens is to simmer them slowly with a piece of ham or other smoked meat. Add enough water to cover the fresh greens, add a touch of cider vinegar, chopped onion and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 1 hour, until the greens are nice and tender.

Sweet tea is the staple drink of the Southern United States. I put 6 cups of water into a glass container and then add 4 tea bags. Set the container outside in the sun for about 4 hours. For fairly sweet tea, add about 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve. Add another 6 cups of cold water. Serve over ice with a slice of lemon.

Lee-Jackson Day is a state holiday in Virginia. It is observed in remembrance of two Confederate leaders: Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Lee's birthday is January 19 and the holiday is celebrated on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Naming cakes and cookies in honor of Civil War heroes on both sides was a common practice in the years following the war. This orange and lemon layer cake was traditionally believed to be a favorite of Gen. Lee's. The first written version of the recipe appeared in the 1879 cookbook titled Housekeeping in Old Virginia and was called Robert E. Lee Cake.


mshel333 said...

Oh, give me some! That looks delicious.

Betsy said...

So how does red-eye gravy TASTE? Is it good? Does it taste like coffee?