19 December 2010

19 December - O Radix Jesse; Valley Forge and Pepper Pot Soup

The antiphon today is "O Radix Jesse" (O Root of Jesse), where we pray, with more than a little impatience, for our ruler and guide to come to us. 

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, 
at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, 
come to deliver us, do not tarry.
In 1777, General George Washington led his weary troops of the Continental Army to their winter quarters in the easily defended area of Valley Forge in eastern Pennsylvania, close enough to Philadelphia to harry the British troops who had captured the city, far enough to prevent any surprise attacks, and between Philadelphia and York, where the Continental Congress had fled.  The Army would remain there until June 1778.  In between, they drilled under Baron von Steuben into a honed fighting force, and welcomed the alliance with the French, which added more troops and ships to their number.
From the Valley Forge National Historic Park site:
Few places evoke the spirit of patriotism and independence, represent individual and collective sacrifice, or demonstrate the resolve, tenacity and determination of the people of the United States to be free as does Valley Forge. The historic landscapes, structures, objects, and archeological and natural resources at Valley Forge are tangible links to one of the most defining events in our nation's history. Here the Continental Army under Washington's leadership emerged as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force. The Valley Forge experience is fundamental to both American history and American myth, and remains a source of inspiration for Americans and the world.
Scroll down the Valley Forge NHP page to read about the men (and women) of the Continental Army, and how they fared that winter.  The traditional vision of ragged, starving, dying men will recede a little, and give you a better understanding about the significance of this 3rd of eight winter encampments. 
One of my ancestors, John Collier, rejoined his company in the 7th Virginia Regiment at Valley Forge in February of 1778.  This is what was written about him in one of the family histories: "Whenever John Collier noticed that his children or grandchildren showed the least indication of wastefulness, he at once would reprimand them, telling them of the suffering at Valley Forge, how he had seen soldiers fight for a kernel of corn; how he and others lacked shoes and socks to keep their feet warm, and as they walked in the snow, would leave the marks of blood from their tender, frost-bitten feet; how some of the soldiers had so little clothing that, when they stepped out of their huts, they had to throw their bedding around them..."

[Sounds a lot like the traditional admonishment: "When I was your age, I walked 5 miles to school, in 10 feet of snow, uphill both ways... and I was grateful!" Nothing has changed.]

Legend has it that PHILADELPHIA PEPPER POT SOUP was first made there in Valley Forge to lift the flagging spirits of the dispirited soldiers. As the story is told and retold, each time with a little change here and addition there, morale was low and desertions frequent.  General Washington ordered the mess cook to make something that would cheer his troops.  There being nothing to hand but some tripe, peppercorns, and meat scraps, the cook used them to produce a hot, filling soup, naming it after his hometown.  The next 'history' of the soup that you read will explain very carefully that Pepper Pot is part of African cuisine, which arrived here via the West Indies (with strong hints that no white person from the northern colonies could possibly create a separate version), and the next story after that will state unequivocally that the mess cook was West Indian.  That's how legends are born.

Be that as it may, here is one recipe for the legendary soup:

For 6 servings.
First, make the Butter Balls: Mix 1 cup of flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1/2 cup of melted butter.  Shape into dime-sized balls.  Chill several hours.

Finely cut up 1/2 pound of fresh tripe.  Set aside. 

Simmer 1 veal shin in 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt for 2 hours.  Strain.  Return broth to kettle, and add the tripe and 1 pound of boneless veal.  Simmer for another 2 hours, or until meats are tender.  Remove veal, cut into bite-size pieces, and return to kettle.

Cook 2 cups of flour in a skillet until golden brown.  Blend in 2 cups of water, and stir into veal broth. Stir in 2 cans of consomme and 2 cans of tomato soup.  Simmer for 1 hour.

Season with salt, ground red pepper, and ground allspice.  Add 2 - 3 hard-cooked eggs, cut into chunks, and the Butter Balls.  Simmer for 1/2 hour and serve.

Oh, and Pepper Pot Day is celebrated on 29 December, ten days hence, when it was supposedly invented.  Maybe morale was low and desertions frequent long before the troops got to Valley Forge - otherwise, it is hard to see how morale (and food stores) could drop so far in 10 days, all of which were spent in setting up camp, building huts, and digging redoubts.  But that's legend for you.