Friday, August 2, 2013

Robert E. Lee Cake, and a Civil War Unit Celebration

We had a big celebration at the end of our unit to display and present what we had learned. We invited some friends over so we had a fresh audience. :) It was really fun to set everything up and to plan what our celebration would include.

We debated what to do about food for quite awhile. There are Civil War-era recipes available, but the authentic ones often don't include very detailed instructions and I was worried about messing them up. And of course the soldiers weren't eating very good food . . . Finally I found a bill of fare for Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball. This was interesting, because they were walking a fine line between celebration and austerity during this time. They wanted to celebrate the re-election, of course, but the war was still going on and it would have been insensitive to feast extravagantly. So the menu wasn't as fancy as it might have been.

I didn't want to make a bunch of new or difficult dishes that the kids couldn't help with as much, so we decided to do kind of a low-key dinner featuring some of the same dishes (the easy ones) as the Inaugural Ball.
Some items are quite interesting. I'm especially drawn to the "Ornamental Pyramides" (I don't know what it means) and the "Jellies and Creams"

Then for dessert, to make sure we had the South represented too, we made Robert E. Lee Cake. We learned that this cake is traditional in the South as a favorite dessert of Robert E. Lee, and people often serve it on "Lee-Jackson Day" (celebrated in Virginia the Friday before Martin Luther King Day). It's a really yummy lemon-orange chiffon cake with lemon curd filling and lemony frosting. It was fun to make and eat!

We used a recipe here, which was good because it included an earlier-era version of the recipe. I talked to the children about how recipes have changed over the years (with the advent of more precise measurements, oven temperatures, etc.) and how much you would have had to know before being able to cook something back in that era. I think it's pretty amazing that they were able to make beautiful desserts like this one back then, with their much more limited equipment and ingredients!
Robert E. Lee Cake

Another new recipe we tried for this dinner was "blanc mange," which was on the Inaugural Ball menu. I've often heard of it (usually in the context of someone "quivering like a blancmange":)) but I never knew what it was: basically, vanilla pudding. It was pretty easy to make and we really liked it---it's flavored with orange peel and cinnamon, and it has a really lovely smooth texture and cool flavor. We used this recipe here.

I figured two new-to-us recipes were enough for one day, but here are some other Civil War-era recipes we considered trying:
others here and here

The rest of our dinner was simple (I just bought the deli ham and turkey, and chicken salad) but it was different enough from a regular dinner that it still felt like a real celebratory feast: 
Pyramide of Orange! :)

After dinner, we filled out the evening with the boys' oral presentations about their final projects, Abe reciting the Gettysburg Address for us, and watching an awesome Civil War movie: Buster Keaton's The General. It's a silent movie, so I wasn't sure how the children would like it, but I should have realized that silent movies are THE IDEAL movies for watching with children. You can talk and explain what's going on the whole time without missing anything! I just read the subtitles out loud (there aren't that many of them) for the younger children. And the movie is totally hilarious. We all loved it! It was the perfect way to celebrate our study of this fascinating period of history!

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