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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Conway

Virginia - Old Dominion

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Official Slogan: Sic semper tyrannis (Thus always to tyrants)

Suggested Slogan: Temper nostra pernam (Try our ham)

Two Truths and a Lie

The Recipe - Colonial Gingerbread

Virginia is home to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. The historic settlement survives today. Seven miles northeast of Jamestown lies Colonial Williamsburg, which claims to be the world’s largest living history museum. Travel another 13 miles east and one can visit the Yorktown Battlefield which is home to the American Revolution Museum. Collectively, these sites make up Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

I wanted this recipe to honor Virginia’s historical heritage. Two books made this possible: “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons and “Women in the Kitchen” by Anne Willan. “American Cookery” was published in 1796. It is the first cookbook to actually include the word “cookie.” It is very difficult to read. The typeface uses a long “s” which actually looks like an “f”. Also, the instructions and ingredients are jumbled together in blocks of text with no punctuation. Thankfully Willan puts Simmon’s work in context.

Willan explains that Simmons was the first author to be thoroughly American. At the time English cooks considered corn an inferior grain, but Simmons used it in a variety of dishes. She claimed her hoe cakes hot from the fire were more delicious than any Yorkshire pudding. Simmons also used pearl ash, a newly available leavener, in her baked goods. Thus, American baked goods began their path to sweet, fluffy cakes and muffins and away from the yeast-leavened cakes and dense biscuits of Europe.

Simmons includes multiple recipes for gingerbread and I liked the sound of her “Molasses Gingerbread”. Molasses was a widely used sweetener in colonial times. Simmons recommended flavoring her cookies with cinnamon, coriander, and allspice - which sounded great to me. The proportions of Simmon’s recipe, however, sounded insane to me. Four pounds of flour to a half pound of butter seemed off. I time-traveled to 1860 and consulted a recipe by Mrs. Mary Randolph in her book “The Virginia Housewife: or the Methodical Cook.” Her recipe for Plebian Gingerbread includes proportions and methods far more familiar. (I also love that name, I hope she threw some frosting and gold leaf on top for a “patrician gingerbread” on holidays.)

I morphed Simmons and Randolph’s recipes into one with a few modern touches like baking soda instead of pearl ash. I cut my dough into heart shapes because as the tourism motto goes, Virginia is for lovers. These cookies were pretty great. I really liked the rich color and slight shine imparted by the molasses. I decided to make

another batch and turn it into a gingerbread house for the holiday season. I have never made a gingerbread house before, but I’m really pleased with the result, wonky piping and all!

Want to experience Virginia for yourself? Then Teresa recommends ...

I have visited Virginia, but all I can remember is the “Welcome to Virginia” sign flashing by the car window. It was a quick and unsatisfactory visit; I must amend that. But I can absolutely recommend reading “Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case” by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Both the words, the pictures, and the history are so moving.

Time for the whole truth

Nebraska has a law prohibiting marriage when a person has a venereal disease.

(By the way, you can click on any of the 2 truths and a lie statements to visit the source of the trivia)

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