Monday, November 17, 2014

Variations on Virginia

I think we may leave sticky, cheesy footprints on our trek down through a good number of the original thirteen colonies to the one that really started it all this week.  And we’ll have to swap our Ben and Jerry’s for a Smithfield Ham.  This week the Chincoteague pony will give the Morgan Horse a run for its money.  (Bonus – the Chincoteague pony is this state’s half of the breed it shares with Maryland known as the Assateague pony, remember that?)  And there may not be enough room on my ‘famous for’ wall this week to put up eight, yes eight, Presidents!  Any guesses where we’re off to?  (I know, I know, it’s alphabetical, but pretend anyway…)  We’re off to the “State for Lovers”, Virginia!  I’m elbow deep in history this week, so if that doesn’t intimidate you too much, keep reading for plenty of fact-filled fun about “The Old Dominion State!”

We should start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).  The very beginning of the first permanent English colony (13 years BEFORE those people at Plymouth Rock)  in what would eventually become the United States, in fact.   Founded by The Virginia Company of London in 1607, Jamestown, was set up as triangular fort around a storehouse, church, and a number of houses.  The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.  Unfortunately, all was not smooth sailing as famine, disease and conflict with local Native American tribes in the first two years brought threatened Jamestown’s legitimacy before the arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies in 1610.  (Kristi’s side note – OK, so there are so many things I could go into here – John Smith, Pocahontas, War and Peace with the Native Americans, just to name a few.  But I only have so much time to go into it with the Dynamic Duo.  So if you’re interested, there is no shortage of interesting Jamestown information out there.  And if you’re super interested, take a trip to Virginia and go to Jamestown Settlement, but in the meantime there is one significant piece I just couldn’t overlook…)

It just so happens that it was at Jamestown in 1611 that newly arrived colonist, John Rolfe (who would later marry Pocahontas) became the first to commercially cultivate tobacco plants in North America.   It was the export of this sweeter tobacco beginning in 1612 helped turn the Virginia Colony into a profitable venture.  Just fifteen years after Rolfe’s first crop, English imports of American tobacco had reached almost 500,000 pounds per year, and by 1670 half of the adult male population in England smoked tobacco daily.  (Brandt, Allan M. "Pro Bono Publico”)  (Kristi’s side note, so herein again, I could dive into so many different subjects – the role tobacco played in colonizing the rest of the country, the dispute it led to with Native Americans, the use of slaves to harvest the crops.  Virginia has been so difficult this week just because of its role as the ‘Birthplace of the Nation’, so bear with me!)  Today, tobacco production continues to play an important role in Virginia’s economy.  As of 2013, Virginia is the nation’s third largest tobacco supplier, with 20,881 total acres of land being devoted to tobacco production.

It’s pretty safe to say that tobacco production in Virginia is fairly well covered in the history books.  But did you also know about the importance of the peanut in Virginia?  One type of peanut (there are four commonly recognized types) even bears the name Virginia Peanuts. Grown primarily in southeastern Virginia, northeastern North Carolina and South Carolina, the Virginia Peanut is described as having the largest kernels and account for most of the peanuts roasted in shell.  The peanut is thought to have made its way to the colonies via slaves from Africa and Virginia remains among the top peanut-producing states.

Another thing Virginia is a top producer of – men who would eventually become the nation’s Commander in Chief.  Eight Virginia born men have served as President of the United States.  (Though oddly enough, none since 1921)  Five of the first nine US Presidents were born in Virginia; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and William Henry Harrison.  They would be joined by, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson to earn Virginia the “Mother of Presidents” nickname.  (Remember Ohio also lays claim to eight Presidents so I’ll let you dispute amongst yourselves which is more deserving of the title)

I also have to mention two significant Virginia landmarks that are tied into the Presidents.  Home to first President George Washington, Mount Vernon near Alexandria was constructed by Washington in stages between 1758 and 1778.  The Estate is now a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public every day of the year.  More recognizable is perhaps third President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  The Jefferson designed plantation near Charlottesville sits on the summit of an 850 foot high mountain, causing it to be called Monticello, which means “Little Mount” in Italian.   Not only is Monticello a National Historic Landmark (and opened to tourists), it is also the only private home in the United States to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Speaking of landmarks….  Virginia has no shortage of important historical and modern day noteworthy landmarks.  (Again, I’m doing my best to narrow it down this week!)  Given the fact that Virginia donated land to form Washington D.C. (as did Maryland) quite a few of the landmarks are rooted in items of national value.  In fact, some may be surprised to find that some of these are NOT located in Washington D.C., but are actually on Virginia land.

The first worth mentioning is Arlington National Cemetery.  Located in in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.  the  624 acres is a military cemetery that have been used to bury the dead of the nation's conflicts beginning with the American Civil War.  The grounds also have been used to reinterred dead from earlier wars.  What you may not know about Arlington is that it is located on the confiscated Estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  There are many noteworthy sights, including The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy and numerous memorials throughout the grounds to honor veterans of numerous conflicts and specific branches of service.   The cemetery recently celebrated its 150th anniversary this past May.

There are also quite a few government related headquarters based in Virginia.  The Pentagon which houses the United States Department of Defense is also in Arlington.  According to the official website: “Built in just 16 months, the Pentagon is the world’s largest low-rise office building. It is twice the size of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, has more than twice the floor space of the Empire State Building, and the U.S. Capitol could fit into any one of its five wedge-shaped sections. It boasts nearly 17 and one half miles of corridor, yet due to the Pentagon’s unique design, movement between any two opposite points takes as little as seven minutes. In addition, there are 19 escalators, 131 stairways, 284 restrooms, 691 water fountains and enough telephone wire in the building to wrap around the world four and one-half times!”  I found all kinds of fun facts on the Pentagon (including that it has  DC zip code even though it’s in Virginia!) that I’m looking forward to sharing with the kiddos.

A little more on the down-low than the very distinct Pentagon are the Headquarters for the Central Intelligence Agency in LangleyThe location of the CIA headquarters at Langley wasn’t exactly a secret when construction began in 1959, but there were no signs pointing to the location. You could drive along and not know exactly where to turn off, unless you worked there.  Now, you can actually take an online tour!  And it can’t be too secretive, they even have a Starbucks!

It’s also worth mentioning (though it was about this point in my research that if I came across one more acronym I had to decipher I was going to scream) that the headquarters for Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) the Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) arm of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in Norfolk.   Right…  So what that basically means, if I’m interpreting correctly, is that the North American headquarters for NATO is in Virginia, too KWIM??  (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

One last Virginia mention, specifically for my techie husband, though I’m not sure how reliable this claim by Virginia really may be.  According to the license plate unveiled by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehiles in 2001, Virginia is the: "Internet C@pital".  When I came across this I knew I had to do some more research to say if that could back that up!  Turns out – they kind of an.  Specifically Northern Virginia.  (Where most of the aforementioned landmarks are, it’s important to note.)  The region claims many of the first-generation Internet pioneers (including AOL).  Former President of AOL, Ted Leonsis was quoted as saying “This is where the Internet was invented and commercialized, so the region is the most wired of any in the country, with the highest bandwidth available.”  Not surprisingly, Virginia (and DC) also claim to have some of the fastest internet speedsTheory is that because of Virginia’s population density, Internet providers are more abundant (currently Virginia has over 70!) than in states with smaller populations.  What do you think, Grant, should we move to Virginia?

On our culinary tour, I knew there’d be plenty of ham on the menu this week and decided to start off with these Virginia Ham and White Cheddar Croquettes (couldn’t get away from Vermont completely this week!) as I could make them ahead and then fry them in batches since we have that silly time issue on Monday nights.  (Still complaining!)  And for dessert, in honor of the history of peanuts in Virginia (and I promise you’ll be seeing plenty of them this week) I made Old Fashioned Peanut Brittle.

Noah’s got a delayed start in the morning so we may try to get in a project or something else fun early.  Otherwise not too sure yet what the day will hold.  Though the Bean will be excited to find out that I’m going to pay tribute to Virginia’s coast and make some crab cakes for dinner J  So until then…

Virginia Fun Fact of the Day:  The Pentagon has nearly 68,000 miles of internal telephone lines.
Onward through Virginia!

I was having fun making yogurt parfaits today...

So I know I linked to a peanut brittle recipe, but I cheated when I saw this at the store today.  It was 99 cents, from Old Dominion which is based in Virginia and I never have much luck making candy - not the hill, right Mama?

Making croquettes

Virginia ham...

Dinner's up!

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