Saturday, March 31, 2012

Grannies and Biscuits and Tupelo Honey

Grannies are wonderful!  Mine were the best cooks and they each made wonderful, but very different, biscuits!  Biscuits are one of my comfort foods. 

My Granny Simmons made tall, fluffy, light, delicately browned biscuits - perfect for fig preserves or as a sausage sandwich later in the day. 

Granny Miller's bicuits were a little heavier, not quite as tall, not even fluffy, but still delicately brown.  And, most important, perfect for "honey sop"!  What's "honey sop", you ask?  I'll tell you in a minute, but first a little about the Tupelo honey.

As many of you know, Granddaddy Miller (Warren) raised honey bees.  I don't know when he started beekeeping, but he had a way with the bees and they rewarded him with the best Tupelo honey in the country  --THE BEST.  I even think he might have been a "bee whisperer"!  Imagine this:  It's early spring, Grandaddy goes down to the creek to check the tupelo trees - and he knows where each and every one is - and he sees they're about to bloom.  He goes back to the beehive and gives those precious bees a little pep talk.  "Ok, my mighty and tireless workers, it's almost time.  Let's get out there to the creek banks and bring back that special nectar that makes the sweetest honey in the world.  Be sure to capture only the best nectar.  When we're done, all of northwest Florida will be astonished when they taste your wonderful creation and will praise your accomplishments and celebrate with a great festivel to honor each of you.  We'll crown your queen, we'll sing your praises, we'll dance a bee jig, we'll......"  Ok, it probably didn't really go that way, but he certainly had a way with the bees.

Anyway, Granny Miller's biscuits were perfect for "honey sop" and here's how it's done.  Put a small pat of room temperature butter (the real stuff) on your plate then smother that with Tupelo honey.  The ratio's up to you, I prefer a heavy Tupelo taste and tend to use a healthy dose of Tupelo.  Mix it up real good until it's smooth and creamy.  Then tear off a piece of biscuit and "sop" it through the honey.  Don't bring the biscuit to your mouth, bring your mouth to the biscuit so none of that precious honey drips on your shirt, or pants, or table.  You don't want any of it to go to waste.  If you have a biscuit like one of Granny Miller's, it won't fall apart and you'll get a good amount of honey sop on the biscuit.  If you have a light, fluffy biscuit, then it will break apart and you'll have to use your fork to mush it through the honey sop - equally as good but a little more work and waste.  When you run out of biscuit, but still have some lefover honey sop, DO NOT WASTE IT.  When nobody's looking - or if you're with family it doesn't matter - use your finger to wipe all the remaining honey sop from your plate and lick it off your finger.  The perfect ending to any meal!

So you can see why my grandparents were married a good long time -- She made the perfect biscuits to go with his perfect Tupelo honey.  A match made in heaven!!

By the way, when we eat at Cracker Barrel, my husband asks if I'm going to "sop".  I always say, "No way - there's no Tupelo honey here."  Yep, I'm a Tupelo snob and proud of it!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Women's History Month - Jane Mariah Long Miller

With all this talk about March being Women's History Month, I think about the women in our family line.  Don't you wonder about those that came before us?  How they lived their day to day lives?  Today, I want to talk about my third great grandmother, Jane Mariah Long Miller. 

Jane was born about 1819 in Alabama.[1]  I don't know when she and her family came to Washington County, but it has been shown that she married Ashley H. Miller in 1837.[2]  A review of the 1840 United States Federal Census shows the household for Ashley Miller with the following persons:

1 male person under 6 years of age  (probably John who was born about 1839)

1 male person 10 and under 15 years of age  (unknown; possibly a brother of Ashley or Jane?)

1 male person 20 and under 30 years of age  (probably Ashley who was born 1817)
1 female person 20 and under 30 years of age (probably Jane who was born about 1819)

In the next Federal census, Ashley claimed the following persons in his household; his occupation is “farmer” and the value of his real estate owned is $1500.  In the 10 years since the previous census, they had 5 more children.

The census reads as follows:

Ashley Miller  - 33
Jane                  31
John                  11
Ann                   10
James                 7
Georgia              5
Mary A.             3
Harriet               1

Ten years later, in the 1860 Federal Census, Jane appears to be running the farm on her own with a total of  7 children ranging in ages from 21 to 4. 

Jane      41
John      21
Ann E.  19
James   17
Mary    13
Harriet  11
George   7
Georgia  4

Wait!  Did you see that???  In 1850 Georgia is 5 years old but in 1860 "Georgia" is 4.  Hmmmm, I can only think of a few possible scenarios for this.  Maybe the census taker made a mistake and wrote her age as 4 in 1860 when it should have been 14 (or maybe 15); maybe Jane made a mistake when she gave the census taker the information; or the Georgia who was 5 in 1850 may have passed away and when the next girl was born, she was named Georgia in her memory.  I don't know if we'll ever know.

After the 1860 census was taken, I believe life for Jane was about to become extremely hard.  The Civil War was about to begin and her two oldest sons would go to battle.  She was left with 5 children, two under the age of 10, to tend to the farm.  The Civil War was brutal on families in the south.  There was always fear that Union soldiers would pillage and destroy farmsteads.  Confederate money eventually had no worth and families had to rely on each other to survive.  There was very little communication available and families had no idea how their men were faring in their fighting. 
In early Fall of 1863, Jane’s oldest son, John, was injured in the shoulder and sent home.  I don’t know if he ever went back to the battlefield.

In addition to personal hardships, the women in Jane’s community may have contributed to the war efforts by providing clothing to the troops.  Also, any surplus food and supplies was probably shared within the community and/or sent to the soldiers to help sustain them.

To get an idea of how Jane and her children may have spent their days, I found a perfect description here:
I don’t know where Jane Mariah Long Miller is buried or even when she died.  But I do know she must have been a strong woman to have raised her children through the war and especially the lean years that followed.

What an amazing woman she must have been.

[1] 1850 United States Federal Census; 1860 United States Federal Census