Entertaining for the Holidays Old Virginia Style, Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of my Entertaining for the Holidays series, I highlighted some new recipes including drinks and appetizers which were added to our family’s Christmas celebration this year.

For the new year, I’d like to share a menu which has borne the test of time and served me well when looking for something different to delight both friends, family, and supporters, and is a great choice for entertaining, Virginia style.

Years ago, when Jeff was only considering his first run for office here in Caroline, a politically seasoned female friend from another county said to me, “You’d better sharpen your cooking skills because politics is all about the food.” I laughed and answered politely that I would.

Suffice it to say I was not really making the true connection. Today after years of attending events, sometimes four or more in a day where one is expected to eat whatever food is connected to the theme, I have learned to eat before I leave home. This enables me to carry a token plate of nibbles without being either too hungry or too full to move, and thus talk intelligently about issues.

The other connection I wasn’t making was that the gathering of supporters and fundraising can be very expensive considering the price of catering if one does not have some skills to either bring off the event without paid help, or at least fill in some of the gaps. Even a simple meeting at home to talk strategy with a couple dozen poll workers can’t be accomplished without dessert and coffee.

Serving a “Hunt Breakfast” early in the new year to friends has become a favorite little gathering of ours, but is also a menu I developed over a decade and a half for campaign events and fundraisers. The “Hunt” connotation comes from a personal family story but is also connected to the issues of today in Virginia.

The history of foxhunting and the sport itself is a deeply cherished tradition in the Commonwealth, which originated with a very young George Washington and his mentor, Thomas Lord Fairfax. Surveying property for one of the largest landowners in the colony in his teens, Washington discovered they shared a keen appreciation for hunting with hounds on horseback, and Lord Fairfax had the finest pack and stable in early Virginia.

Later, when Washington inherited Mount Vernon, one of his first additions was a brace of hounds and a kennel to continue the sport. Washington’s favorite hunting horse, Nelson, was said to be so fit due to his life of field hunting, that he was one of the few of the General’s mounts to survive the Revolution.

In 2015, the riders of Commonwealth Foxhounds come into view on the old avenue to one of Caroline’s most historic estates, Moss Neck Manor.

Today in Virginia the sport is under siege in the General Assembly at least every several years where legislators seek to ban hunting with hounds or otherwise limit hunting rights. The anti-hunting lobby, many of whom seek to open large game preserves where out-of-state guests will be charged a hefty fee to hunt in Virginia, has grown in the last decade. Substantial money can be made if they can eliminate the smaller hunts’ access to land and their dogs’ presence on those properties.

Unfortunately, there is always some numskull, usually a Republican who thinks that adding a layer of government regulations and charging more for lost dogs whose owners are lucky or determined enough to find them, will deter irresponsible owners from allowing their animals to run at large. You might ask what this has to do with hunting, and the answer is little or nothing. It is simply a burden on the locality that must look at enforcing such nonsense in a residential environment.

Over the years, in support of both State and Congressional candidates and for Jeff’s campaign as well, we have held Hunt Breakfasts at historic estates in Caroline. This has certainly highlighted the need to preserve fox hunting in Virginia and added to the ambiance of the event. It has also worked just fine on a smaller scale right here in my home, Red Barn View.

The marvelous members of the Caroline Hunt on their way to my home, Red Barn View, for a fundraiser for then Delegate Ryan McDougle. They parked their trailers in a town parking lot and brought the horses and hounds down our subdivision roads. The Huntsman walked on foot to keep the hounds together but the dogs were incredibly well behaved.

This event in 2005 was actually the very first fundraiser ever held to help send then Delegate, now Senator, Ryan McDougle to the Virginia Senate to replace Bill Bolling who had been elected as our Lieutenant Governor. This event had the honor of being attended by our very own Caroline Hunt. They were fabulous enough to bring their horses and hounds to our little town of Bowling Green, where I live, to delight and educate our guests.

A member of the Caroline Hunt staff poses for the newspaper in front of “Wittman for Delegate” and “McDougle for Delegate” signs. Rob Wittman would become our U.S. Congressman, and Ryan McDougle has represented Caroline in the 4th Senatorial District since 2006.

Special elections are fast and furious. In 2005, when Bill Bolling won the Lieutenant Governorship, there were two special elections held in a row in our district, all of which were won by the Virginia GOP ticket. Delegate Ryan McDougle went to the Senate to replace Bolling, and Chris Peace became our representative in the 97th District, replacing McDougle in a span of under two months.

Chris and Ryan pose with Master of the Foxhounds, Colonel Robert N. Ferrer in my yard in 2005.

Our five acres were filled for the day with marvelous horses and hounds. In a locality where there are essentially few facilities to entertain, we have learned to turn our home into a restaurant, storing our furniture in a neighbor’s barn. I catered this event myself, buffet style, using crock pots on our kitchen counter. To support our local economy, we buy everything as close to home as possible and the McDougle for Virginia aprons were made right here in town.

My garage served as a dining room for around 25 people for Hunt Breakfast in 2005.

A lack of facilities in a small town caused us to become creative early in Jeff’s political career.

My den and living room, shown here, were turned into a restaurant.

Adding the garage, we can do a sit-down dinner for around 50.

We soon learned the economy of purchasing our own linens and china. Renting just once is about one-third more in cost for the linens alone, and it’s a one-time use.

Caroline Hunt’s hounds were perfectly at home in the jaunt through town and are shown arriving with MFH (Master of the Foxhounds), the Honorable Col. Robert N. Ferrer, here at Red Barn View.

Mulberry Place, built by the Woolfolk family in 1827, is an intricate part of the history of Caroline County. It was built by Jourdan Woolfolk who owned the rights to “The Old Stage Road” which is, essentially, today’s U.S. 301, and connected Williamsburg to the other settlements to the north and west. This is the oldest north road in the colony of Virginia.

Another event, held here in Caroline at historic Mulberry Place in 2009, home of our friends Dr. and Mrs Michael Trahos, included a demonstration by the Caroline Hunt in fields where Confederate Cavalry once camped.

This Hunt Breakfast that was held outdoors honored Republican nominees that year: Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, and Ken Cuccinelli. They went on to become our Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General.

To highlight the need to preserve the privilege of hunting, our aprons were embroidered with “Foxhunters for McDonnel, Bolling, and Cuccinelli.” Thanks to friends Kerry and Connie Bischoff for bar tending and to D&J Meats for using my family recipes to cater this Hunt Breakfast.

The Mulberry Place event also featured an art show with the work of local artists who took the opportunity to show (and also sell) a variety of paintings in oil, acrylic, and water color.

The huntsman in the field on horseback and the hounds was painted by award-winning area artist, Barbara Byrd.

A large tent fits perfectly in the expanse of ground which serves as the front yard of Mulberry Place.

Wicker furniture and hunt décor collected over the years, mostly from thrift shops, serves well and can be used again.

As an added amenity for our attendees, Mulberry Place was open for the day to give guests a tour of a home which has been preserved and changed little since it was built in 1827. Mulberry Place also features a complete working colonial kitchen. Shown here in the hallway is Mrs Bettie Brezee, head hostess for our event.

Our hostesses pose in the parlor in their colonial period attire.

It was a full house under the tent, attended by 150. Tent Rental for an outside event ensures your event will take place, rain or shine.

A working fountain topped with roses is a nice addition to an outdoor garden atmosphere and one which I have used multiple times. An important rule for the Virginia hostess is to find and develop a long standing relationship with a talented florist who is willing to try new things. No Virginia event is complete without flowers as the state is known for it’s amazing gardens. It’s no accident that Historic Garden Week in Virginia is attended internationally and is the most successful tourism event annually in the state. I use Flower Fashions right here on the Main Street of our town, and over the years they have taught many tricks of the trade enabling me to make a number of my own florals for events.

The arrival of the Caroline Hunt in the lower fields at Mulberry Place.

Rule five: always include a guest book for any event. This signals to your guests that you value their presence and helps you record the highlight of the day — the people who attended.

Formal Hunt Club Scarlet table settings in honor of the event. The China is Royal Hunt by Noritake.

While the chairs and tables are rented, we learned it is more economical to buy and store your own linens, china, silverware, and other decor like vases and urns. Enlist friends and family to help wash and store all these items when the event is done. What a great feeling the next time around to have ready to go items for an upcoming event.

MFH, The Honorable Elizabeth Ferrer, and young hound in training, Gadget, at Mulbery Place.

Guests waiting for the arrival of the Caroline Hunt included soon to be Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, at Mulberry Place.

Commonwealth Foxhounds arrive at the circular driveway to Moss Neck Manor for Hunt Breakfast and to take the field to help educate Virginians on the traditions of the sport. Organized in April of 1981 with six members and Mr. Robert M. Hoyer, MFH acquiring hounds and forming a private pack, Commonwealth has hunt territory in Westmoreland, Essex, King George, Caroline, and Spotsylvania.

Moss Neck Manor
In 2015, the venerable Commonwealth Foxhounds who also enjoy hunt territory in Caroline, graciously provided a demonstration at the estate where General Stonewall Jackson spent the winter after the battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. This estate, Moss Neck Manor where important archaeological work is being accomplished by the National Park Service, is owned by our friends Gil and Judy Shelton. As “Hunt Breakfast” had grown so large, this breakfast was catered, but the menu was the same.

The old entryway to Moss Neck Manor decked out for the day with Jeff’s campaign signs.

Hunt Staff poses for a moment with Jeff and owner Gil Shelton in front of the steps of Moss Neck.

Never forget to document and thank your sponsors! All of our printing, including invitations for events, is done by local graphics company Creative Color owned by John Van Hoy.

Former Virginia Governor George Allen stops by to support Jeff and enjoy the Hunt.

Over the years we have added extras to all of these events like a favorite period band, The Virginia Serenaders, and docents dressed in period attire as well as speakers on the history of our Commonwealth and economic development.

Doug Hill opens Virginia wines for an event for Bill Bolling in 2004 at our home, Red Barn View.

There is no better help than your own good friends who will treat your event like their own. Here Dr. Suzanne Sumner, Trish Hill, and Georgia Willis get ready to serve in my home for an event for soon-to-be Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.

Hunt Breakfast, The History
This “Hunt Breakfast” is a tribute to my mother’s family, the Thorntons, and contains two recipes which were handed down for several generations and adapted for use today.

The Thorntons are descended from a gentleman who is known in our county history as one of the “Grand Old Men” of Caroline. He was one of the first to move beyond the Virginia frontier and settle the land here, and his heirs became the first magistrates after the county formation in 1727.

Francis, along with his brother Anthony Thornton, established Ormesby (near Guinea Station in western Caroline) in the mid 1600s, naming it after their home in England. The Thornton brothers supported the rebellion of Nathaniel Bacon. When Bacon fell, the Royal Governor was unable to confiscate their property because it lay so far into hostile Indian territory. No one wished to cross the Virginia frontier from the safety of Williamsburg and inform the brothers that their property was forfeit.

Two views of Ormesby, seat of the Thornton family in Caroline, taken by the WPA photographers in 1934. Ormesby was destroyed by fire in the mid 1970s.

The Thorntons kept their property and carved a homestead from the wilderness that would one day be Caroline County, Virginia, building a permanent house on the property about 1714. In 1727, a Thornton son also named Francis was the leader of a group of local planters who became frustrated when they were unable to obtain permission from Essex, King and Queen, and King William Counties to build a road to transport their hogsheads of tobacco to the harbor on the Rappahannock River in Port Royal.

In the winter of 1727, Francis headed for Williamsburg with a petition to form a new county, from the heads of Essex, King and Queen, and King William. The Burgesses quickly sized up this buckskin-wearing backwoods farmer and ignored his request.

He stubbornly stayed on there, into the year 1728, and finally caught the attention of a group of Tories who thought the formation of a new county might produce the election of a Royalist representative from this backwoods, frontier land who would be none the wiser of their political machinations. The petition was granted, and a new county was formed from the upper ends of Essex, King and Queen, and King William, with an unknown Burgess making the motion to name the county for the new English Queen, Caroline. Within two years, Francis and his fellow farmers were moving their crops on the completed road in the new county to the river, a new road he had helped survey and fund as one of the first five magistrates of Caroline.

The people of Caroline, however, proved to be not the group of backwoods “bumpkins” the Royalist fraction in Williamsburg hoped they would be. From day one, Caroline citizens elected ardent rebels to serve for them in House of Burgesses. During the American Revolution, another ancestor of mine, Col. Anthony Thornton of Caroline, commanded the county militia and took them to the Battle of Yorktown.

Vintage engraving of a scene from the Legend of the Laughing Oak by, Randolph Caldecott. Victorian fox hunt, 19th Century. My great-great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Griffin Thornton was one of the most famous fox hunters of his day.

While I don’t have the exact provenance on several of the older recipes, the initials AHF were found on various versions of the sweet potato muffins and apple bread pudding. These are the initials of my great-grandmother four times removed, Ann Harrison Fitzhugh.  Ann was the wife of the High Sheriff of Caroline, Thomas Griffin Thornton, known to everyone as “Griffin,” who in the early 1800s was the most famous fox hunter of his day. His hunting exploits are featured in numerous publications and newspapers of the time. His hunting horse, Colonel, was a grandson of the famous Fearnaught, one of the first thoroughbred race horses to be imported into the New World right here in Caroline via the port of Port Royal.

Ann, his wife, was also the mother of eight children and presided over a household at the family seat called Ormesby just above Guinea Station here in Caroline.  She married “Griffin” in 1795 when she was only 15 and he 20.  Thomas Griffin Thornton was killed in 1830, along with his beloved horse, leaving his widow and six very young children still at home. The murderer was a man who Thornton was about to serve a writ upon to come to court to answer for theft. Griffin was killed in June and by November of 1830, the perpetrator, in one of the most sensational trails of that era, had been arrested, tried, and hung. The progress of the trial was covered extensively in the Richmond newspapers. Griffin’s name is the first one inscribed of those killed in the line of duty on the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington.

Baked ham and very large “cats eye” biscuits can be seen on this Hunt Breakfast table from Moss Neck Manor in 2015 catered by Kjos To Go.

Hunt Breakfast

The Menu

Orange Nog Punch
Tomato Cocktail
Coffee and English Tea
Fresh Baked Sweet Potato Muffins
Apple Bread Pudding
Bourbon Poached Pears
Fruit and Cheese Delight
Hunters Egg Casserole or Eggs Chasseur
Baked Virginia Ham with Country Biscuits
Butter and Preserves (your choice)

I highly recommend the Eggs Chasseur! Remember the old commercial slogan, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Livers are not something you would eat all the time but are very high in iron, and once a year won’t hurt. This dish is really delicious with very little seasoning. The small bullion cube provides all you need in this recipe. I always serve two egg casseroles and have included both for those who won’t take a chance on the livers.

Orange Nog Punch
This punch is equally good with or without alcohol. If alcoholic beverages are desired, add an ounce of gin or vodka from the bar per serving.

4-6 ounce cans frozen orange juice
1 can frozen pineapple juice
4 scoops vanilla ice cream (or more, to taste)
6 cups water
4 bottles (10 oz.) sparkling water, very cold
1 tsp. Angostura bitters

Empty contents into punch bowl. Add water and bitters; stir well. When ready to serve, pour into punch bowl with ice ring. Add sparkling water. Makes about 20 servings.

Tomato Cocktail
To make Bloody Marys, simply add vodka by the glass. Makes four tall Bloody Marys.

4 cups tomato juice
4 cups Clamato juice
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tbsp. minced scallions, including green stems
2 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
Juice of 2 limes
½ tsp. grated lime rind
2 tsps. prepared horseradish
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 drops Tabasco sauce
Lime wedges for garnish

Place all ingredients except lime wedges in large bowl or pitcher and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Strain and check seasonings. It may need salt. Serve in chilled glasses and garnish.

Sweet Potato Muffins
Can be frozen or reheated

½ cup butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 cup milk
¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease muffin tins. Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Blend in sweet potatoes. Sift flower with baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to sweet-potato mixture, alternating with milk. Do not over-mix. Fold in the nuts. Fill muffin tins two-thirds full and bake for 25 minutes. Yield 2 dozen.

Apple Bread Pudding

3 apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 ounces rum
½ cup brown sugar
2 croissants, cut into ½ inch squares
¼ cup currants
¼ cup mixed dried fruit

1 quart half and half
6 eggs
2 tablespoons pure vanilla
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar

½ pint whipping cream, whipped, with 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel apples and chop rather small. Place on small tray and sprinkle with rum and brown sugar. Bake approximately 45 minutes until sugar melts and apples are tender. Place croissants on another small baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, approximately 15 minutes. Place custard ingredients in a bowl and beat with a wire whisk until well mixed. Strain through a sieve. Place equal amounts of apple and croissant pieces in large ovenproof dishes and mix in currants and dried fruits. Pour custard to top of dish. Put dish into larger ovenproof container and fill with water which comes halfway up the sides of pudding dish. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Whip cream and add confectioners sugar. Whipped cream can be served separately for garnish.

Bourbon Poached Pears (for 8)

1 cup sugar or more to taste
12 cups water
Peel from 1 lemon, removed in strips with paring knife
12 large firm, ripe, unblemished pears, peeled and rubbed with lemon
5 or 6 cinnamon sticks
2 ½ cups good quality bourbon or more to taste

Combine the sugar, cinnamon sticks, water and lemon peel in a non-aluminum pan large enough to hold the pears. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to a simmer, and gently add pears to the syrup with a large spoon. You will want to keep your pears submerged and they tend to float so you can cut a round of wax paper the circumference of the saucepan and place it directly on top of the fruit.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Weigh down the pears with a heatproof plate small enough to fit inside the sauce pan to keep the pears submerged in liquid, and simmer partially covered until the pears are tender, not mushy, 10 to 30 minutes (timing will depend on size, type, and ripeness of the pears). Add bourbon to the poaching liquid and remove the saucepan from the heat for 5 minutes.

Transfer pears to a heatproof serving dish. You can serve hot like I do in casserole with the candle or chill, or serve at room temperature. Taste for seasoning, adding additional bourbon for a more pronounced flavor, if desired. Spoon the poaching liquid over pears.

Fruit and Cheese Delight
I usually add a number of different cheeses including brie.

4 bananas, cut into ½ slices
2 oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise
½ fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into spears
½ fresh cantaloupe, cut into ½ inch slices
1 cup blueberries
1 cup seedless green grapes
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1 large package cream cheese cut into ½ inch cubes
Leaf lettuce

Arrange fruit and cream cheese attractively on a lettuce-lined serving platter or tiered silver tray.

Hunters Egg Casserole
From The Country Gourmet, reprinted from Horse Country, December 1994.

Low and nonfat ingredients can be successfully substituted.

3 dozen eggs
1 cup milk
8 tsp. butter or margarine
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
½ cup Sherry
2 cups Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

Crack eggs into mixing bowl, add milk, and blend well. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in sauté pan; scramble eggs to a loosely cooked consistency; remove from heat and chill. Sauté mushrooms in remaining butter; remove from heat and chill. Layer eggs, mushrooms, mushroom soup, sherry, and cheese into a non-aluminum casserole dish (assemble at least two layers of each ingredient). Top with remaining cheese and refrigerate until 45 minutes before serving time. Heat in a 325-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until warmed completely and top layer of cheese is lightly golden. Serve out of the oven.

Eggs Chasseur

1 pound chicken livers
4 tablespoons butter
1 chicken bullion cube
1 cup mushrooms, sautéed and sliced
1 ½ cups white sauce made with cream
Salt and pepper to taste
16 eggs, scrambled with 2/3 cup cream
Chopped parsley

Cook livers in butter and bullion until they are no longer pink. Remove from heat and dice. Add mushrooms, cream sauce, and salt and pepper. Put this mixture in the center of a warm serving dish and spoon eggs around it. Garnish with parsley.

Baked Virginia Ham

1 12-to-15 pound country ham
Whole cloves
2 cups orange juice, divided
About ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

Place ham in a very large container; cover with cold water and soak overnight. Remove ham from water and drain. Scrub ham thoroughly with a stiff brush and rinse well with cold water. Replace ham in container and cover with fresh cold water.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Drain off water. Cover ham with fresh cold water. Cover and simmer an additional 4 to 5 hours, allowing 25 minutes per pound. Turn ham occasionally during cooking time. Cool. Carefully remove ham from water; remove skin. Place ham, fat side up, on a cutting board; score fat in a diamond design and stud with whole cloves.

Place ham, fat side up, in a shallow roasting pan. Combine one cup orange juice and sugar. Coat exposed portion of ham with orange juice mixture. Bake uncovered, at 325 for thirty minutes, basting frequently with remaining orange juice. Transfer to serving platter and slice. Yields about 24 servings.

Country Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tsps. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cream of tarter
½ cup shortening
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp buttermilk

Sift together ingredients. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle buttermilk evenly over flour mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; knead three to five times until smooth. Roll dough out to ½-inch thickness; cut with a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter.

Place biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.