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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

June 2017

Damned Yankee -- Recipes from the Farm

Here's Jonathan's recipe for peach brandy. It still works! 


  • 1 qt. jar with lid.
  •  20 peach pits and skins 
  • 1 cup of sugar 
  • 2 cups hot water 
  • 4 to 6 months of patience


1 Wash peaches, peel and pit them. 
2. Go off and bake a nice peach pie. Forget about the brandy!

But if you still crave alcohol: 

1. Put pits and skins into your quart jar. 
2 Boil the water and sugar into a medium syrup,, Fill quart jar to within one inch of top. 
3 Seal quart jar and store in a cool, dry place for about 4-6 months. If you can bury it about a foot down, even better.

And Sarah's recipe for 14-day sweet pickles:

  • 4 lbs of 2- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers. They can be whole, in strips, or in slices.  (If packed whole, use cucumbers of uniform size)
  • 3/4 cup canning or pickling salt (Separated – 1/4 cup on each of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th days)
  • 2 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tbsp mixed pickling spices
  • 5-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups vinegar (5 percent)
Yield: About 5 to 9 pints

Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave 1/4-inch of stem attached. Place whole cucumbers in suitable 1-gallon container. Add 1/4 cup canning or pickling salt to 2 quarts water and bring to a boil. Pour over cucumbers. Add suitable cover and weight. Place clean towel over container and keep the temperature at about 70ºF.

On the third and fifth days, drain salt water and discard. Rinse cucumbers and rescald  the cover and weight. Return cucumbers to container. Add 1/4 cup salt to 2 quarts fresh water and boil. Pour over cucumbers. Replace cover and weight, and re-cover with clean towel. On the seventh day, drain salt water and discard. Rinse cucumbers and rescald containers, cover, and weight. Slice or strip cucumbers, if desired, and return to container. Place celery seed and pickling spices in small cheesecloth bag. Combine 2 cups sugar and 4 cups vinegar in a saucepan. Add spice bag, bring to a boil and pour pickling solution over cucumbers. Add cover and weight, and re-cover with clean towel.

On each of the next six days, drain syrup and spice bag and save. Add 1/2 cup sugar each day and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Remove cucumbers and rinse. Scald container, cover, and weight daily. Return cucumbers to container, add boiled syrup, cover, weight, and re-cover with towel.

On the 14th day, drain syrup into saucepan. Fill sterile pint jars, or clean quart jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Add 1/2 cup sugar to syrup and bring to boil. Remove spice bag. Pour hot syrup over cucumbers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process.

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Damned Yankee -- Excerpt

The Battle of Port Royal
November 1861
   As the storm lifted, sails began to appear on the horizon. None of the ships headed straight for Edisto Island, but it soon became apparent that they were dropping anchor just outside the entrance to Port Royal Sound. As they lowered their sails, their masts stood like bristles against the sky. Eddie and Jonathan watched with the kind of fascination that keeps people looking at scenes of terror even as they wish they could look away.
   "Port Royal Sound. That's where Hilton Head is, isn't it? And where Peter . . ."
   "Yes, but if you breathe a word of this to your mother or sister, I will tear out your tongue!"
   "I won't. I'm scared enough for all of them. It looks like the navies of the world out there. Maybe that will scare the soldiers in Fort Walker, and they'll give up without a fight."
   "Don't count on that. Soldiers have this thing called honor . . ."
   "Which requires them to shoot back at thousands of cannons?"
   "'Fraid so!"
   "But that would be suicide."
   And so it was. The guns began early the next morning. Although Fort Walker was some twenty-five miles away, the sound carried long across the water. The air shimmered, and the reverberations echoed deep in the breasts of all who listened. The barrage was steady, although most of the fleet that outlined itself against the sky had not moved from the anchorage.
   "How many guns do you think there are?" Eddie asked.
   "I have no idea. But those big warships carry dozens."
   "And how many guns are there at Fort Walker?"
   "Uh . . . Several."
   Eddie fell silent, his eyes big with fear.
   The cannonade continued until well after noon. But if the noise had been terrifying, the silence was worse. The Battle of Port Royal was obviously over, and it was just as obvious that it had been a huge loss for the Confederate forces. Even the slaves moved quietly back to their hoes, realizing that, in the first battle over the South's right to hold slaves, many men had died. There was no rejoicing at a Northern victory, only an empty feeling of remorse at the losses suffered for their sake.

* * *
   Back in Charleston, a different sort of regret was expressing itself. When word came of the imminent arrival of the Northern fleet, Governor Pickens called for a new round of volunteers to protect his state. The message went out to the College Cadets in Columbia. The governor informed that ill-trained band that all able-bodied students were being called up. He had arranged transport for them and would have weapons waiting when they arrived in Charleston. If they were still minors, the law said they were required to have their parents' permission, but the governor waived even that requirement. It would be enough, he promised, if they could get the permission of one of the college staff, who stood in loco parentis, or if they would sign a paper saying that they believed their parents would give permission.
   Of course, Johnny Grenville, Alex Croft, and John Calhoun were among the raw recruits who rode a hastily assembled train back to Charleston. They reported their arrival to the governor, but, by the time they were able to do so, the Battle of Port Royal was over. Once again, as in April, there was no role for them. Slightly embarrassed, Pickens sent them off with tents to camp at the Washington Race Course north of the city. They were to serve as his personal bodyguards, should he feel the need for such a guard.
   The cadets complained, as soldiers always do, that their tents were too small and their commissary rations barely edible. But the truth was that they were comfortably situated. They sent out scouting parties each morning to buy food from the markets and spent their days lounging, gambling, and chatting with the young women who were drawn to the camp like flies.
   They also took turns visiting their homes in the city. Johnny appeared at the Logan Street house one afternoon wearing his dress cadet uniform and strutting like the soldier he really wanted to be. Susan wept in his arms, and Charlotte eased herself down the stairs to pummel her brother with questions about what he had heard of the battle. Fortunately, he had heard little or nothing.
   While the reunited family chatted and filled each other in on the changes in their lives, someone knocked at the front door. Sarah hurried to answer it but first peered out of the sidelight to see who it might be. Instead of opening the door, she turned to the assembled group in the parlor, her eyes wide. "It be sum soljer mens," she said.
   "They're probably looking for me. Maybe the general has finally found something for us to do." Johnny jumped to his feet and threw open the door with a smile on his face. His smile faded as he realized he didn't know them. "May I help you?"
   "We're looking for a Mrs. Rogers. We have a message for her."
   "I'm sorry. There's no Mrs. Rogers here. You must have the wrong—"
   "John! That's me!" Charlotte was struggling to get up from the settee. "Maybe Peter sent me a letter." She, too, approached the door with a smile on her face—a smile that faded as she saw the expressions of the messengers.
   "Ma'am? Are you Mrs. Peter Rogers?"
   "Yes. Yes. Where is his letter? Is that it?"
   "Ma'am.  We're sorry to inform you that your husband was a brave and dedicated soldier, who died while doing his duty and serving his country. This letter from his commander will tell you the details of his final moments. Our deepest regrets, Ma'am."
   The speech was well-rehearsed and delivered with all dignity, but Charlotte did not hear it. She had already slumped toward the floor.

Damned Yankee -- Some Scenes

This is a view down Meeting Street after the Charleston Fire of 1861. And the second picture is of the only house on Logan Street to survive the flames--probably because of its "tabby" construction. The Grenville house across the street was not so fortunate.

This is the house on Legare Street that I used as a model for the fictional Dubois Mansion. It was Susan's family home.

And on the right is the guest wing of the Middlteon Place house. The rest of the house was burned at the end of the war.

This is an actual photo of the Battle of Port Royal Sound that Eddie and his father witnessed in the excerpt you will be reading tomorrow. The ships all are part of the 88-vessel fleet that attacked the Low Country in November 1861.

And this one shows General Sherman and his officers organizing the March through Georgia that would later bring them right through the Grenville Farm.

For other scenes and people from Damned Yankee, be sure to visit our Pinterest boards at: 

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Damned Yankee--Inspiration

If  you’ve been following our summer promotion, you may have noticed that the books have changed in focus. I started out with a straight historical account of a Civil War battle, complete with footnotes and acadamic bibliography. The next two, Beyond All Price and The Road to Frogmore, were creative biographies—the lives of real people participating in real historical events. That’s the biography half. The creative half of each book came because I used imaginary scenes and conversations to explain events and time periods for which no historical evidence existed.
After that came a group of short stories, also classifiable as creative non-fiction. And last, the “how-to” book about self-publishing, based on what I had learned about this relatively new method of publication. What would come next? I thought I had pretty well established a niche for myself in creative non-fiction, but what happened next surprised me. 
During my research for the other books, I had come across a real family of Southerners who, while they supported the idea of the Confederacy, did not participate in the war because the head of the family was a Protestant minister. Their lives were heavily impacted, however. They were driven from several locations by military actions around them, and they suffered greatly because they had lost all ways of supporting themselves. Much of what I learned about them came from a massive letter collection—letters written by family members during the wars and published by their descendants almost 150 years later.
I saw the family as perfect candidates for another creative biography and set about researching them and their experiences. One of my investigations led me to a university archival collection. They had no additional records, but the librarian gave me the address of a distant member of the family who happened to be employed at that university.  I thought I had struck gold, and I immediately contacted the woman, asking if there were other family papers available anywhere.
The answer came back immediately—short, hostile, and threatening. What happened to that family, she said, was their private business, and their descendants would continue to control what was published and what was not. Any attempt on my part to write about the family would be met with legal action.
Wow! I wasn’t looking for trouble, so I backed off. I resisted asking why they had published the letters if they did not want anyone to read them. I was at a dead end—at least for a while. And then I realized that I could still address the theme of a civilian family almost destroyed by a war they were not fighting. I just had to make it historical fiction. I changed the cities, the family structure, the father’s occupation, the names, and the crucial events.
By the time I finished writing Damned Yankee, there was nothing recognizable left from the original family. But in the process, I had learned to write historical fiction, and I’ve stayed with that genre ever since. For the record, here’s my guiding definition of a work of historical fiction.
1. The time period and events are as accurate as a historian can make them.
2. The leading characters are fictional creations, but they think, speak, and act as real people of their time period would have done.
3. Where necessary, real people appear, but when they do, they are only doing what they did in real life. In a battle scene, for example, the commanding generals will be actual people; the foot soldiers are usually fictional characters.
4. The novel serves to help the reader understand the historical events through the eyes of fictional characters who can recreate the emotions, pains, and grief of terrible events, as well as the joys and delights of successful endeavors.
5. A history book about an event tells us what we know to have happened. A historical novel tells us the stories behind the history.
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Damned Yankee--Synopsis and Review

Book of the Week
June 26 - 30, 2017

These are the people you don’t read about in history books.

A Harvard-educated New Englander. He was welcomed as a teacher by a school for apprentices in Charleston, South Carolina. But when his history lessons about the founding of America clashed with the pro-secession rhetoric of local slave-owners, he was out of a job. Can he find a way to reconcile his abolitionist sentiments with the practical need to support his family in a region whose economy is based on slavery? 

A wealthy Southern belle. She has always believed that her ancestors were benevolent slave-owners and that they treated their slaves with dignity and respect. Now she has inherited the family plantations, only to see the institution of slavery come under attack as an unmitigated evil. The coming of the Civil War threatens her land, her children, her marriage, and the values that have always sustained her. How much will she be willing to sacrifice in order to help her family survive?

A female slave. She was given to her mistress when they were both very small because they shared a common grandfather – a fact that everyone knew and no one talked about. The war offers her a promise of freedom as well as the prospect of a bittersweet separation from her beloved cousin. Will the bonds of family stretch or break?

A Confederate soldier. He supported secession and eagerly volunteered for the Army, believing, like most young men, that he was invincible. And like too many of those young men, he was wounded and taken prisoner. The aftermath of his war experience left him with wounds far deeper than those that caused the amputation of his leg. Can he conquer the pain, the flashbacks, the disability, and the nightmares that keep him incapacitated and unable to return to his former life?

The newly-weds. The couple married in haste, realizing that the coming of war might mean a long period of separation. But the young wife did not expect to receive a black-bordered letter telling her that her husband had been killed in battle. Now she faces life in wartime as a widow and the mother of newborn twins. She can return to her family or seek to make a a new life for herself. Which way will she turn?

The children. Uprooted from their home and school by a series of family disasters, they face an uncertain future. The teenage boy gives up his dream of becoming a dairy farmer. With tears streaming down his face, he begs his cows to run away because Confederate soldiers are confiscating all cattle as food for the army. His brothers and sisters struggle to adapt to new conditions of poverty, hunger, and hard work. And they watch with fear as those circumstances threaten the stability of their parents’ marriage. Will the family stay together or scatter as their friends and neighbors have done? 

An educated ex-slave. Despite his free status, he realizes that freedom is just a word -- meaningless without respect in the eyes of the community and without the ability to interact on an equal basis with those who once were his owners. Will his freedom really liberate him or will it destroy him?

America’s Civil War was more than a political disaster. It was a human tragedy, and everyone – North and South, young and old, black and white, rich and poor – everyone was caught up in that broken world. Yet somehow the victims held on to the hope that love for one another could mend the tears in the fabric of their lives. These are their stories.

2016 Gold Medal for Historical Fiction

One reviewer wrote: 

This book is not an action-oriented tale of battlefield and comradeship. It is instead a thoughtful narrative, driven by dialogue between and among the characters as the war begins and continues in all its challenges and emergencies; these strains that the war placed the civilians, becomes the heart of this story. What action exists in the book is usually related in letters the family members receive from relatives and friends in the Confederate forces, or in local discussions of the events. The steady decline of food supplies in the South (the Grenvilles tirelessly tend their vegetable gardens to hold back hunger), and the inevitable decline of the South is told quickly in the last pages, which makes a nice metaphor for the painful defeat that no one wanted to face
Damned Yankee is a good tale of the war from the perspective of the overlooked bystanders who bear no arms but suffer equally from the ravages of the conflict.

—Terry L. Shoptaugh.

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