Having a pile of family recipes is a lovely thing but usually a family thing. What happens when you find yourself with a pile of recipes attributed to the family of Robert E. Lee? That was the dilemma faced by Anne Carter Zimmer. Zimmer is the great-granddaughter of Robert Edward and Mary Custis Lee and her maternal grandfather was Robert E. Lee Jr.
As a child, Zimmer, like most self-conscious teenagers, was slightly embarrassed be the family connection. As she grew up, she realized the importance of her heritage and realized that her family recipes were more than just an assemblage of household tips, but a historical record beyond the scope of her immediate family.
She set out to translate the fragmented recipes and advice into a workable collection of recipes for the modern cook, enlisting a group of cooks to test and re-test the recipes while she searched for the family significance of each recipe. It was not always an easy task.
‘Sometimes what we did was more treasure hunt than testing, and occasionally serendipity served us well. "Butter the size of a goose egg" was an easy measurement to track down, because somebody's sister-in-law raised geese. But the size of a "bottle of oil" remained questionable and a "dripping box of flour," impossible to determine. Two receipts for caromels [sic] made a primitive chocolate fudge that either crumbled or relaxed into puddles; only later would I puzzle out why. And eventually I learned (from an eighteenth-century source) to make boiled puddings, but only after producing ugly, gluey concoctions that looked, as one helpful tester remarked, "like a brain."”
The result is the The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book, a cookbook/history of days gone by. Since it is summer and since it is miserably hot, we felt that a refreshing drink from Robert E. Lee might be just the ticket. (Now we know that being a boy and being a general, Robert E. Lee most probably never lifted his hand to make a drink or food, but we are giving him credit anyway.)
Juice of 5-6 lemons
3 cups sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) currant jelly
2 quarts minus 1/2 cup water
1 cup brandy
2/3 cup black rum
About 5-6 tablespoons or bags of green (or black) tea
Heat about half the water with sugar and jelly, stirring to dissolve. Make tea with the rest. Combine the two mixtures. Cool, add lemon juice, brandy, and rum. Ripen overnight at room temperature or up to 3 days in refrigerator, then freeze if you like. Makes about a gallon.
Time to gather around the Burn Pit (actually, gathering around the air conditioner might be more fun) and lift a glass to the Confederate Dead, or to Wednesday. It doesn't matter as long as you are lifting a glass!