By Curt Oden - Exline correspondent
We were lucky that we did not receive any snow from the snowfall that hit northern Iowa and Minnesota over last weekend. We do need the moisture though. I know a lot of people are hoping we will get some snow in time for Christmas, to complete the effect of a white Christmas.
The recipe for this week is another Christmas cookie one that is an old favorite. I remember helping use Christmas cookie cutters, like Santa’s, snowmen, stars and other shapes to make these special kind of cookies. You could decorate them with red and green sprinkles of sugar and also add colorful holiday icing to them, to make them an extra yummy treat.
Cut Out Christmas Sugar Cookies
1 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
In a medium size bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix until just combined. Add flour and baking powder in intervals. The dough will seem as if it doesn't have enough moisture but continue to mix with mixer until combined (it will come together when chilled). Divide the dough into four equal parts, shape into four disks, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate about an hour or until firm.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Roll out dough between two sheets of waxed paper, about 1/4 inch thick for crispier cookies and 1/3 inch thick for softer cookies.
Cut out shapes with Christmas cookie cutters and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for seven to eight minutes or until edges just start to turn a golden color. For softer cookies, do not allow the cookies to take on color.
Remove from oven, let cool for one minute and then transfer to wire rack. Allow cookie sheet to cool thoroughly before placing uncooked dough on it. Decorate cookies with colored icing and sprinkles. This recipe will make around two dozen cookies.
With growing up in New Jersey, there are a lot of old, historic places to visit. About four miles from our house, was the site of a Revolutionary War battle, known as Red Bank Battlefield at Fort Mercer, in the town of National Park, N.J.
James Whitall had purchased a plantation, as it was known, while the country was still under the rule of the King of England, which was around 400 acres in Gloucester County, N.J., along the east shore of the Delaware River. The two story Georgian, brick and stone home that sits on the land where the battle took place was built in 1748. It was the residence of James Whitall and his wife Ann (Cooper) Whitall, overlooking the Delaware River. Ann’s brother John Cooper, served as a member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776.
James Whitall was a wealthy Quaker farmer and merchant. As the American Revolutionary War was going on, regular families could not get away from the war. The Pennsylvania Militia commandeered their land on April 17, 1777 and proceeded to build Fort Mercer right in the middle of where their apple orchard was located.
The Whitall’s son Job noted in his diary on Oct. 10, 1777 that the Americans, “turned us out of our kitchens ye largest room upstairs and ye shop and took our hay to feed their horses.”
He also recalled that the day, Colonel Christopher Greene, later General Greene, arrived, to command the fort, he used part of the house for his military headquarters.
Fort Mercer was a key location along the Delaware River to defend Philadelphia, which was just north of there. It was in conjunction with its counterpart across the river on the Pennsylvania side, known as Fort Mifflin.
The fort was named for a Colonial, Brigadier General named Hugh Mercer, who was killed at the Battle of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777.
A local hero Jonas Cattell, ran all the way from the town of Haddonfield, a distance of about 10 miles, to alert Colonel Nathanael Greene who was in command of the small group of Colonial soldiers, who were defending Fort Mercer near the town of Woodbury.
Cattell told them that the German mercenary soldiers led by Count von Donop who had been hired by the British to go against the Colonial troops, were marching towards the fort.
The battle took place there on the Redbank Battlefield at Fort Mercer, on Oct. 22, 1777. The day the battle began, the family fled to the nearby town of Woodbury, which was the county seat.
That day the lady of the house Ann Whitall, refused to leave her home. The dwelling was located right where the fighting took place during the battle.
As the battle raged all around outside on the ground, the British War ships the Sloop Merlin and the British Man-of-war HMS Augusta, that were in the Delaware River, were firing cannons towards the house.
A cannon ball is said to have landed right in the room where Ann Whitall was spinning wool, in the house. She then took her spinning wheel to the basement and kept spinning her wool.
After the fighting ended, wounded soldiers, both American and Hessian, were brought into the home. It was used as a makeshift hospital, even though it had suffered damage during the battle. Ann Whitall tended to the wounded by administering herbal medicine and bandaging their wounds. Because of her actions and bravery, she earned the title of the “Heroine of Red Bank.”
Another nearby home that was also used as a hospital to tend to the wounded soldiers after the Battle at Fort Mercer was Candor Hall, or Ladd’s Castle as it was known. The soldiers marched down a dirt road to get to this home. It later became known as Hessian Avenue, named after the Hessian Germans that fought nearby in the battle.
Soldiers were given water and had their wounds tended to, at this home, which was about four miles from where the battle was fought.
That old brick home was built in 1688 by John Ladd a surveyor, who helped William Penn lay out the streets of Philadelphia. This stately home has four big chimneys protruding from its roof and at one time had one of its hand hewn log cabin wings removed from the residence.
This historic old house was just a couple houses away from the house I grew up in. Our brick home and the surrounding neighborhood, known as Colonial Manor was built on Ladd Castle’s original plantation farm land. Families have always lived in this historic, old home that is more than 300 years old. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Following the battle, on Nov. 19, 1777 Fort Mercer was abandoned and destroyed and the American soldiers moved on.
The Whitall family also left their home and property when the troops did. They eventually returned on April 20, 1778.
After the Revolutionary War ended, the family resumed working their plantation. They reestablished their orchard, built a gristmill for grinding grain, raised livestock, had a smoke house for preserving meat and maintained a shad fishery. They also operated a ferry boat from New Jersey to Pennsylvania across the Delaware River.
Their descendents continued to live on the property until 1862, when it was sold, during the Civil War. By 1872, the old mansion was purchased by the United States government to preserve it
Today, the Whitall house is preserved as a museum and the surrounding battlefield area is a park. The home is open for tours to relate the story of the family and the role they played during the American War of Independence in the 1700s.
This historic home is a National Historic Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Currently the house sits on two acres and is surrounded by the battlefield park which covers 44 acres of land.
Each October during the third Sunday of that month, they hold an 18th Century Field Day. It is complete with a Revolutionary War re-enactment, with both American and Hessian troops. This historic re-creation, is held around the same date as the original battle that was fought there.
Soldiers march into battle along with mounted cavalry and artillery to re-create the battle that both sides engaged in there over 200 year ago. The soldiers also set up camps with their tents, accoutrements and camp fires to show how the men lived during the Revolutionary War.
I have attended that historic re-creation many times over the years. It is something to see the field tactics of the troops of those days as they recreate the fighting. It is also unique to see the cavalry charge, and listen to the muskets fire and the cannons as they boom during the battle.
Another thing that is very nice at this historic old home, is their annual Christmas Tour at the mansion. It is held on the second Friday and Saturday of the month each December.
When you go on the Colonial Candle light Christmas Tour of the Whitall house, you are greeted in the soft glow of candlelight and roaring fires in the fireplaces. Costumed interpreters dressed in Colonial period clothes, explain the history of the family, the old home and the historic battle that took place there as you tour the old mansion.
Christmas in the 1700s was a lot different than it is today. If families decorated, they used natural things they could gather from the woods and they also utilized different types of foods. Fresh cut greenery was used and made into wreaths and pine garland. Holly, mistletoe, dried flowers and other natural plants, were also used for decorating in those days. That was before Christmas trees were used in homes as a decoration.
Pineapples were a sign of wealth in the Colonial times, since they had to be brought in by ships from far away tropical locations.
Oranges and lemons were also used in those days. They would be stuck all over with sprigs of cloves and hung with ribbon from the middle of the windows to add fragrance to the room. Apples were another favorite thing that could be utilized during the Colonial times for decorations.
The volunteers that staff the house and provide the tours do all of the decorating and make your visit a very enjoyable and memorable experience during the Christmas season.
It was really interesting to grow up with so much history so close by. It was nice to be able to explore and see so many fascinating things at different times of the year without traveling very far.
The monthly birthday gathering was held last Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Exline Old Country Store at 10 a.m. There was a nice group of people assembled to enjoy the get together.
Those celebrating this month are Bonnie Talbot on Dec. 2, Loretta Seeley on Dec. 4, Kay Hanson on Dec. 6 and Herb Mathes on Dec. 7. Gene and Bonnie Talbot will celebrate their wedding anniversary, on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Those that attended got to enjoy the locally made cakes, along with coffee and ice cream.
Condolences go out to the family of Dolores Mae (Oden) Foster who passed away last Thursday, Dec. 6, at the age of 95 years old. Her funeral was held on Monday of this week, followed by a funeral dinner that was at the Exline Community Center. Joy Golden and the ladies of Exline, along with ladies from the First Baptist Church in Centerville, served the family and friends a delicious meal that day after the funeral.
Do not forget tomorrow evening, Saturday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. the Exline Recreation Committee will be having their Christmas Dinner at the community center.
Meatloaf and brisket will be served. Everyone that attends is asked to please bring a covered dish with a food of your choice. After the meal, they will play bingo.
The Exline Old Country Store is again hosting their annual Cookie Exchange. It will be held next Friday, Dec. 21 at 10 a.m.
If you would like to be part of the cookie exchange, you will need to bring a tray with two dozen homemade, decorated Christmas cookies to exchange. You will also need a container, to take home the two dozen cookies that you select from the various cookies that will be available to take home.