Sunday, May 22, 2011

Biscuits, Garrett Snuff and the American Revolution

I made biscuits this morning, Priscilla’s recipe from her YWCA cookbook:

Heat oven to 425; mix 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup margarine and 2/3 cup milk. Form the dough, roll and cut, cook for 12-15 minutes.

The milk measurement is a ballpark figure, usually not enough, with enough somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4, so you have to add a little after the 2/3 and after mixing and seeing the dough is a little dry. So add a little milk and mix again; not too much milk or you’ll be adding flour and if you’re not careful you’ll be adding more milk again and maybe more flour …

The biscuits turned out good, as they should from a good recipe. A full recipe makes 12, but I got 13 this morning. Carolyn, Paul and Francis spent the night on their way to Naples and Rocky Branch, so I made more than usual. Usually I’ll make half a recipe, when there’s just Priscilla and me. We don’t eat all six or seven, but the dogs think spare biscuits are OK.

I used a Garrett Snuff glass to cut the biscuits. Priscilla brought two Garrett Snuff glasses into our marriage. She has never, ever, used any kind of tobacco. But, the Garrett Snuff glasses are just the right size for orange juice and for cutting biscuits.

Priscilla got the glasses from her maternal grandmother, Cora Johnston Raley, who used snuff for a number of years. Priscilla said she remembered as a little girl sitting on the porch in DeQueen and Mrs. Raley chewing a willow twig and dipping the twig into a glass of snuff and then painting her gums.

Mrs. Raley was married only 31 years, 1919-1950. Her husband, Melvin, was born in 1880 and died in 1950. Mrs. Raley was 97 when she died in 1994. She had stopped using snuff long before then.

Cora’s sister, Aunt Liza, Priscilla calls her, married Melvin’s brother. The offspring of the two families were double cousins. One of the brothers and one sister made a date for marriage, but they had to keep the arrangement secret from their families. The other brother and the other sister were part of the plot, and on a certain date, the sisters and the brothers drove each family’s wagon to a place in Southwest Arkansas. When the four got together, the other two decided, “Why not get married, too.” Cora and Melvin must have been those two. Melvin was 39 and never married, and Cora was 22, an age facing rural spinsterhood in those days.

The Johnstons were tenant farmers, and maybe the Raleys, too. The Johnstons got to Arkansas by way of Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and the Indian Territory. How the Raleys got to Arkansas we’re not really sure.

Priscilla’s great-great-times-a-few-grandfather Martin Johnston was in the 3rd Virginia Line from February 1776-February 1778 and in the Virginia militia until moving to Tennessee after the Revolution. He was in the Battle of Trenton. He was discharged at Valley Forge. He went home and two years and eight months later fought Loyalists at King’s Mountain. In his application for a veteran’s pension in 1818, Johnston said that if anyone doubted his service, the doubter need only contact James Monroe, for Pvt. Johnston and Lt. Monroe were in the same company, and Johnston “was present at Trenton when Lt. Monroe was wounded.” A sitting president is a good witness.

A few years ago, when Priscilla’s bachelor uncle Murray died, she and I searched the cabin and barn northeast of DeQueen for several revolvers, rifles and shotguns we knew Murray had. We did not want thieves to find the guns. We found the weapons wrapped in a shower curtain in the barn. There were two .22-caliber rifles, a 16-gauge double-barrel, a .410 single barrel, a .32-caliber nickel-plated Smith and Wesson revolver and a .32-caliber rim fire Remington rolling block rifle. I mentioned to Priscilla that the .22s and the shotguns were for putting food on the table, but the Smith and Wesson and the Remington rolling block were not.

Southwest Arkansas in the late 1800s and early 1900s could be a dangerous place.

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