According to an article, in Good Housekeeping magazine, there are 142 reasons, for celebration, in the month of December. Instead of only the big three, Christmas, Hanukkah and
Kwanzaa, we have Boxing Day on the 26th, and my birthday as well; New Year’s Eve (31st), Yule/Winter Solstice (21st), Pearl Harbor Day (7th), International Animal Rights Day (10th), and a host of other religious, food related, and rather silly days in-between.
With so many “holidays” to celebrate, it would be only right to try and focus on, not the big three, but on some of the other interesting ones. The first I have chosen is Pearl Harbor Day, observed annually in the United States on December 7, to remember, and honor, the 2,403 Americans who were killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack occurred on the island of Oahu, one of eight major islands of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, leading to the United States declaring war on Japan the next day, and forced into entering World War II.
I was fortunate enough to visit Oahu twice, and made sure to put the Pearl Harbor Memorial tour on my visit list, both times. This is a heart wrenching, heart breaking experience that left, not one person, without tears streaming down his or her face. First, there is the movie, using historical footage, showing the bombing, the utter destruction of the Navy’s shipyard, and ships. Then there is the boat ride out to the USS Arizona which is the eternal grave site of 1,102, of the 1,177 sailors and marines, killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Standing at the railing, looking downward into the murky water, a sheen of oil can be seen as it continues to seep from the bowels of the ship. One can only imagine what those valiant men experienced as the bombs exploded, the ship tore apart, and down into the water it sank; taking most of them with it.
Divers have attempted exploration of the ship, since the sinking, but it was not until submersible mini-subs, and ROVs, were able to go inside. With modern technology, the interior was recorded, and everyday items like shaving kits, kitchen pots and pans, even uniforms hanging on clothes hooks, could be seen.
Has this information made you sad? As I have grown older, I have seen the “holiday months” go from one of grateful, friendly and loving gathering to the point of “why bother?” to “it’s only about the monetary amount of the gifts that counts”. So, here I am, to remind you, that these months were not always full of 100% joy and good cheer. People suffered to make sure that freedom remained free, and we should be grateful to them for the joy and good cheer we obtained.
So, after the sadness I have dropped upon you, it might seem a bit like nonsense to suddenly write about food. However, our sailors and marines, even in 1941, ate well; and up to the nutritional standards known about at that time. A 1941 ship’s manifest, for the USS Washington declared, “supplies the battleship took aboard after about a week at sea with a crew of 1,500 were 2,400 lb. lemons, 1,700 lb. cucumber, 2,400 lb. lettuce, 1,800 lb. each of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and asparagus, 1,200 lb. celery, 3,000 lb. carrots, 3,800 lb. oranges, 1,513 lb. smoked hams, 19,971 lb. of frozen beef, 4,070 lb. veal sides, 507 lb. head cheese, 1,040 lb. flounder and 1,010 lb. rhubarb.” ( https://www.navalgazing.net/Naval-Rations-Part-3). For Thanksgiving and Christmas, ham and turkey, with all the typical trimmings, were served to all.
Here is a recipe I developed, December 9, 1995, two days after Pearl Harbor Day; those men must have been on my mind, even then.
Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
This recipe was chosen and featured in the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 1999 issue. It also appeared in the Better Homes and Gardens “Annual Recipes” cookbook, 1999.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
¼ cup milk
½ tsp. each salt, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg
2 lbs. lean ground lamb
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh savory
1 tsp. finely shredded orange peel
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Peel and cut up sweet potatoes. Cook in a small amount of boiling water, just enough to cover, for 20-25 minutes, or until tender; drain. Mash potatoes; add milk, salt, ½ tsp cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350F. In a large skillet, cook lamb, mushrooms and onion together until there is no longer any pink to the lamb meat; drain excess fat. Stir in wine and savory; cook for 1 additional minute and remove from heat.
Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray. Spread 2/3 of the mashed sweet potatoes over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Fill center with lamb mixture; top with remaining 1/3 of potatoes, spreading evenly over filling and to edges of dish. Bake for 20 minutes; sprinkle orange peel and remaining ½ tsp cinnamon over top; bake an additional 15 minutes.
Makes 6-8 servings.