A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Did you know that George and Martha Washington employed a cook who could be called America’s first celebrity chef? Because they served only fresh food, enthusiasts of the slow food and local foods movement can learn much from the following book.
Dining with the Washingtons is a beautifully illustrated volume featuring articles on dining and entertaining at Mount Vernon during the time it was the residence of George Washington and his wife Martha. The second half is a cookbook full of recipes for foods served by the couple to their many guests.
Dining with the Washingtons is the result of much work by a group of people associated with Mount Vernon’s Ladies’ Association, the oldest national historic preservation organization in the United States. As you would imagine, they own and maintain the Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia and sponsor much research into life at Mount Vernon during Colonial and Revolutionary times.
Is this cookbook easy to use?
Yes, and it is a pleasure, too. Veteran cookbook author Nancy Carter Crump has taken period recipes and adapted them to modern cooking methods while maintaining the emphasis on natural ingredients. She allows for the use of frozen vegetables in soups but there are no shortcuts using processed foods, such as mushroom soup or season packets. She has added a nice index to the recipes at the back of the book.
Can you easily buy the ingredients for the recipes?
It easier to get most of the items now than it was in the Washingtons’ time. You may need to stock up on butter and heavy cream.
What is special about this cookbook?
This Mount Vernon cookbook is history at its best made relevant to the present. It reveals much about the origins of dining traditions of our country. The Washingtons took British aristocratic ways and modified them to suit the new country, while maintaining high standards of hospitality. Readers who have been fascinated by the work of servants in the Downton Abbey television series will recognize many of the same ways at Mount Vernon, except the staff were mostly slaves. The cookbook also includes essays on the gardening and marketing of the kitchen staff at Mount Vernon, telling how they got food from the soil to the table.
What are your favorite recipes from this cookbook?
Dining with the Washingtons has several recipes that interest me. On page 130 is “To Make a Ragoo of Onions” which features cooked onions, which is something I would like since I like onion soup. On 136 is “To Make Salamongundy” which is a recipe for main meal salad, including fresh greens and meats. The desserts starting on page 171 looking very tempting. I might like Lafayette Gingerbread or, of course, cherry pie. There is even a short chapter for making ice creams.
Let’s end with a quote from a letter by guest Nicholas Cresswell, 1777:
“[Washington] keeps an excellent table and a stranger, let him be of what Country or nation, he will always meet with a most hospitable reception at it.”
May we all do as well as good hosts.
Review by Rick