Tuesday, August 20, 2019

From Garden to Table at Mount Vernon - French Beans (or Carrots) the Dutch Way


Martha Washington (1731-1802) - From the Garden to the Table 

While George Washington oversaw most aspects of managing Mount Vernon's  pleasure gardens & grounds, Martha Washington oversaw the Kitchen Garden (The Lower Garden), allowing her to keep fruits and vegetables on the table year round.

The Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon

“…impress it on the gardener to have every thing in his garden that will be nece]ssary in the House keeping way — as vegetable is the best part of our living in the country.” – Martha Washington, 1792

Inside the Kitchen at Mount Vernon

Outside The Kitchen at Mount Vernon

In the matter of eating & drinking George Washington was temperate. For breakfast he ordinarily had tea & Indian cakes with butter & perhaps honey, of which he was very fond. His supper was equally light, consisting of perhaps tea & toast, with wine, & he usually retired at nine o'clock. Dinner was the main meal of the day at Mount Vernon, & usually was served at two o'clock. One such meal is thus described by a guest:  "He thanked us, desired us to be seated, & to excuse him a few moments.... The President came & desired us to walk in to dinner & directed  us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowls, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc. etc."   The General ordinarily confined himself to a few courses & if offered anything very rich, he would protest, "That is too good for me." He often drank beer with the meal, with one or two glasses of wine & perhaps as many more afterward, often eating nuts, another delicacy with him, as he sipped the wine.

French Beans (or Carrots) Dressed the Dutch Way

In The Art of Cookery, Hannah Glasse wrote: "Where there is a great Variety of Dishes and a large Table to cover, so there must be a Variety of Names for them; and it matters not whether they be call'd by a French, Dutch or English Name, for they are good, and done with as little Experience as the Dish will allow of." 

One of the most valuable tools in the Mount Vernon kitchen was Martha Washington's copy of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy...By a Lady.  Martha's copy is in the Library at Mount Vernon. Hannah Glasse's (1708–1770) The Art of Cookery...was first published in 1747. It was a bestseller for a century after its first publication, dominating the English-speaking market. It was published in America from 1805.

Mrs. Washington probably owned a number of cookbooks, but her 1765 edition of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery and a manuscript cookbook at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are the only ones known to survive. The manuscript book  (under the title Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery) is a very early compilation of 16th and 17th century receipts and came into Martha's possession at the time of her marriage to Daniel Parke Custis who died in 1757.

George Washington ordered vegetable seeds of varying kinds from his agents in London, bean seeds among them. He noted in his diary on March 31, 1787, that he was planting twenty acres in carrots and other vegetables, "if Carrot Seed can be obtained."

The recipe below is for green beans, but you can prepare carrots in the same manner. Simply substitute the same weight of carrots for the beans. Peel the carrots, slice them thinly, and boil for about 15 minutes, or until they are just tender.

This recipe is a modern adaptation by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.


1 pound young green beans or haricots verts, trimmed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Put the beans in a saucepan. Add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add the salt, pepper, shallots, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of the parsley. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the beans are crisp-tender. Immediately remove from the heat, and drain thoroughly. Return the beans to the pan, and add the butter. 

Arrange the beans in a serving dish, and garnish with the remaining minced parsley.

Research plus images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, MountVernon.org.