Wednesday, November 6, 2019

From Garden to Table at Mount Vernon - Stewed Parsnips


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.

Stewed Parsnips

In June 1787, while presiding at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Washington wrote to his nephew and farm manager, George Augustine Washington, about the parsnip and carrot plants that had recently been sown at his Dogue Run Farm. “I am really sorry to hear that [they] are so thinly come up,” he fretted on June 3. “Does this appear to be the effect of bad Seed, unfavourable Seasons, improper ground, or want of proper Culture?” And a week later, he wrote, “It gives me concern to hear that the prospect of obtaining a Crop of Carrots & parsnips is so unpromising—To ascertain the value of these articles, & their product, was my grand object; in which I must be disappointed if they do not come up.”

In this simple recipe, Hannah Glasse noted that readers should pour the parsnips “into a plate for a corner-dish, or a side-dish at supper.” 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 may have owned a number of cookbooks, but her 1765 edition of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery and a manuscript cookbook (now 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.

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


2 pounds parsnips, trimmed, peeled, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, and set in cold water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon salt


1. Drain the parsnips thoroughly, and put them in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add just enough water to cover. Cover the pan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat and drain thoroughly. Cover and set aside to keep warm.

2. Combine the butter and flour, and cook over low heat until the butter has melted and begins simmering. Gradually add the half-and-half, stirring constantly until well blended and slightly thickened. Add the salt.

3. Add the parsnips to the sauce and heat through for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

4. Season the parsnips with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and transfer them to a serving bowl.

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