Sunday, September 27, 2020

From Garden to Table - Queen Cakes with Currants


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.

Queen Cakes

This recipe for a little cake enjoyed at tea or on festive occasions is based on Hannah Glasse’s version. Traditionally, queen cakes were baked in “little fluted tin moulds in fancy shapes,” but mini-muffin pans lined with paper baking cups are more often used today. The origin of this confection’s name is unknown. 

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 of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.


3 large eggs, separated

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground mace

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 cup currants

Sanding sugar for sprinkling


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease five 12-cup mini-muffin pans with vegetable shortening.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl whisking by hand, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Pour into a separate bowl, and set aside. Put the egg yolks in the same bowl, and whip or whisk by hand until light and frothy. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating in each addition thoroughly before adding the next one. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the whipped egg whites, blending thoroughly. Beat in the egg yolks until well combined.

4. Sift the flour with the nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon. Reserve 2 tablespoons. Gradually add the remainder to the creamed mixture, blending in each addition well before adding the next one.

5. Add the reserved 2 tablespoons of spiced flour to the currants and mix. Gently fold into the batter until well combined.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar.

7. Bake the cakes for 12 to 14 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in their centers comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched. Set the cakes on wire racks for 5 to 6 minutes before carefully removing them from the pans to cool thoroughly.

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