Saturday, November 28, 2020

Garden to Table at Mt Vernon - Great Cake with Madeira

 

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.

Great Cake

This is one of the few surviving recipes directly associated with Martha Washington. Great cake likely would have been served as part of a grand Christmas dinner or Twelfth Night party. It might also have been served at tea.

It was so well-liked that she had her granddaughter Martha Parke Custis copy it down for use by other members of the family. Martha Washington’s recipe, like many others of its time, is vague regarding certain ingredients as well as the method of preparation. For that reason, we used related period recipes, in addition to Mrs. Washington’s, to develop a great cake resembling the one her family knew. Sources included the original Custis family recipe, Hannah Glasse’s Rich Cake, and Elizabeth Raffald’s Bride Cake.

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.

The result is a rich confection, laced with brandy and Madeira, that is similar to the fruitcakes we are familiar with today. Although this cake takes some time to prepare, it keeps well when wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a covered cake tin.

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.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups currants

1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel

1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel

1/3 cup chopped candied citron

3/4 cup Madeira, divided

1/4 cup French brandy

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoons ground mace

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, separated

Sugar Icing (recipe follows) (optional)

3 large egg whites at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

Directions

Combine the currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the Madeira, and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight. Stir the remainder of the Madeira together with the brandy, cover, and set aside.

When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Drain the fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much of the Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the set-aside Madeira and brandy.

Combine 1/4 cup of the flour with the fruit, and mix well. Add the almonds, and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating for several minutes after adding each ingredient. Whisk the egg yolks until they are light and smooth, and add them to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Alternately add the spiced flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and the Madeira and brandy, beating until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold them into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out of the pan to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out of the pan onto a baking sheet, and proceed with the icing.

To ice the cake, spread Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.

Directions for Sugar Icing

In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.

Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.

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