Saturday, March 13, 2021

From Garden to Table at Mount Vernon - Mrs. Fitzhugh’s Buns

 

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.

Mrs. Fitzhugh’s Buns

This recipe for these slightly sweet and spicy buns is adapted from one in a small group of manuscripts in the Mary Custis Lee Papers at the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. Forgotten for more than a century, these papers were found in 2002 in two wooden trunks at the Burke and Herbert Bank and Trust Company in Alexandria, Virginia. Included are letters, legal papers, journals, and other significant documents, all collected by Mary Custis Lee, eldest daughter of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. 

The recipe likely came from Ann Bolling Randolph Fitzhugh (1747-1805) mother-in-law of George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857). Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis was raised by Martha and George Washington after his father died.

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

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water, divided

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1/4 cup lukewarm milk

Directions

1. Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup of the water, add 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and set aside to proof until bubbly—about 5 minutes.

2. Sift the flour, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and salt together into a large mixing bowl.

3. Stir together 1/4 cup of the remaining sugar with the butter. Add to the spiced flour, mixing with your fingers until crumbly.

4. Whisk the egg together with the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons of sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and pour in the egg and sugar, proofed yeast, and milk. Stir until well mixed, adding enough of the remaining water to make a soft dough. Put the dough in a buttered bowl, turning to coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and set aside in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled.

5. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable shortening. Push down the dough with a wooden spoon. Divide into 12 pieces, shape into balls, and place in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel, and set aside to rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.

6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Position the rack in the upper third of the oven.

7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the buns are lightly browned. Watch carefully, as they can easily burn. Immediately remove the buns from the pan, and place on a wire rack to cool.

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

Colonial Era Cookbooks

1615, New Booke of Cookerie, John Murrell (London) 

1798, American Cookery, Amelia Simmons (Hartford, CT)

1803, Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter (New York, NY)

1807, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Rundell (Boston, MA)

1808, New England Cookery, Lucy Emerson (Montpelier, VT)

Helpful Secondary Sources

America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking/Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings, and Their Gardens/Frances Phipps Hawthorn; 1972

Early American Beverages/John Hull Brown   Rutland, Vt., C. E. Tuttle Co 1996 

Early American Herb Recipes/Alice Cooke Brown  ABC-CLIO  Westport, United States

Food in Colonial and Federal America/Sandra L. Oliver

Home Life in Colonial Days/Alice Morse Earle (Chapter VII: Meat and Drink) New York : Macmillan Co., ©1926.

A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America/James E. McWilliams New York : Columbia University Press, 2005.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Jefferson's (1743-1824) "Belles of the Day" at Monticello - Bulbs in the Garden


Thomas Jefferson by Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (1746-1817)

Thomas Jefferson's "Belles of the Day" at Monticello

". . . the flowers come forth like the belles of the day, have their short reign of beauty and splendour, and retire, like them, to the more interesting office of reproducing their like. The Hyacinths and Tulips are off the stage, the Irises are giving place to the Belladonnas, as these will to the Tuberoses, etc. ...  - Jefferson to Anne Cary Bankhead. Monticello. May 26, 1811

Thomas Jefferson wrote this often-quoted passage to his granddaughter as a means of instructing her on the ephemeral nature of beauty, the normal transitions in life, and the inevitable passage of time. That he used flowering bulbs as his metaphor is fitting. Jefferson often looked to the natural world for descriptive inspiration, and bulbs by comparison, through their unfolding transformations, compress the stages of a human lifetime into a single season.

Bulbs -- often called bulbous or flowering roots in the 18th century -- were common in American gardens by Jefferson's day. Their light-weight, easy portability during dormancy, as well as their ability to be shipped dry, were key factors in their dissemination. Because they could be layered into boxes, wrapped in pouches, stuffed in satchels, and tucked in pockets, they were ideally suited for the vagaries of transcontinental and transatlantic voyages. They were, undoubtedly, flowers that caught Jefferson's attention early on. The very first entry in his Garden Book, a diary of gardening activities kept for nearly sixty years, reads: "Purple hyacinth begins to bloom." This observation -- made on March 30th, 1766 -- was followed a week later with "Narcissus and Puckoon open." By the next year Jefferson, ever the scientist, began charting the regularity of their blooming periods, noting that both the hyacinth and narcissus were flowering on March 23rd, a full week earlier. Bulbs were the primary focus in his "Calendar of the bloom of flowers in 1782," where he, in a sense, graphically portrays the passage he later wrote to his granddaughter by showing the overlapping sequence of blossoms from the narcissus, jonquils, and hyacinths of March and April to the anemones, ranunculus, and tulips of May and on to the lilies of June.

Jefferson rarely specified beyond the genus of his bulbs, offering few clues as to the dozens of varieties or cultivars he might have grown. Yet, there is evidence of the sophistication of his taste and the tastes of the times. For example, Jefferson often sought the more highly developed florist types of flowers. He consistently ordered the double forms of anemones, Persian Ranunculus, and tuberose and, while in Paris in 1786, he sent double tulip bulbs to Francis Eppes at Monticello. He listed double hyacinths in separate colors of pink, yellow, white, blue, and red, and, in 1812, he received from Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon "3 Double blue Hyacinths, named Alamode by the Dutch, remarkably early & proper for forcing." Today, double hyacinths are rare commercially and very expensive. Likewise, his "1 Root silver striped Crown Imperial,"(Fritillaria imperialis) is now virtually a museum piece nurtured in Dutch botanical gardens.

If frequency is an indicator of preference, then the tulip, which is mentioned more than any other flower in the Garden Book, should be considered Jefferson's all time favorite. Jefferson was not unique in this, even in America. In the 1730s Williamsburg's John Custis received "Double Tulips" and "early tulips" from his mentor Peter Collinson of London, and a portrait of Custis clearly shows him holding a well-worn book with the words "of the Tulip" legible on its spine and a streaked tulip blossom beside it. Tulipomanea, a 17th-century European tulip "fever" where fortunes could be made or lost through the purchase of a single bulb, had long subsided from its peak in the 1630s. Yet, tulips retained universal appeal and remained the intense focus of florists well into the 19th century. Again, thanks to the discriminating Bernard McMahon, Jefferson was receiving some choice forms by 1806, when a shipment included such classics as: Bizarre (mustard yellow flowers marked red or brownish-black), Bybloemen (white ground marked deep rich purple), and Rose (white feathered with red or rose markings). Also in the package were the Baguet Rigauts and Primo Baguets, which had rosy-purple or brownish-red markings on a white ground with pure white bases. According to Anna Pavord, in The Tulip: The Story of a Flower that has Made Men Mad, the Baguets, a Flemish specialty, were amongst the most sought-after tulips of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They were wide-cupped, round-petalled flowers, said to be capable of holding "a pint of wine" in their blossoms. While we can be impressed with Jefferson's florist tulips, the major caveat of these types was that they were not really meant for the garden. Pavord stresses that they were aristocrats, meant to be cosseted, covered, and protected from harm. Better suited for the garden were the "2 Roots Parrot Tulips ... red, green and yellow mixed" sent by McMahon in 1812.

When Jefferson divided his winding flower walk on the West Lawn into 10-foot compartments in 1812, bulbs were a major consideration in the planting scheme. Each of the 87 beds (43 on the North side and 44 on the South) were numbered such that: "the odd compartments are for bulbs requird. taking up the even ones for seeds & permanent bulbs." Thus, Jefferson tried to insure that each type of bulb would be cared for appropriately, and obvious perennials like daffodils would be left undisturbed. Bulbs were precious things then. Unlike today, they could not be replaced readily, and they required proper storage and cultural attention in order to multiply. An exchange between Jefferson and his daughter Martha in 1816 clearly reveals this arduous process. Jefferson, writing from his occasional retreat, Poplar Forest, on November 10th, asked that his faithful gardener, Wormley, bring "some of the hardy bulbous roots" divided from the Monticello collection: "... daffodils, jonquils, Narcissuses, flags & lillies of different kinds, refuse hyacinths &c. ...." Ten days later Martha responded that it was already too late to send all that he listed because the roots were actively growing, but she sent instead "... a number of offsets of tulips and hyacinths ... the smaller ones are not blooming roots yet, but will be in a year or 2. the tulips & hyacinths are mixed but Cornelia knows them all ...." The waiting was always part of the experience.

This leads to the natural question: what did beds of flowering bulbs really look like in early American gardens? Of all modern-day attempts to recreate 18th- and 19th-century flower plantings, the ubiquitous bulb display, featuring thousands of uniformly spaced blossoms, is probably the most misleading. Jefferson's modest planting of 50 ranunculus, 24 anemones, 27 hyacinths, and 20 tulips in 1807, for example, would seem starkly weak in comparison, especially when considering Ann Cary Randolph's appraisal of the borders in March of the following year. She reported to her grandfather, who was still serving as President, that all the bulbs were "coming up very well particularly the tulips of which he [Burwell] counted at least forty flourishing ones." By April 15th, 1808, she further observed that "neither the hyacinths nor Tulips grow as regularly this spring as they did the last. Wormley in taking them up left some small roots in the ground which have come up about in the bed & not in the rows with the other."

Jefferson's interest in bulbs extended to native sorts, as well. Like his contemporary, Jean Skipwith of Prestwould Plantation in south central Virginia, Jefferson grew the spectacular American Turk's Cap or Spotted Canada Martagon (Lilium superbum), received from McMahon in 1812. Because Jefferson pre-dated the great wave of Japanese introductions by about fifty years, nursery lists such as McMahon's offered a combination of North American and European species. Thus, the "various sorts of lillies" he ordered included not only the European Turk's Cap (L. martagon) but also possibly any number of native species, such as the Canada Martagon (L. canadense). The White Lily (L. candidum) of Europe, which became known as the Madonna Lily later in the Victorian period, was likewise at Monticello and Prestwould. More unusual were the Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasco), a southeastern U.S. species of Rain Lily similar to the Z. candida, and the "Columbia Lily." The latter is believed to be a western species of Fritillaria (Fritillaria pudica) collected during the Lewis and Clark Expedition and planted at Monticello in 1807 as: "Lilly. the yellow of the Columbia. it's root a food of the natives." While this diminutive, yellow bell-like flower is prolific throughout the Northwest, it has proven impossible to grow in central Virginia.

It is always intriguing to speculate if any bulb colonies have survived. Although some species, such as Narcissus, are extremely long lived, there appear to be no ancient stands of daffodils remaining from Jefferson's time. One unusual species, however, still thrives in the Monticello landscape. The southern European Tassel Hyacinth, Muscari comosum, has spread so abundantly that it has naturalized in the flower gardens, down the slope to the kitchen garden, and throughout the fruit garden. Jefferson's 1782 reference to Feather Hyacinth blooming from mid May to mid June and the "6 Feathered Hyacinth roots, Hyacinthus monstrosus L." sent by McMahon in 1812 technically implies the Tassel Hyacinth's more showy cousin, Muscari comosum 'Plumosum', whose blossom has turned the purple-blue tassel or topknot into a feathery plume. Whether the common names were confused or the bulbs were mixed or both forms were planted is not clear, but the longevity of the naturalized colonies is certain.

For the most part, Jefferson's "belles of the day" were indeed temporary beauties during a fleeting chapter of his life. In a touching remembrance made by his granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge, she describes the magical moments of her childhood when new beds were prepared for his flowers. "I remember the planting of the first hyacinths and tulips, and their subsequent growth .... There was Marcus Aurelius, and the King of the Gold Mine, the Roman Empress, and the Queen of the Amazons ...." Their winter-long anticipation was answered when one of the grandchildren would "discover the tender green breaking through the mould, and run to granpapa to announce, that we really believed Marcus Aurelius was coming up, or the Queen of the Amazons was above ground!" The entire family was in ecstacy "over the rich purple and crimson, or pure white, or delicate lilac, or pale yellow of the blossoms," and Jefferson would sympathize in their admiration and discuss new groupings, combinations, and contrasts. She concludes, "Oh, these were happy moments for us and for him!"

This joyful scene dissolved relatively quickly when, after Jefferson's death in 1826, curiosity and souvenir seekers came in droves for mementoes of the great Sage of Monticello. In 1827 Virginia Randolph Trist reported to her sister Ellen Coolidge that, sadly, "Mama's choicest flower roots have been carried off ... and everything and any thing that they fancied." In this, the conclusion of Jefferson's 1811 "belles of the day" letter to Anne Cary Bankhead seems all the more poignant as he himself accepts the inevitable: "... as your mamma has done to you, my dear Anne, as you will do to the sisters of little John, and as I shall soon and cheerfully do to you all in wishing you a long, long goodnight."

From The Twinleaf Journal by Peggy Cornett, Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, January 2001

Research & images & much more are directly available from the Monticello.org website. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

From Garden to Table - Home-Made Spirits - Birch Tree Wine

 

John Greenwood (American artist, 1727-1792) Sea Captains Carousing, 1758.  Detail

Old-Time Recipes for Home Made Wines Cordials & Liqueurs 1909 by Helen S. Wright

BIRCH TREE WINE
The liquor of the birch-tree is to be obtained in the month of March, when the sap begins to ascend. One foot from the ground bore a hole in each tree, large enough to admit a faucet, and set a vessel under; the liquor will run for two or three days without hurting the tree. Having obtained a sufficient quantity, stop the holes with pegs. To each gallon of the liquor add one quart of honey, or two and one-half pounds of sugar. Boil together one hour, stirring it well. A few cloves may be added for flavor, or the rind of a lemon or two; and by all means one ounce of hops to four and one-half gallons of wine.  Work it with yeast, tun, and refine with isinglass. Two months after making, it may be drawn off and bottled, and in two months more will be fit for use, but will improve by keeping.

Colonial Era Cookbooks

1615, New Booke of Cookerie, John Murrell (London) 

1798, American Cookery, Amelia Simmons (Hartford, CT)

1803, Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter (New York, NY)

1807, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Rundell (Boston, MA)

1808, New England Cookery, Lucy Emerson (Montpelier, VT)

Helpful Secondary Sources

America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking/Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings, and Their Gardens/Frances Phipps Hawthorn; 1972

Early American Beverages/John Hull Brown   Rutland, Vt., C. E. Tuttle Co 1996 

Early American Herb Recipes/Alice Cooke Brown  ABC-CLIO  Westport, United States

Food in Colonial and Federal America/Sandra L. Oliver

Home Life in Colonial Days/Alice Morse Earle (Chapter VII: Meat and Drink) New York : Macmillan Co., ©1926.

A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America/James E. McWilliams New York : Columbia University Press, 2005.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Geo Washington (1732-1799) - Conserving the Soil

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer (1915) by Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
 
Conserving the Soil

The Revolution rudely interrupted Washington's farming experiments, & for eight long years he was so actively engaged in the grim business of checkmating Howe & Clinton & Cornwallis that he could give little time or thought to agriculture. For more than six years, in fact, he did not once set foot upon his beloved fields & heard of his crops, his servants & his live stock only from family visitors to his camps or through the pages of his manager's letters.

Peace at last brought him release. He had left Mount Vernon a simple country gentleman; he came back to it one of the most famous men in the world. He wasted no time in contemplating his laurels, but at once threw himself with renewed enthusiasm into his old occupation. His observation of northern agriculture & conversations with other farmers had broadened his views & he was more than ever progressive. He was now thoroughly convinced of the great desirability of grass & stock for conserving the soil & he was also wide awake to the need of better tools & methods & wished to make his estate beautiful as well as useful.

Much of his energy in 1784-85 was devoted to rebuilding his house & improving his grounds, & to his trip to his Ohio lands--all of which are described elsewhere. No diary exists for 1784 except that of the trip to the Ohio, but from the diary of 1785 we learn that he found time to experiment with plaster of Paris & powdered stone as fertilizers, to sow clover, orchard grass, guinea grass & peas & to borrow a scow with which to raise rich mud from the bed of the Potomac.

The growing poverty of his soil, in fact, was a subject to which he gave much attention. He made use of manure when possible, but the supply of this was limited & commercial fertilizers were unknown. As already indicated, he was beginning the use of clover & other grasses, but he was anxious to build up the soil more rapidly & the Potomac muck seemed to him a possible answer to the problem. There was, as he said, "an inexhaustible fund" of it, but the task of getting it on the land was a heavy one. Having heard of a horse-power dredge called the Hippopotamus that was in use on the Delaware River, he made inquiries concerning it but feared that it would not serve his purpose, as he would have to go from one hundred to eight hundred or a thousand yards from high water-mark for the mud--too far out for a horse to be available. Mechanical difficulties & the cost of getting up the mud proved too great for him--as they have proved too great even down to the present--but he never gave up the idea & from time to time tried experiments with small plots of ground that had been covered with the mud. His enthusiasm on the subject was so great that Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who visited him in this period, says that the standing toast at Mount Vernon was "Success to the mud!"

Every scientific agriculturist knows that erosion is one of the chief causes of loss in soil fertility & that in the basins & deltas of streams & rivers there is going to waste enough muck to make all of our land rich. But the cost of getting this fertility back to the soil has thus far proved too great for us to undertake the task of restoration. It is conceivable, however, that the time may come when we shall undertake the work in earnest & then the dream of Washington will be realized.

The spring & summer of 1785 proved excessively dry, & the crops suffered, as they always do in times of drought. The wheat yield was poor & chinch bugs attacked the corn in such myriads that our Farmer found "hundreds of them & their young under the blades & at the lower joints of the Stock." By the middle of August "Nature had put on a melancholy look." The corn was "fired in most places to the Ear, with little appearance of yielding if Rain should now come & a certainty of making nothing if it did not."

Like millions of anxious farmers before & after him, he watched eagerly for the rain that came not. He records in his diary that on August 17th a good deal of rain fell far up the river, but as for his fields--it tantalizingly passed by on the other side, & "not enough fell here to wet a handkerchief." On the eighteenth, nineteenth & twenty-second clouds & thunder & lightning again awakened hopes but only slight sprinkles resulted. On the twenty-seventh nature at last relented and, to his great satisfaction, there was a generous downpour.

The rain was beneficial to about a thousand grains of Cape of Good Hope wheat that Washington had just sown & by the thirty-first he was able to note that it was coming up. For several years thereafter he experimented with this wheat. He found that it grew up very rank & tried cutting some of it back. But the variety was not well adapted to Virginia & ultimately he gave it up.

In this period he also tried Siberian wheat, put marl on sixteen square rods of meadow, plowed under rye, & experimented with oats, carrots, Eastern Shore peas, supposed to be strengthening to land, also rib grass, burnet & various other things. He planted potatoes both with & without manure & noted carefully the difference in yields. At this time he favored planting corn in rows about ten feet apart, with rows of potatoes, carrots, or peas between. He noted down that his experience showed that corn ought to be planted not later than May 15th, preferably by the tenth or perhaps even as early as the first, in which his practice would not differ much from that of to-day. But he came to an erroneous conclusion when he decided that wheat ought to be sown in August or at the latter end of July, for this was playing into the hands of his enemy, the Hessian fly, which is particularly destructive to early sown wheat. Later he seems to have changed his mind on that point, for near the end of his life he instructed his manager to get the wheat in by September 10th. Another custom which he was advocating was that of fall & winter plowing & he had as much of it done as time & weather would permit. All of his experiments in this period were painstakingly set down & he even took the trouble in 1786 to index his agricultural notes & observations for that year.

 "On sixteen square rod of ground in my lower pasture, I put 140 Bushels of what we call Marle viz on 4 of these, No. Wt. corner were placed 50 bushels--on 4 others So. Wt. corner 30 bushels--on 4 others So. Et. corner 40 bushels--and on the remaining 4-20 bushels. This Marle was spread on the rods in these proportions--to try first whether what we have denominated to be Marie possesses any virtue as manure--and secondly--if it does, the quantity proper for an acre." His ultimate conclusion was that marl was of little benefit to land such as he owned at Mount Vernon.

Many of his experiments were made in what he called his "Botanical Garden," a plot of ground lying between the flower garden & the spinner's house. But he had experimental plots on most or all of his plantations, & each day as he made the rounds of his estate on horseback he would examine how his plants were growing or would start new experiments.

One of Washington's successes was what he called a "barrel plough." At that time all seed, such as corn, wheat & oats had to be sown or dropped by hand & then covered with a harrow or a hoe or something of the kind. Washington tried to make a machine that would do the work more expeditiously & succeeded, though it should be said that his plans were not altogether original with him, as there was a plan for such a machine in Duhamel & another was published by Arthur Young about this time in the Annals of Agriculture, which Washington was now perusing with much attention. Richard Peters also sent yet another plan.

Washington's drill, as we should call it to-day, consisted of a barrel or hollow cylinder of wood mounted upon a wheeled plow & so arranged that as the plow moved forward the barrel turned. In the barrel, holes were cut or burnt through which the corn or other seed could drop into tubes that ran down to the ground. By decreasing or increasing the number of holes the grain could be planted thicker or thinner as desired. To prevent the holes from choking up he found it expedient to make them larger on the outside than on the inside, & he also found that the machine worked better if the barrel was not kept too full of seed. Behind the drills ran a light harrow or drag which covered the seed, though in rough ground it was necessary to have a man follow after with a hoe to assist the process. A string was fastened to this harrow by which it could be lifted around when turning at the ends of the rows, the drill itself being managed by a pair of handles.

Washington wrote to a friend that the drill would not "work to good effect in land that is very full either of stumps, stones, or large clods; but, where the ground is tolerably free from these & in good tilth, & particularly in light land, I am certain you will find it equal to your most sanguine expectation, for Indian corn, wheat, barley, pease, or any other tolerably round grain, that you may wish to sow or plant in this manner. I have sown oats very well with it, which is among the most inconvenient & unfit grains for this machine.... A small bag, containing about a peck of the seed you are sowing, is hung to the nails on the right handle, & [pg 109] with a small tin cup the barrel is replenished with convenience, whenever it is necessary, without loss of time, or waiting to come up with the seed-bag at the end of the row."

As Washington says, the drill would probably work well under ideal conditions, but there were features of it that would incline, I have no doubt, to make its operator swear at times. There was a leather band that ran about the barrel with holes corresponding to those in the barrel, the purpose of the band being to prevent the seeds issuing out of more than one hole at the same time. This band had to be "slackened or braced" according to the influence of the atmosphere upon the leather, & sometimes the holes in the band tended to gape & admit seed between the band & the barrel, in which case Washington found it expedient to rivet "a piece of sheet tin, copper, or brass, the width of the band, & about four inches long, with a hole through it, the size of the one in the leather."

Washington was, however, very proud of the drill, & it must have worked fairly well, for he was not the man to continue to use a worthless implement simply because he had made it. He even used it to sow very small seed. In the summer of 1786 he records: "Having fixed a Roller to the tale of my drill plow, & a brush between it & the barrel, I sent it to Muddy Hole & sowed turnips in the intervals of corn."

[Another passage from his papers in which he mentions using his drill plow is also illustrative of the emphasis he placed upon having the seed bed for a crop properly prepared. The passage describes his sowing some spring wheat & is as follows: "12th [of April, 1785].--Sowed sixteen acres of Siberian wheat, with eighteen quarts, in rows between corn, eight feet apart. This ground had been prepared in the following manner: 1. A single furrow; 2. another in the same to deepen it; 3. four furrows to throw the earth back into the two first, which made ridges of five furrows. These, being done some time ago, & the sowing retarded by frequent rains, had got hard; therefore, 4. before the seed was sown, these ridges were split again by running twice in the middle of them, both times in the same furrow; 5. after which the ridges were harrowed; and, 6. where the ground was lumpy, run a spiked roller with a harrow at the tail of it, which was found very efficacious in breaking the clods & pulverizing the earth, & would have done it perfectly, if there had not been too much moisture remaining from the late rains. After this, harrowing & rolling were necessary, the wheat was sown with the drill plough on the reduced ridges eight feet apart, as above mentioned, & harrowed in with the small harrow belonging to the plough. But it should have been observed, that, after the ridges were split by the middle double furrows, & before they were closed again by the harrow, a little manure was sprinkled in."

No man better understood the value of good clean seed than did he, but he had much trouble in satisfying his desires in this respect. Often the seed he bought was foul with weed seeds, & at other times it would not grow at all. Once he mentions having set the women & "weak hands" to work picking wild onions out of some Eastern Shore oats that he had bought.

He advocated planting the largest & finest potatoes instead of the little ones, as some farmers out of false ideas of economy still make the mistake of doing, & he followed the same principle that "the best will produce the best" in selecting all seed.

He also appreciated the importance of getting just the right stand of grain--not too many plants & not too few--upon his fields & conducted investigations along this line. He laboriously calculated the number of seed in a pound Troy of various seeds & ascertained, for example, that the number of red clover was 71,000, of timothy 298,000, of "New River Grass" 844,800 & of barley 8,925. Knowing these facts, he was able to calculate how much ought to be sowed of a given seed to the acre.

In the spring of the year that he helped to frame the Federal Constitution he "Sowed the squares No. 2 & 4 at this place [Dogue Run] with oats in the following manner--viz--the East half of No. 2 with half a Bushel of Oats from George Town--and the west half with a Bushel of Poland Oats--The east half of No. 4 with half a bushel of the Poland Oats & the west half with a bushel of the George Town Oats. The objects, & design of this experiment, was to ascertn. 3 things--1st. which of these two kinds of Oats were best the George Town (which was a good kind of the common Oats)--2d. whether two or four bushels to the Acre was best--and 3d. the difference between ground dunged at the Rate of 5 load or 200 bushels to the Acre & ground undunged."

This experiment is typical of a great many others & it resulted, of course, in better yields on the manured ground & showed that two bushels of seed were preferable to four. But if he ever set down the result of the experiment as regards the varieties, the passage has escaped me.

While at Fredericksburg this year visiting his mother & his sister Betty Lewis he learned of an interesting method of raising potatoes under straw & wrote down the details in his diary. A little later when attending the Federal Convention he kept his eyes & ears open for agricultural information. He learned how the Pennsylvanians cultivated buckwheat & visited the farm of a certain Jones, who was getting good results from the use of plaster of Paris. With his usual interest in labor-saving machinery he inspected at Benjamin Franklin's a sort of ironing machine called a mangle, "well calculated," he thought, "for Table cloths & such articles as have not pleats & irregular foldings & would be very useful in large families."

This year he had in wheat seven hundred acres, in grass five hundred eighty acres, in oats four hundred acres, in corn seven hundred acres, with several hundred more in buckwheat, barley, potatoes, peas, beans & turnips.

In 1788 he raised one thousand eighty-eight bushels of potatoes on one plantation, but they were not dug till December & in consequence some were badly injured by the frost. An experiment that year was one of transplanting carrots between rows of corn & it was not successful.

He worked hard in these years, but, as many another industrious farmer has discovered, he found that he could do little unless nature smiled & fickle nature persisted in frowning. In 1785 the rain seemed to forget how to fall, & in 1786 how to stop falling. Some crops failed or were very short & soon he was so hard up that he was anxious to sell some lands or negroes to meet debts coming due. In February, 1786, in sending fifteen guineas to his mother, he wrote:

"I have now demands upon me for more than £500, three hundred & forty odd of which is due for the tax of 1786; & I know not where or when I shall receive one shilling with which to pay it. In the last two years I made no crops. In the first I was obliged to buy corn, & this year have none to sell, & my wheat is so bad I can neither eat it myself nor sell it to others, & tobacco I make none. Those who owe me money cannot or will not pay it without suits, & to sue is to do nothing; whilst my expenses, not from any extravagance, or an inclination on my part to live splendidly, but for the absolute support of my family & the visitors who are constantly here, are exceedingly high."

To bad crops were joined bad conditions throughout the country generally. The government of the Confederation was dying of inanition, America was flooded with depreciated currency, both state & Continental. In western Massachusetts a rebellion broke out, the rebels being largely discouraged debtors. A state of chaos seemed imminent & would have resulted had not the Federal Convention, of which Washington was a member, created a new government. Ultimately this government brought order & financial stability, but all this took time & Washington was so financially embarrassed in 1789 when he traveled to New York to be inaugurated President that he had to borrow money to pay the expenses of the journey.

After having set the wheels of government in motion he made an extended trip through New England & whenever public festivities would permit he examined into New England farm methods & took copious notes. On the first day up from New York he saw good crops of corn mixed with pumpkins & met four droves of beef cattle, "some of which were very fine--also a Flock of Sheep.... We scarcely passed a farm house that did not abd. in Geese." His judgment of New England stock was that the cattle were "of a good quality & their hogs large, but rather long legged." The shingle roofs, stone & brick chimneys, stone fences & cider making all attracted his attention. The fact that wheat in that section produced an average of fifteen bushels per acre & often twenty or twenty-five was duly noted. On the whole he seems to have considered the tour enjoyable & profitable in spite of the fact that on his return through Connecticut the law against Sabbath traveling compelled him to remain over Sunday at Perkins' Tavern & to attend church twice, where he "heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond."

About 1785 Washington had begun a correspondence with Arthur Young & also began to read his periodical called the Annals of Agriculture. The Annals convinced him more than ever of the superiority of the English system of husbandry & not only gave him the idea for some of the experiments that have been mentioned, but also made him very desirous of adopting a regular & systematic course of cropping in order to conserve his soil. Taking advantage of an offer made by Young, he ordered (August 6, 1786) through him English plows, cabbage, turnip, sainfoin, rye-grass & hop clover seed & eight bushels of winter vetches; also some months later, velvet wheat, field beans, spring barley, oats & more sainfoin seed. He furthermore expressed a wish for "a plan of the most complete & useful farmyard, for farms of about 500 acres. In this I mean to comprehend the barn, & every appurtenance which ought to be annexed to the yard."

Young was as good as his word. Although English law forbade the exportation of some of these things--a fact of which Washington was not aware--he & Sir John Sinclair prevailed upon Lord Grenville to issue a special permit & in due course everything reached Mount Vernon. Part of the seeds were somewhat injured by being put into the hold of the vessel that brought them over, with the result that they overheated--a thing that troubled Washington whenever he imported seeds--but on the whole the consignment was in fair order, & our Farmer was duly grateful.

The plows appeared excessively heavy to the Virginians who looked them over, but a trial showed that they worked "exceedingly well."

To Young's plan for a barn & barnyard Washington made some additions & constructed the barn upon Union Farm, building it of bricks that were made on the estate. He later expressed a belief that it was "the largest & most convenient one in this country." It has now disappeared almost utterly, but Young's plan was subsequently engraved in the Annals.

In return for the exertions of Young & Sinclair in his behalf Washington sent over some American products & also took pains to collect information for them as to the state of American agriculture. His letters show an almost pathetic eagerness to please these good friends & it is evident that in his farming operations he regarded himself as one of Young's disciples. He was no egotist who believed that because he had been a successful soldier & was now President of the United States he could not learn anything from a specialist. The trait was most commendable & one that is sadly lacking in many of his countrymen, some of whom take pride in declaring that "these here scientific fellers caint tell me nothin' about raisin' corn!"

Young & Sir John Sinclair were by no means his only agricultural correspondents. Even Noah Webster dropped his legal & philological work long enough in 1790 to propound a theory so startlingly modern in its viewpoint that it is worthy of reproduction. Said he:

"While therefore I allow, in its full extent, the value of stable manure, marl, plaster of Paris, lime, ashes, sea-weed, sea-shells & salt, in enriching land, I believe none of them are absolutely necessary, but that nature has provided an inexhaustible store of manure, which is equally accessible to the rich & the poor, & which may be collected & applied to land with very little labor & expense. This store is the atmosphere, & the process by which the fertilizing substance may be obtained is vegetation."

He added that such crops as oats, peas, beans & buckwheat should be raised & plowed under to rot & that land should never be left bare. As one peruses the letter he recalls that scientists of to-day tell us that the air is largely made up of nitrogen, that plants are able to "fix it," & he half expects to find Webster advocating "soil innoculation" & speaking of "nodules" & "bacteria."

Throughout the period after the Revolution our Farmer's one greatest concern was to conserve & restore his land. When looking for a new manager he once wrote that the man must be, "above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation toward gold; in a word, one who can bring worn-out & gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time." He saved manure as if it were already so much gold & hoped with its use & with judicious rotation of crops to accomplish his object. "Unless some such practice as this prevails," he wrote in 1794, "my fields will be growing worse & worse every year, until the Crops will not defray the expense of the culture of them."

He drew up elaborate plans for the rotation of crops on his different farms. Not content with one plan, he often drew up several alternatives; calculated the probable financial returns from each, allowing for the cost of seed, cultivation & other expenses, & commented upon the respective advantages from every point of view of the various plans. The labor involved in such work was very great, but Washington was no shirker. He was always up before sunrise, both in winter & summer, & seems to have been so constituted that he was most contented when he had something to do. Perhaps if he had had to engage in hard manual toil every day he would have had less inclination for such employment, but he worked with his own hands only intermittently, devoting his time mostly to planning & oversight.

One such plan for Dogue Run Farm is given on the next page. To understand it the reader should bear in mind that the farm contained five hundred

No. of Fields 1793 1794 1795 1796 1797 1798 1799
3 Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass
4 Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass
5 Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass
6 Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat
7 Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat Buckwheat for Manure
1 Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes Wheat
2 Wheat Buckwheat for Manure Wheat Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Clover or Grass Corn & Potatoes
twenty-five arable acres divided into seven fields, each of which contained about seventy-five acres.

Of this rotation he noted that it "favors the land very much; inasmuch as there are but three corn crops [i.e. grain crops] taken in seven years from any field, & the first of the wheat crops is followed by a Buck Wheat manure for the second Wheat Crop, wch. is to succeed it; & which by being laid to Clover or Grass & continued therein three years will a ford much Mowing or Grassing, according as the Seasons happen to be, besides being a restoration to the Soil--But the produce of the sale of the Crops is small, unless encreased by the improving state of the fields. Nor will the Grain for the use of the Farm be adequate to the consumption of it in this Course, & this is an essential object to attend to."

In a second table he estimated the amount of work that would be required each year to carry out this plan of rotation, assuming that one plow would break up three-fourths of an acre per day. This amount is hardly half what an energetic farmer with a good team of horses will now turn over in a day with an ordinary walking plow, but the negro farmer lacked ambition, the plows were cumbersome, & much of the work was done with plodding oxen. The table follows:

He estimated that seventy-five acres of corn would yield, at twelve & a half bushels per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at two shillings & sixpence per bushel £117.3.9. In this field potatoes would be planted between the rows of corn & would produce, at twelve & a half bushels per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at one shilling per bushel £46.17.6. Two fields in wheat, a total of one hundred fifty acres, at ten bushels per acre, would yield one thousand five hundred bushels, worth at five shillings per bushel three hundred seventy-five pounds. Three fields in clover & grass & the field of buckwheat to be turned under for manure would yield no money return. In other words the whole farm would produce three thousand three hundred seventy-five bushels of grain & potatoes worth a total of £539.1.3.

A second alternative plan would yield crops worth £614.1.3; a third, about the same; a fourth, £689.1.3; a fifth, providing for two hundred twenty-five acres of wheat, £801.11.0; a sixth, £764. Number five would be most productive, but he noted that it would seriously reduce the land. Number six would be "the 2d. most productive Rotation, but the fields receive no rest," as it provided for neither grass nor pasture, while the plowing required would exceed that of any of the other plans by two hundred eighty days.

On a small scale he tried growing cotton, Botany Bay grass, hemp, white nankeen grass & various other products. He experimented with deep soil plowing by running twice in the same furrow & also cultivated some wheat that had been drilled in rows instead of broadcasted.

Dogue Run Farm. The plan of this barn, drawn by Washington himself, is still preserved & is reproduced herewith. He calculated that one hundred & forty thousand bricks would be required for it & these were made & burnt upon the estate. The barn was particularly notable for a threshing floor thirty feet square, with interstices one & a half inches wide left between the floor boards so that the grain when trodden out by horses or beat out with flails would fall through to the floor below, leaving the straw above.

This floor was to furnish an illustration of what Washington called "the almost impossibility of putting the overseers of this country out of the track they have been accustomed to walk in. I have one of the most convenient barns in this or perhaps any other country, where thirty hands may with great ease be employed in threshing. Half the wheat of the farm was actually stowed in this barn in the straw by my order, for threshing; notwithstanding, when I came home about the middle of September, I found a treading yard not thirty feet from the barn-door, the wheat again brought out of the barn, & horses treading it out in an open exposure, liable to the vicissitudes of the weather."

Under any conditions treading or flailing out wheat was a slow & unsatisfactory process and, as Washington grew great quantities of this grain, he was alert for a better method. We know that he made inquiries of Arthur Young concerning a threshing machine invented by a certain Winlaw & pictured & described in volume six of the Annals, & in 1790 he watched the operation of Baron Poelnitz's mill on the Winlaw model near New York City. This mill was operated by two men & was capable of threshing about two bushels of wheat per hour--pretty slow work as compared with that of a modern thresher. And the grain had to be winnowed, or passed through a fan afterward to separate it from the chaff.

Finally in 1797 he erected a machine on plans evolved by William Booker, who came to Mount Vernon & oversaw the construction. Next April he wrote to Booker that the machine "has by no means answered your expectations or mine," At first it threshed not quite fifty bushels per day, then fell to less than twenty-five, & ultimately got out of order before five hundred bushels had been threshed, though it had used up two bands costing between eight & ten pounds. Booker replied that he had now greatly improved his invention & would come to Mount Vernon & make these additions, but whether or not he ever did so I have failed to discover.

By 1793 the burden of the estate had become so heavy that Washington decided to rent all of it except the Mansion House Farm & accordingly he wrote to Arthur Young telling his desire in the hope that Englishmen might be found to take it over. One man, Parkinson, of whom more hereafter, came to America & looked at one of the farms, but decided not to rent it. Washington's elaborate description of his land in his letter to Young, with an accompanying map, forms one of our best sources of information regarding Mount Vernon, so that we may be grateful that he had the intention even though nothing came of it. The whole of Mount Vernon continued to be cultivated as before until the last year of his life when he rented Dogue Run Farm to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis.

As a public man he was anxious to improve the general state of American agriculture & in his last annual message to Congress recommended the establishment of a board of agriculture to collect & diffuse information & "by premiums & small pecuniary aids to encourage & assist a spirit of discovery & improvement." In this recommendation the example of the English Board of Agriculture & the influence of his friend Arthur Young are discernible. It would have been well for the country if Congress had heeded the advice, but public opinion was not then educated to the need of such a step & almost a century passed before anything of much importance was done by the national government to improve the state of American agriculture.

In farming as in politics Washington was no standpatter. Notwithstanding many discouragements, he could not be kept from trying new things, & he furnished his farms with every kind of improved tool & implement calculated to do better work. At his death he owned not only threshing machines & a Dutch fan, but a wheat drill, a corn drill, a machine for gathering clover seed & another for raking up wheat. Yet most of his countrymen remained content to drop corn by hand, to broadcast their wheat, to tread out their grain & otherwise to follow methods as old as the days of Abel for at least another half century.

He was the first American conservationist. He realized that man owes a duty to the future just as he owes a debt to the past. He deplored the already developing policy of robber exploitation by which our soil & forests have been despoiled, for he foresaw the bitter fruits which such a policy must produce, & indeed was already producing on the fields of Virginia. He was no misanthropic cynic to exclaim, "What has posterity ever done for us that we should concern ourselves for posterity?" His care for the lands of Mount Vernon was evidence of the God-given trait imbedded in the best of men to transmit unimpaired to future generations what has been handed down to them.

Monday, March 1, 2021

From Garden to Table at Mount Vernon - Mulled Wine

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

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine has been popular for hundreds of years, imbibed not only on festive occasions but also because of its healthful ingredients. The inclusion of egg yolks in the hot, spiced drink seems to have disappeared by the nineteenth century, as that ingredient is rarely found in later recipes. When using this eighteenth-century recipe from Elizabeth Raffald, take care in combining the yolks with the hot wine and in pouring the mixture back and forth between two saucepans; this will quickly stop the egg yolks from cooking as well as aerate the thickened drink. Raffald recommended pouring the wine “several times till it looks fine and bright.” When correctly prepared, the mixture will indeed appear smooth and velvety.

This hot, rich wine is delicious served on its own. It can also be served, as Raffald recommended, in the traditional manner—in chocolate cups (small mugs) with “dry toast cut in long narrow pieces.”

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 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 cups dry red wine, divided

About 1 cup sugar, plus more as needed

6 large egg yolks

Dry toast strips for serving (optional)

Directions

1. Stir the nutmeg into 3 cups of the wine. Add the sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat as soon as the mixture boils. Taste the sweetened wine and add more sugar, if desired.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon-colored. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of wine. Slowly add the egg mixture to the hot, spiced wine, stirring constantly to prevent the egg yolks from curdling. When the mixture is well combined, pour it back and forth between two saucepans to cool it quickly and incorporate some air.

3. Heat the mulled wine over low heat, stirring constantly until it is hot and begins to thicken. Make sure the wine remains just below a simmer to prevent the egg yolks from curdling. As soon as it thickens, pour it back and forth between two saucepans several times to cool it quickly and incorporate some air.

4. Serve the mulled wine immediately in mugs or heatproof glasses, accompanied by toast strips, if desired.

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