Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Garden to Table at Mt Vernon - George's usual Meals with Family & Guests

 Washington Greeting Lafayette at Mount Vernon by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850-1936) 

For President George Washington, retirement did not mean the end of his life as a public figure. As in the years after the Revolutionary War, guests flocked to Mount Vernon hoping to pay their respects to & share space—however briefly—with the former president. 

George Washington's Return to Mount Vernon

In 1798, according to Mount Vernon’s official records, George & Martha Washington hosted guests for dinner on 203 of the 310 days for which records exist. 

George Washington and Marquis De Lafayette at Mount Vernon by Edward Percy Morgan 1862-1935 

Overnight guests stayed from supper to breakfast at Mount Vernon on 183 of those 310 days.
Martha Washington (1731-1802) - Managed food preparation for family & guests from the Garden to the Table. While George Washington oversaw most aspects of organizing & supervising 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 necessary 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

Mount Vernon tells us that in the matter of eating & drinking George Washington was usually 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.

Additional 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.