Thursday, October 28, 2021

Plants to Food - Washington's Mt Vernon - Pound Cake


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.

Pound Cake

The name pound cake stems from the fact that early recipes called for one pound apiece of butter, sugar, and flour. Mary Randolph’s recipe is a delicious version of this classic treat and was adapted by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.


2 cups unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

6 large eggs

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 cup brandy

Boiled Custard for serving (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan with vegetable shortening.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl, beating by hand, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually while continuing to beat.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in each one thoroughly before adding the next.

4. Sift the flour with the nutmeg, and gradually add to the butter and sugar, mixing in each addition thoroughly before adding the next one.

5. Add the lemon zest and brandy, mixing until thoroughly combined.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes. Turn the cake out onto the rack, and allow it to cool completely before slicing.

7. Serve with Boiled Custard, if desired.

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

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 Westport, Greenwood Press 2005

A  Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America/James E. McWilliams New York : Columbia University Press, 2005.Home Life in Colonial Days/Alice Morse Earle (Chapter VII: Meat and Drink) New York : Macmillan Co., ©1926.