Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Plants to Food - Washington's Mt Vernon - Bread Pudding


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.

Baked Bread Pudding

Bread pudding recipes found in historic cookbooks offer numerous preparation suggestions. Many bread puddings are boiled, while others are baked in a crust. Ingredients for seasoning vary; they include grated lemon zest, rose water, vinegar combined with butter, raisins, or currants as well as spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This baked, firm-textured bread pudding is an adaptation of a Hannah Glasse recipe, with variations drawn from other sources.

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.


2 cups half-and-half

3 sticks cinnamon, broken into pieces

3 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 cups breadcrumbs (grated from stale bread)

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Boiled Custard or Fairy Butter for serving (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish.

2. In a saucepan, combine the half-and-half with the cinnamon sticks and lemon zest. Scald (bring just below the boil) over medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not let the milk boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Stir occasionally.

3. Combine the breadcrumbs with the currants in a large bowl. Add the sugar, salt, nutmeg, and ginger and combine well.

4. When the milk has cooled, strain and discard the cinnamon sticks. Whisk in the eggs. Pour into the breadcrumb mixture, and combine thoroughly.

5. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool to room temperature before serving.

6. Serve slices of the bread pudding with Boiled Custard or Fairy Butter, if desired.

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