“A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready, and such as will be content to partake of them are always welcome.” ~ George Washington in a letter to a friend.
Happy 4th of July! This is the perfect day to celebrate the woman behind the man who served as our very first president. Martha Washington’s kitchen was a beehive of activity day and night due to the first couple’s love for hosting large dinner parties. Preparing the culinary delights of the times was a laborious undertaking, but by all accounts the food was always divine.
The Mount Vernon cooking chamber produced at least three bountiful meals every day. Breakfast was served in the dining room promptly at 7:00 am; dinner at 3:00 pm; and an early evening tea at 6:00 pm. Occasionally a light supper was served up at 9:00 pm. Thankfully, Martha had Nathan and Lucy to do the cooking, along with assistants or scullions, who washed cooking utensils and dishes, helped with food preparation, and hauled water and wood. Small piles of hot coals on the hearth and hooks suspended over open flames in the fireplace accommodated many pots and pans for stewing, frying, roasting, broiling, and baking in the colonial kitchen.
Martha’s special dessert, The Great Cake, was served during the holidays and other special occasions. Over five hundred of her Elizabethan and Jacobean era recipes were gathered in her family cookbook. The manuscript was handed down for generations until it was finally annotated by Karen Hess, a renowned culinary historian and cook. You can buy Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats on Amazon. Here’s the original and modern versions of Martha Washington’s Great Cake:
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.
Modern adaptation of recipe:
In making Martha Washington’s famed cake, Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff followed Mrs. Washington’s recipe almost exactly. Where the recipe called for 5 pounds of fruit, without specifying which ones, 2 pounds of raisins, 1 pound of currants, and 2 pounds of apples were used. The wine used was cream sherry. Since no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, two 14 layers were made and stacked (note: the original was one single tall layer). The layers were baked in a 350 degree oven for 1.5 hours. It should be frosted with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.
The Shiksa in the Kitchen has another great recipe from the very first First Lady for her Preserved Cherries. It’s definitely worth checking out.
While doing a bit of research for this post I came across a couple of recipes I think I’d like to try. The Apple Tansy and Hasty Pudding recipes sound easy enough. Wouldn’t they be yummy served warm topped with a big dollop of vanilla ice cream? Mmmm…
Take three pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with butter; then beat four eggs, with six spoonfuls of cream, a little rosewater, nutmeg, and sugar; stir them together, and pour it over the apples; let it fry a little, and turn it with a pye-plate. Garnish with lemon and sugar strew’d over it. ( I believe I’ll make mine on my good old electric stove!)
Hasty Pudding was an English tradition for centuries. Printed references to hasty pudding in England date to 1599, while Indian pudding recipes start appearing in American cookbooks in 1796.
The love of pudding came with the first colonists in Virginia and was a favorite of the New England settlers. In the colonies, this dish was also known as Indian Pudding, Indian Mush, and Indian Meal. In colonial days, Indian pudding was a simple cornmeal mush sweetened with molasses. In later years, it was dressed up with everything from sugar and eggs to raisins and spices.
Original recipe: Put two quarts of water into a clean dinner pot or saucepan, cover it and let it become boiling hot over the fire; then add a tablespoonful of salt, take off the light scum from the top, have secured to use some sweet fresh yellow or white corn meal. Take a handful of the meal with the left hand, and a pudding stick in the right, then with the stick stir the water around and by degrees let fall the meal; when one handful is exhausted, refill it; continue to stir and add meal until it is as thick as you can stir easily, or until the stick: will stand in it; stir it awhile longer; let the fire be gentle; when it is sufficiently cooked, which will be in half on hour, it will bubble or puff. up; turn it into a deep basin. This is good eaten cold or hot, with milk or with butter and syrup or sugar, or with meat and gravy, the same as potatoes or rice. Hasty Pudding was often served for Sunday night suppers with stripped salt codfish on the side.
Fried Hasty Pudding is made the same way and then chilled in bread tins until of slicing consistency, dipped by slice in flour and fried in lard or butter until well browned on both sides. Serve hot topped with butter and syrup, honey, or fresh fruit jam.
1 cup yellow corn meal
Maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, or light cream
In a bowl combine corn meal and 1 cup cold water. In heavy saucepan bring 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boiling. Carefully stir in the corn meal mixture making sure it does not lump. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve pudding with pat of butter and maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses or light cream. Makes 6 or 7 servings.
We hope you all have a wonderfully blessed holiday full of family, fun, fireworks and great food! Be safe and enjoy your freedom.