“George Washington always paid keen attention to his dining spaces and their furnishings; mealtime rituals provided opportunities to present himself as a sophisticated member of the gentry class, an enlightened gentleman, and a gracious host,” explains historian Carol Borchert Cadou in, “Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon.”
Cadou, the Robert H. Smith senior curator and vice president for collections at Mount Vernon, reports that one 1777 guest observed: “[Washington] keeps an excellent table and a stranger, let him be of what Country or nation, he will always meet with a most hospitable reception at it. His entertainments were always conducted with the most regularity and in the genteelest manner of any I ever was at on the Continent.”
The meals prepared often came from one of Martha Washington’s cookbooks, which include a manuscript handed down through several generations of women from the family of her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis; she inherited it upon their 1750 marriage. Another often-used cookbook in the Washington kitchen was the sixth edition (1763) of Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.”
While the Washingtons may not have sampled recipes from “The Virginia Housewife,” Mary Randolph’s popular cookbook was also utilized during the Revolutionary era.
So we were thrilled when historians at Mount Vernon opened the doors (and the outdoor kitchen) to welcome three of our Grateful American™ Kids — AJ, Avery, and Callie — to prepare two dishes the Washingtons and their guests would have enjoyed: curry of catfish and peas porridge.
These students from Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, VA, were our reporters for the day as they were guided through a Revolutionary Era cooking lesson by Deborah Colburn, the interpretive programs supervisor at Mount Vernon, and her colleague, interpreter Sara Marie Massee.
Scroll down to learn how to prepare these recipes, which may be a fun addition to your meals this holiday season.
Here’s to cooking, and eating, like the Washingtons! Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving! — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer, Grateful American™ Foundation / Grateful American™ Kids