Side Dish: Dining With Washington

Cheramie Sonnier

If only history class had been so interesting.

“Dining With the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertainment, and Hospitality From Mount Vernon” offers an appealing and intimate glimpse into the lives of George and Martha Washington and of the foods and flavors of 18th century America.

Readers learn that Martha Washington had a “more lively disposition” than her “cool-headed” husband who “took great pleasure in seeing his friends entertained …” We also learn the Washingtons often served ice cream to their guests, that the United States’ first president took a little tea and toast between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day, he “was adamant about including vegetables in every proper dinner,” and he loved fish.

According to the custom of the time, they were expected to provide hospitality for all visitors, including those who arrived without proper introduction. As they got older, George and Martha Washington sought help from younger family members and servants in entertaining huge numbers of guests they barely knew, if at all.

The beautiful coffee-table book from Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, published in partnership with the University of North Carolina Press, offers essays from Mount Vernon staff members Mary V. Thompson, Dennis J. Pogue, Carol Borchert Cadou and J. Dean Norton, with contributions from Esther C. White and Steven T. Bashore. The book’s more than 90 period recipes, which would have been familiar to the Washingtons, have been adapted for the modern kitchen by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump.

In the book’s foreword, former White House executive chef Walter Scheib writes that he began to understand and appreciate George Washington when he was asked to prepare a circa 1800-style menu for a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the White House. “I realized, too, that Americans’ contemporary enthusiasm for cooking with seasonal local ingredients is nothing new,” Scheib says. “Indeed, our forefathers had little choice for the most part but to purchase and consume locally sourced foodstuffs in season.”

He notes that “food and dining offer singularly colorful windows through which to see into the past.” He points out that Washington liked hoecakes and hominy and preferred small parties to large formal gatherings.

About half of the book offers a look at how Washington would have dined and entertained. It includes essays on welcoming guests to Mount Vernon, everyday dining at Mount Vernon, the art of dining, the plantation’s fruit and vegetable gardens, and liquor and wine at Mount Vernon. There also is information on the slave diet.

The remainder of the book, which includes 230 color illustrations and photos, is devoted to the recipes, from basic beef stock to how to make chocolate cream.

There are recipes for soups, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, sauces, pies, cakes, puddings, fritters, pancakes, custards, ice creams, fruit, breads and beverages.

“Dining With the Washingtons” would be a terrific choice for anyone who enjoys history, especially food history, or who wants to learn more about our first president.

It is available at http://www.mountvernon.org or http://uncpress.unc.edu and in bookstores, specialty shops and online retailers.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.
A Particular Sauce Called Ramolade

Makes about 11/2 cups. Recipe is from “Dining With the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality From Mount Vernon,” edited by Stephen A. McLeod (The University of North Carolina Press, 2011). “The following recipe for ramolade — or rémoulade, as we know it today — is adapted from ‘The Lady’s Companion,’ a mid-18th century cookbook published in London,” the recipe’s introduction says. “Martha Washington’s younger sister Anna Maria (Nancy) Dandridge Bassett had a copy of it at Mount Vernon. This sauce, featured with other fish sauces in ‘The Lady’s Companion,’ is thinner and darker than today’s bottled rémoulades, which are thickened with mayonnaise.”

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup plus 2 tbls. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1⁄8 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄8 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

2 to 3 green onions, trimmed and chopped

4 tsps. capers, drained and chopped

1 to 2 tsps. anchovy paste, optional

1. Combine the vinegar with 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Gradually add the remaining oil, whishing until the sauce is emulsified and creamy.

2. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, combining well.

3. Stir in the parsley, onions, capers and anchovy paste, if desired.

4. Serve the rémoulade chilled or at room temperature. The sauce can be stored in an airtight container (preferably a glass jar) for up to a week.