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Just How Did They Cook in the 1700s?

18 February 2012 No Comment

Virginia Ham and Oysters Vol au Vent, prepared by Chef Walter Staib. Photo by: KJ Mushung

Just How Did They Cook for So Many in George Washington’s Day?
Mount Vernon Shows You
By: KJ Mushung

Historic Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is celebrating the birthday of the nation’s first president by focusing on the foods he ate and how they were prepared, 18th century style.

Ever wonder how households with many visitors, most unexpected due to lack of advanced communication, cooked for more people than one typically sees at Thanksgiving dinner without a refrigerator, microwave or running water? Mount Vernon’s new exhibit, “Hoecakes and Hospitality,” will show you. But there will be so much more than just displays of centuries-old cooking utensils, although there will be plenty of those as well.

On Saturday, Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon, there will be a hoecake cook-off over an open fire with four award-winning chefs. The chefs are Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Christophe Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant and Robert Wiedemaier of BRABO.

A hoecake is like a pancake made with cornmeal that could, if need be, be cooked on the surface of a gardening hoe out in the field over a fire. It’s known as Washington’s favorite breakfast. He may have preferred hoecakes because it was a soft food that he, a man with numerous dental problems, could eat, curator Susan P. Schoelwer postulated.

Samples of hoecakes “swimming in butter and honey,” as Washington preferred them, will be prepared for visitors until noon or while they last on both Saturday and Sunday. Recipe cards featuring modern versions of some dishes and beverages consumed by the Washingtons will be available for visitors to take home and try.

A celebration of the first president’s birthday, complete with a fully-dressed re-enactor, candles and gifts, will take place on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Mount Vernon will open an hour early on Monday, Feb. 20 to accommodate the 10,000 visitors expected that day. The hours are 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and admission is free. A wreath-laying ceremony will take place at Washington’s tomb followed by patriotic music. Visitors may tour the grounds and exhibits.

“Unlike the anonymous pots and pans found in most historic houses, this exhibit offers a rare, intimate look at a specific 18th-century kitchen,” said Schoelwer. Many original artifacts had been saved by Martha Washington’s descendants.

Chef Walter Staib, the Emmy award-winning host of PBS’s “A Taste of History” and chef of City Tavern in Philadelphia, will sign books and DVDs in the gift shop throughout the three-day weekend. His restaurant, City Tavern, offers diners an 18th century lunch and dinner menu along with ales and beers brewed from centuries-old recipes.

Visitors to Mount Vernon can also watch a video in which Chef Staib prepares a sturgeon, stuffed with crabmeat, covered in a citrus vinaigrette and served over root vegetables in Mount Vernon’s own kitchen. Washington’s love of eating fish from the Potomac River is well-documented. The recipe card for this dish is available, as well.

“Hoecakes & Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington” is included with general admission, which costs $15 for adults and $7 for children ages 6 to 11. Children younger than 5 years old are admitted free. Admission to all events is free on Monday, Feb. 21, in honor of George Washington’s birthday.

Pots and pans from Martha Washington's kitchen. Photo by: KJ Mushung

Vegetables at Mount Vernon await preparation. Photo by: KJ Mushung

By: KJ Mushung

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