George Washington Sure Knew How to Throw a Party!


Music – “George Washington” from Fess Parker Star of the TV Series, “Daniel Boone” Sings About Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Abe Lincoln by Fess Parker. Released: 2014

In my cookbook collection I have a copy of “American Heritage Cookbook” with Historical Notes and Menus, by the Editors of American Heritage, last published in 1980.

American Heritage Cookbook

American Heritage Cookbook

The book contains numerous historically interesting dishes from America, “…from the time of its discovery to the beginning of this century”. In addition, 30 historic menus are included. One, in particular, caught my fancy: “Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon”. Helen Duprey Bullock compiled the menu, after extensive research. As such, it represents not necessarily one historic meal, but a composite, based upon the knowledge of the foods available and the tastes of the individuals.

Picture of Mt. Vernon at Christmas (Photo Credit:

Picture of Mt. Vernon at Christmas (Photo Credit:

George and Martha Washington entertained frequently, and invited guests might include senators, and Vice-President and Mrs. Adams, among others. First President Washington’s tenure lasted from 1789 to 1797. George Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon began as a one and one-half story farmhouse built in 1735 by his father, Augustine.

Mt. Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington (Photo Credit:

Mt. Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington (Photo Credit:

It received its well-known name during the ownership of his half-brother Lawrence. George acquired Mount Vernon in 1754, and over the next 45 years slowly enlarged the dwelling to create the resplendent 21-room residence existing today.

Martha and George Washington (Photo Credit:

Martha and George Washington (Photo Credit:

Imagine, if you can, the possibilities of a Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon with George and the Mrs. According to custom, dinner was usually served at “three o’clock in the afternoon”. One such visitor to Mount Vernon for Christmas dinner in 1797 wrote that there was “…a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted Fowles, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc.,etc

In her research, Helen Bullock has compiled those dishes, which would have graced the Washington table: perhaps all of them, perhaps just some of them, but large, expansive, multiple course meals were standard.

What follows is a typical selection of dishes for Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon:

Onion Soup (called “The King’s Soup)
Oysters on the Half Shell
Broiled Salt Roe Herring
Boiled Rockfish
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Mutton Chops
Roast Suckling Pig
Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing
Round of Cold Boiled Beef with Horse-radish Sauce
Cold Baked Virginia Ham
Lima Beans
Baked Acorn Squash
Baked Celery with Slivered Almonds
Hominy Pudding
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Cantaloupe Pickle
Spiced Peaches in Brandy
Spiced Cranberries
Mincemeat Pie
Apple Pie
Cherry Pie
Chess Tarts
Plums in Wine Jelly
Indian Pudding
Great Cake
Ice Cream
Plum Pudding

Just imagine the Mount Vernon Christmas table groaning under the weight of all of these luscious dishes:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Whew! According to what I’ve read, Martha’s “Great Cake” consisted of 40 eggs, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of powdered sugar, 5 pounds of fruit and a “half pint of wine and brandy thrown in for good measure”. Even a third of these dishes would have constituted an extremely lavish and belly-filling spread. But who was counting calories then? Certainly not a menu for the diet-conscious (if you could remain conscious after packing in all of that food!). Perhaps that would explain why Martha Washington was punctual about retiring to her chambers after a dinner party. According to “American Heritage Cookbook”, “In 1790, she concluded an evening party promptly at nine o-clock by rising and announcing to her company, “The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede him”. No wonder!

My EatYourBooks cookbook collection

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
This entry was posted in Cookbooks, Cooking, Cooking and Social History, Eating, Menu Planning, Vintage Cookbooks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s