At table with the Washingtons

… an evening of Colonial hospitality, complete with period music and delectable dining

By: Faith Bahadurian
   The invitation read, "You are cordially invited to dine with President Washington and his wife, Martha, in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel … an evening of Colonial hospitality, complete with period music and delectable dining … learn about the Washington’s favorite foods from their chef Hercules."
   Intrigued, a friend and I headed to Trenton to enjoy one of the highlights of Patriots’ Week (
   In its second year, Patriots’ Week has become a very successful celebration of Trenton’s crucial role in the American Revolution. A feast of cultural and historical events between Dec. 26 and 31 offered something for every interest. Many at the dinner had attended several of these events, including a man who rowed in the Christmas morning re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. This evening he was accompanied by his young daughter in a fine and fancy dress, just the thing for dining with the famous General and his wife.
   George and Martha Washington, Colonel (and painter) Charles Willson Peale, and Hercules, all in full-costumed character, spent the evening table-hopping and chatting with us about topics of their day as we dined on white bean and ham soup, roast game hen with pumpkin gratin and roasted parsnip purée, and plum pudding. Chef Hercules (the real Hercules was one of the Washingtons’ slaves) told colorful tales about the Colonial kitchen, and made sure we knew that he was the general in the Washingtons’ kitchen, boasting of being allowed to sell leftovers out the back door, as was common in the day.
   On my cookbook shelves is a copy of "The Delectable Past" (Simon & Schuster, 1964) by Esther B. Aresty. I’ve frequently turned to its engaging pages for glimpses into foods of times past. When I turned to it for information about Revolutionary-era cooking, I noticed for the first time that the author, who owned an extensive collection of cookbooks of historical interest, lived in Trenton.
   A look in the phone book and a call yielded the information that while Mrs. Aresty has passed away, the collection is to be found at the University of Pennsylvania the Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books on the Culinary Arts.
   In "The Delectable Past," Mrs. Aresty culls from her collection a survey of the culinary arts, including her updated versions of recipes, from antiquity and the Middle Ages to late 19th-century America. Of the first cookbooks published in America, she says they "were really English cookbooks, and did not include recipes using true American foods such as cranberries, clams, shad or terrapin…"
   In 1796 Amelia Simmons authored "American Cookery," which included some truly American dishes, such as Indian pudding and johnnycake. Eliza Leslie’s "Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats" appeared in1828. America’s love affair with cookbooks continues today, with hundreds upon hundreds published each year.
   It was in Valley Forge, during the bitter winter of 1777-1778, that hunger soared and hope sank in America’s poor Continental Army. General Washington asked his cook to feed his men at any cost. With only scraps of tripe from the butcher and a handful of peppercorns, the cook produced a hearty soup the creation of Pepper Pot Soup.
   2 quarts water
   1 veal or beef bone
   2 bay leaves
   1 dry whole red chili pepper
   1 tablespoon salt
   2 whole onions
   2 pounds honeycomb tripe, well washed (can also blanch)
   4 potatoes, diced
   1 teaspoon marjoram
   Bring water, bay leaves, chili pepper and salt to a boil. Add the tripe, then immediately reduce heat. Simmer for at least 2½ hours.
   Remove veal bone, bay leaves, pepper and onion. Take out the tripe, then slice into paper-thin strips and mince crosswise. Skim the fat off the top of the stock and return the tripe to the pot with the diced potatoes. Thin with boiling water so it’s nicely soupy. Allow to simmer until you’re ready to serve hours, if possible, as you want the tripe to be as tender as possible.
   When ready to serve, rub the marjoram into the pot between the heels of your hands. Bring soup to a good simmer, then drop in dumplings and cook until they are done. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with a cruet of cider vinegar on the table for final flavoring.
   To make dumplings: Cut 1½ tablespoons of butter or lard into 1 cup of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder,and ½ teaspoon of salt. Then stir in ½ cup of milk gradually. Flour hands and roll dough into small balls.
from Eliza Leslie’s "Receipts
for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats,"
as given in Esther B. Aresty’s
"The Delectable Past"
   6 tablespoons butter
   1 cup sugar
   4 eggs
   1¼ cups sifted pastry flour
   ¾ teaspoon baking powder
   ¼ cup sifted white cornmeal
   1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon prepared)
   ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
   ½ teaspoon vanilla
   2 teaspoons brandy, preferably apple brandy
   Thoroughly cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. (An electric mixer may be used for these first two steps.)
   Sift together the flour, baking powder and cornmeal; combine spices with flour mixture. By hand, blend the dry ingredients into the batter alternately with brandy and vanilla. Pour into a greased, shallow cake pan, 8-inch square or 10 x 6 oblong (pan should be lined with wax paper). Bake at 325 degrees for 1½ hours. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Invert on a cake rack, and strip off wax paper.
"Take three pippins (sweet apples), 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."