Friday, February 4, 2011

The Martha Washington Cookbook

Martha set up housekeeping and she had rules. She had a whole book of rules sand recipes handwritten by her mother-in-law; doesn't that sound fun?! It's not as bad as it might sound. The year was ' 1759 and Colonel George Washington brought a new mistress to Mount Vernon', the book begins. She had been the former Martha Custis, now widowed, but she saw the value in bringing with her a book that her first mother-in-law had so lovingly written just for her; a book of rules to use for keeping an orderly house, entertaining and the receipts to use for meals. What a wise woman to use good advice, because it helped her become a celebrated hostess and well-respected First Lady.
The cookbook for today was a gift from my dear friend, Karol. She gave it to me when I was on a trip back to WV for Thanksgiving of 2005. I read it back then, but hadn't looked at it since. It is a one-of-a-kind type cookbook. More of a history book, really. It gives a lot of information as to the customs of the upper class in matters of entertaining in the 1700's. Actually, it points out many times that, although the Washingtons were generous of time and spirit, they welcomed all kinds of people so frequently to both Mount Vernon and the President's residence, that they entertained more casually than most of the upper class of their era. They provided lots of wonderful food and drink, but were not trying to impress. I like that! It gave me an even greater sense of pride and admiration for the father of our country and his lovely wife.
The receipts in the book have been modernized (in 1940) but although you could literally make the dishes, I don't know that you would want to. Suffice it to say, that Americans' tastes have changed considerably since the 1700's. Also, from looking at the fare, I'd say that every leaf, bud, rose hipp, and every part of every animal on a plantation was pickled, smoked, salted and preserved for use at the table. There are recipes for Pease Porridge and Gruel. Instructions on making Stuffed Calves' Feet, Boiled Pigeon and Lambs' Tails.
I don't want to paint the wrong picture of this wonderful book, there are plenty of recipes for normal dishes like Chicken Pie, French Fritters and Raspberry Marmalade. I especially enjoyed the photos of the Washingtons' dining room and kitchen at Mount Vernon, the ink drawings, and the reproduced pages of the original manuscript; those folks made handwriting an art! The front and back inside covers feature the diagram of Martha's kitchen garden at Mount Vernon. The First Family was already onto the importance of eating" fresh, green and local"! They were trendsetters. Love this book, not only because it's from a special friend, but also because it is exceptional. The Martha Washington Cookbook by Marie Kimball will be harder to find than most of my old cookbooks, but I'll give you all the info I have. Karol bought it in North Canton, OH from James Direct, Inc., 1459 S. Main St.,44720. It was published by Tresco Publishers in 2002, but originally printed in 1940 by Coward-McCann, Inc. The ISBN is 1-883944-34-1. I hope you are successful in your hunt!

Page 144 Sugar Cakes
4 C flour
1/2 C sugar
yolks of 2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
4 TBSP cream
1 1/2 C butter
1 TBSP rose water

Sift the flour into the bowl in the shape of a cone. Make a hole in the center of the cone, like a crater. Into this put the sugar, the yolks, beaten with the cream and rose water. Break the butter in small pieces and dot around the edges of the flour. Work all together with the hands, mixing and kneading it thoroughly. Roll out, cut in circles, place on a buttered pan, dust with sugar, and bake until a pale brown.

I'll be at these swaps today:


  1. Hi
    I am a new follower from the blog hop
    I blog at
    I hope you stop by and visit.

  2. The sugar cakes sound nice, and the raspberry marmalade...but the lambs' tail? Not so much. :)

    So glad to be introduced to our first First Lady and her methods. Thanks for sharing your treasured cookbook and linking to Food on Fridays at!

  3. Came here from AnnKroeker.

    I enjoyed reading about Martha Washington's cookbook. Maybe I can find a copy.