Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: The Martha Washington Cookbook

That post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on January 28, 2014. When I get better, I totally want to start making some historical recipes. Nothing that tastes like roses, though. Well, maybe. People back then were so into it, I feel like I should give rosewater another chance.

Photo credit: ttarasiuk
I was really excited to receive The Martha Washington Cookbook for Christmas. What's not to love about really old recipes? Tastes have changed over the years, and it's an interesting peek into another time.

It's also an interesting peek into blatant racism.

The cookbook proper was given to Martha Washington by her first mother-in-law and passed down through the generations. It was updated in the 1940s, and the current printing is an exact replica of the one from the 40s.

This wouldn't be an issue except for the clueless racism thrown around in the introduction. The author, Marie Kimball, goes on and on about Martha's responsibilities at Mount Vernon, including managing hundreds of slaves. The tone implies that this was a big, difficult task. Nowhere near as hard as BEING a slave, I'm sure. But Kimball doesn't give a shit about that.

Later, she talks about Hercules, the Washington's slave/cook. They brought him with them to Philadelphia when George was President, but there was a law in Pennsylvania that freed any slave living there for 6 months. "Although Washington did not believe Hercules would avail himself of this, it was considered prudent to return him to Mount Vernon before the six months were up…In the end, city life got the better of him. When the family was to return home, in 1797, Hercules ran away and was never seen again."

OMG, the word choices speak volumes. Like, why wouldn't someone take advantage of a law giving them freedom? And Hercules didn't "run away," he escaped.

As Louis C.K. said, slavery wasn't that long ago. It's just two 70 year old women living one after the other. This book was written just one old lady after the Civil War, yet the concept that slaves didn't want to be slaves hadn't quite sunk in. And no one thought to fix that in the current edition.

Anyway, to the food. 

Apparently, people in the 18th century really, really liked rosewater in everything. Now, I've eaten rose-flavored candy and it's like eating perfume. Some people dig it, but it's not for me.

Hercules cooked everything on a fireplace. The recipes have been updated for stoves.

A typical 18th century American meal involved a metric fuckton of food. 3 or 6 meat dishes, plus sides. 

I've picked out a bunch of recipes I want to try, mostly sweets. The desserts just seem more accessible and familiar. I couldn't imagine doing a big, 18th century style meat dish for just me and the husband. Though now that Sleepy Hollow has brought the American Revolution into pop culture relevance, a theme party may be in order.

The Verdict

This cookbook is a nice to have, but not essential - unless you want to kick it back colonial style.

For more on slaves at Mount Vernon, check out the Ask a Slave web series, the first of which is below.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, considering the current debacle about enslaved Africans being called "immigrant workers" in Texas school textbooks, I'm not sure we're all on the same page regarding slavery even now.

    Are you familiar with Four Pounds Flour, the historical food blog ( It's a lot of fun, although sometimes she goes a little cocktail crazy for my tastes, haha.


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