We are delighted to be distributing the new book Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, edited by Stephen A. McLeod and published by the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association. We gave you a sneak peek of the book in June by sharing the recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake on the occasion of her birthday.
The book is full of beautiful color photographs, engaging essays, and historic recipes adapted for today’s kitchen. You can see some of the interior photos at the book’s Facebook page.
As we prepare for our Thanksgiving feasts, McLeod gives us some background on the holiday, plus a recipe that would make a fine addition to your holiday table. —ellen
Thanksgiving was officially recognized as a national holiday in the United States during the Civil War, when, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
But many Americans are unaware that during the American Revolution, General George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.
Later, in 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation on October 3 from his office in New York, declaring the nation’s first day of thanksgiving. He recommended to the people of the newly formed United States “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Washington further recommended that the date of Thursday, November 26, be set aside for this observance. It seems that many Americans heeded the Father of Our Country’s proclamation, but it was not until the height of one of the worst conflicts in our national story that his recommendation was firmly established as a national holiday.
As a Thanksgiving remembrance of General Washington, I suggest trying a recipe from Dining with the Washingtons. “To Make a Cherry Pie” will make a colorful, tasty, and fitting tribute to our nation’s first president at your family’s celebration. Here is the recipe (along with the separate recipe for the crust), adapted by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump from an 18th-century classic by Hannah Glasse, one of the most widely read cookbook writers of the era. (Note: Morello cherries may be hard to find, but Trader Joe’s always seems to carry them.)
To Make a Cherry Pie
Although cherries were preserved or dried for use at Mount Vernon, visitors are not known to have mentioned them. Many varieties of the fruit were grown on the estate, including the Morello cherries suggested in this Hannah Glasse recipe, which the Washingtons’ cooks might have used. Both fresh and jarred cherries work well here. If using fresh ones, set the pitted fruit aside for at least two hours so that the cherries can release their juice. Glasse suggested adding red currants to the basic recipe. Because fresh currants are often difficult to find, currant jam is offered here as an alternative.
Makes one 10-inch double-crust pie
1 recipe Common Pie Crust
1 cup red currant jam
5 cups fresh sour cherries, preferably Morello, pitted, or 3 jars (1 pound, 9 ounces each) preserved Morello cherries, drained with about 1/4 cup of juice reserved
4 tablespoons arrowroot
About 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling over crust (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, chilled and diced
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pie-crust dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick and place in a lightly greased pie pan, gently pressing it into the pan. Set aside in the refrigerator.
3. Heat the red currant jam, stirring until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir into the cherries, mixing together well. Combine the sugar and salt, and stir into the cherry and jam mixture to dissolve. Taste the mixture, and add more sugar if it seems too tart.
4. Combine the arrowroot with 1/2 of the reserved juice, and then blend in the remainder. Add to the cherries, and mix until well combined.
5. Pour the cherries into the prepared pie shell. Dot the butter over the filling. Place the top crust over the filling, folding the bottom edges up over the top piece of dough and then pinching together to seal. If desired, sprinkle additional sugar over the top.
6. Bake for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375°F, and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven, and set on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing. The juices will thicken as the pie cools.
Common Pie Crust
Eliza Leslie recommended familiar ingredients and techniques in her recipe for pie crust. “This paste will do for family use, when covered pies are wanted,” she wrote, and “should always be eaten fresh.”
Makes enough for one double-crust 9- or 10-inch pie
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pea-size pieces
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening, chilled
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1. Sift the flour and salt together.
2. With a pastry blender or by hand, work the butter and lard into the flour until the mixture is well combined and resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
3. Blend in about 5 tablespoons of the water, mixing until the dough comes together. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of water, if needed.
4. Divide the dough in half, and shape into disks. Wrap individually in waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 24 hours. Wrapped disks can be sealed in a plastic bag and frozen for later use.
Stephen A. McLeod is assistant to the president and CEO at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. He is editor of The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: 150 Years of Restoring George Washington’s Home.
Recipe from Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, edited by Stephen A. McLeod. Copyright © 2011 by the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association. Used by permission.