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Martha Washington's Kitchen

Date: November 5, 2012
Place: Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, Mount Vernon, VA
Interview: Susan Schoelwer, Curator

In this episode, we visit Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. They’re currently displaying a “Cooking with Martha Washington” exhibit.

Susan Schoelwer, Curator: I deal with all of the collections that are presented in the mansion, things owned by George and Martha Washington.

The really exciting core of this exhibit is a group of artifacts that we know were actually used here in the kitchen at the Mount Vernon by, well not George and Martha Washington themselves, because not even Martha Washington probably didn’t do that much actual cooking in the kitchen, but by their kitchen slaves and the labor force in the kitchen.

And that ranges everywhere from very ordinary stuff like a wooden bowl, in which you can still see sort of the marks of a chopping knife and you can imagine vegetables being chopped there. Or a marble mortar and pestle that would’ve been used to grind the grain or herbs. We also have, for example, a heart shaped waffle iron that came down from a Mount Vernon kitchen, which is a really fun specialty item.

One of those is Martha Washington’s Preserving Kettle, which is a big copper basin, looks to us like a wok. But is was used for making jams and jellies from the fruits that grew in the gardens and the orchards here at Mount Vernon.

They had extensive gardens here at Mount Vernon. They grew everything from things like peas and beans to strawberries, apples, pears, cherries. And you have to remember that things like artichokes, cauliflower, broccoli were considered kind of exotic vegetables in the 18th century.

So that was sort of a mark of status that you could grow and serve things like that. So she was very involved in what was being planted in the garden, when it was going to be harvested, when it’s ready to be brought into the table, how it’s going to be served. I mean, that was what we called Martha’s domain.

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