Recipes, cooking & George Washington’s slave chef
We’ve all collected recipes. We’ve clipped them from magazines and newspapers, jotted them down from the memory of a family member or printed them from the web. At auction some months ago, I bought a group of items that included a small box of clipped and written recipes that go back to 1929.
Some of the recipes were on faded and yellowed paper, lined notebook paper and index cards. Some were handwritten and others typed. They were from magazines that no longer exist (The Gentlewoman 1929, Household Magazine 1931). But the recipes themselves were very familiar, indicating little change in what appealed to us: pumpkin pie, chestnut dressing, cornbread, biscuits, ice cream, fried chicken, chocolate cake.
There were tell-tale signs of the ones that this saver – a woman, I’m sure – went back to often: the recipes were stained with food and grease.
She seemed to also be into menus. The box contained several copies of a food column called “Three Meals A Day” from the Chicago Daily Tribune (1931) that offered daily menus:
Morning: Egg Poached in Milk on Toast, Toast, Butter, Strawberry Jam (with recipe), Coffee, Cream
Noon: Cream of Asparagus Soup, Chicken Salad Sandwich, Stuffed Olives, Milk
Night: Lamb Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Mint Jelly, Buttered Peas, Jellied Pear Salad, Roll, Butter, Boston Cream Pie, Tea.
I’m sure this woman, like me, also had her share of cookbooks. Unlike her, though, these days I go straight to Google when I want a recipe. I still have a few trusties that I go to in my black binder of clipped recipes, but I’m one for trying new dishes from the Food Network and other sites.
The recipe choices from my auction find were pretty basic, and I don’t think anyone would confuse her – or me – with being a chef. But I do enjoy the chef competitions on cable TV. And I especially enjoyed a two-part series that recently ran in my local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, about George Washington’s chef, Hercules.
Hercules was one of nine slaves in the president’s household in Philadelphia in the 1790s. He was described as one of the first great chefs of Philadelphia – a dandy of a guy whose work earned him an income, fancy clothes and the freedom to walk about the city unfettered.
Hercules escaped his life of slavery on Washington’s 65th birthday after he was transferred to the president’s Virginia plantation. Washington was afraid that Hercules was planning an escape and wanted him out of Philadelphia.
The series included several of Hercules’ period recipes, along with photos, kitchen logs and other information. Here’s also an NPR story from 2008 about Hercules and Jefferson’s enslaved cook James Hemings, a PBS video about Hercules and a video of Philadelphia chef and restaurateur Charles Staib cooking a dish from Hercules’ time.