Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas with the Washingtons

I found the most wonderful little book in a used bookshop in Annapolis (Back Creek Books). I stop in any time I am in town along with Evergreen Antiques, but I digress. The book I found is called, Christmas with the Washingtons, Being a Special Account of Traditional Rites observed in Virginia and Historic Yuletides of one First Family, the Washingtons of Mt. Vernon by Olive Bailey, The Dietz Press, Inc., Richmond, VA, 1948.

Normally I am skeptical of earlier works not being accurate; however, this little gem is full of such wonderful antidotes, stories, and one reason why I am writing this post - a Christmas Egg Nog receipt. I know that many of the stories are true from my own research while writing my book, A Book of Cookery, by a Lady, and Ms. Bailey sources many of what she writes.

After reading Bailey's work, I was truly impressed and so glad that I found the book. It was in the window just staring at me! What is also really wonderful is Worth Bailey illustrated the book and BOTH signed it. I wish I had had it while writing my own book.

It looks like she took the original receipt and says, "reduced the stilted terms of an age less ample, all the fundamentals of his recipe abide in the following ingredients:"

"Christmas Egg-nog
1 quart milk
1 quart cream
1 dozen eggs
1 dozen tablespoons sugar
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/4 pint Jamaica or New England rum
1/4 pin sherry

Mix liquor first. Separate yolks and whites of eggs. Add sugar to beaten yolks. Mix well. Add liquor mixture, drop by drop at first, slowly beating. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place several days. Taste frequently."

To verify that this receipt was really Washington's, I checked a few of my sources to verify that it is at least credible. Ms. Bailey's other writings in this book can be traced, including the "Great Cake" receipt.  She further details Martha Washington's manuscript cook books and the Christmas holiday menus which included "capon stuffed with oysters, her roast veal stuffed with herb dressing; her pies, rich with various meats and savoury with herbs grown and cured on the place..."  

I looked in several other books, including Martha Washington's Book of Cookery by Karen Hess, Dining with the Washington's edited by Stephen A. McLeod, and even an original copy of The Martha Washington Cook Book by Marie Kimball - to find the original Egg Nog receipt NOTHING.

Ms. Hess clearly details all the receipts in Martha's manuscripts, including histories, and the closest thing I come to is "To make Shrub."  Looking into the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress yields nothing as well, even though the on-line Farmer's Almanac says that it was taken from Washington's own hand.

So I am thinking it was not called "Egg Nog?"  I decided to ask "Mr. Google" for references to it.  I know Ms. Bailey won't let me down.  I finally found an article written called Following Rum through the Colonial World by Drew M. Fedorka, dated August 21, 2013.  He mentions eggnog as a popular drink and references another book - but nothing points to the Washingtons.  I also found information in Travels Through the States of North America and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the years 1795, 1796, and 1797, by Isaac Weld, Junior, 1800 where he wrote: "The American travellers, before they pursued their journey, took a hearty draught each, according to custom, of egg-nog, a mixture composed of new milk, eggs, rum, and sugar, beat up together;..."  So, it was an Egg Nog.

I think this requires a request in to Mount Vernon to verify the drink.  Now to go back to the original cookery books as well to find the receipt to compare it and find the original!

~ ADDENDUM Since Posting - I have been in touch with George Washington's Mount Vernon. I am told that Mrs. Bailey was the wife of the first curator of Mount Vernon AND the first Director of Woodlawn - Mr. Bailey who illustrated this book with his woodcuts.  They have not been able to find the Egg Nog receipt.  

I must say that Mrs. Bailey would NOT have put something in this book that wasn't true.  I do not think her husband would have allowed her to put in a fabrication.  So, I am on a quest.  It would be wonderful to find this handwritten receipt within either Washington's papers or in a search.  If anyone knows of where that is, please contact me at ~