Collectors’ Day 2021 Food

Browse by Category

November 13, 2021
Theme: George Washington Remembered: An Enduring Legacy in American Decorative Arts


Mini Christmas Pies
Contains turkey, beef bacon, beef suet, bread, butter, eggs, lemon, fish sauce, sweet herbs, nutmeg, potatoes, cranberry jelly

Christmas Pies at Washington’s Mount Vernon

In November 1786, David Humphreys, an aide to General Washington, sent his regrets to the Washingtons that he would not be able to spend Christmas at Mount Vernon. In his letter, Humphreys wrote that he was sorry to miss “the felicity of eating Christmas Pie at Mount Vernon.” In his response, George Washington wrote that he was sorry Humphreys was absent and therefore not able to “aid in the attack of Christmas Pyes. . . on which all the company. . .  were hardly able to make an impression.”

The type of Christmas pie served at Mount Vernon was a type of raised pie made famous in Yorkshire, England. In form, these pies were not unusual at all. Typically, a pie shell made from strong and durable hot water pastry too tough to be eaten was filled with layers of game meat, minced game and/or veal made into meatballs, bacon, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, truffles, morel mushrooms, and other luxurious ingredients. These pies were lavishly decorated with pastry cut-outs, especially for special occasions such as Christmas. Clarified butter or bone stock that jellies when cool was poured into a hole in the pie crust lid to seal up the air pockets after baking. When large versions of these pies were served, the contents were scooped out and served without the pastry. Here is a description of an extremely large pie reported on in a 1770 British newspaper:

[It] was nine feet in circumference at bottom, weighed about twelve stone [168 pounds], and will take two men to present it at table. It was neatly fitted with a case, and four wheels to facilitate its use to every guest that inclines to partake of its contents at table.

While the ingredients of the pie served for Christmas in 1786 at Mount Vernon are not known, it was no doubt an impressive in terms of both its size and status.


Mini Martha Washington Great Cakes

Contains flour, butter, sugar, eggs, sherry, peach brandy, zante currants, raisins, dried cherries, , nutmeg, mace, jelly, almond paste, and sugar paste.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake is one of the most challenging but rewarding historic cakes to make. It is challenging because of its great size (hence the name) and rewarding because it is a fruitcake with lots of moisture and taste. The recipe for this cake was written down by Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis and reads as follows:

Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Martha Washington’s Great Cakes is a typical early British cake because it is a fruitcake. The first cakes were raised with ale yeast or barm and were therefore more akin to sweet breads than spongy light cakes. Accordingly, most of Martha Washington’s cake recipes do include barm, but this recipe unusually does not. The only way to add lightness to this cake is to separate each of the 40 required eggs, beat the whites to a froth, and then gently fold them into the batter.

In addition to assorted dried fruits such as Zante currants, raisins, and dried cherries, among others, eighteenth century cakes contained an assortment of bold flavors such as rosewater, orange flower water, brandy, sherry and other wines, spices, ambergris, musk, and sweetmeats such as candied lemon, orange, or citron. This recipe is no different as it contains mace, nutmeg, sherry, and peach brandy. In addition, these cakes were usually covered in almond paste or marzipan and iced with royal icing or sugar paste.


Cherry Bounce

Contain cherries, sugar, rum, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg

George Washington’s diary reveals that in September 1784 he packed liquid provisions in the form of cherry bounce, port, and Madeira wine for a trip west. It was often safer to drink alcoholic beverages when traveling for fear of drinking water from unknown sources. A bounce was a drink made with a mixture of brandy and sweetened cherry juice, and the earliest reference to it dates to 1693 in W. Robertson’s Phraseologia Generalis in which the drink cherrybouncer was described as a mingled drink. Notably, later versions of cherry bounce often contain whiskey or rum.

Martha Washington’s papers include a recipe for cherry bounce written in an unknown hand on paper with George Washington’s personal watermark. This recipe is made with classic brandy and the flavor is enhanced with spices.


To Make Excellent Cherry Bounce

Extract the juice of 20 pounds well ripend morrella cherrys Add to this 10 quarts of old french brandy and sweeten it with white sugar to your taste–To 5 Gallons of this mixture add one ounce

of spice such as cinnamon, cloves and Nutmegs of each an Equal quantity slightly bruisd and a pint and half of cherry kirnels that have been gently broken in a mortar–After the liquor has fermented let it stand close-stoped for a month or six weeks then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.


Modern Recipe Adaptations:

Modern Recipe Adaptation #1: Cherry Bounce

Ingredients Per 1 Quart Jar:

  • 1 pound cherries (any variety you can find but sour are best)
  • 1 cup simple syrup
  • 1 cup brandy, whiskey or rum


  1. Wash the cherries and remove the stems. Pierce each cherry several times with a paring knife or skewer.
  2. Place the cherries in the quart jar.
  3. Pour the simple syrup and spirit of choice into the jar. Use a mashing fork or a spoon and mash the cherries enough to allow some of the cherry juices to seep out. Cover the jar and shake to mix up the sugar.
  4. Place the covered jar(s) in a sunny spot in a place where you will see them every day. Shake the jars every few hours during the first 24 hours to distribute the sugar; you may even invert the jars during the first 24 hours to make sure the sugar gets evenly distributed. Shake every day for one whole week.
  5. After one week in the sun, place the jar(s) in a dark place and allow them to age for at least another three months. I let mine age for five months.
  6. After the aging process is complete, drain the cherries from the liquor. You can drink the bounce straight or cut it with water, or you can add it to your favorite cocktail. You can use the cherries as a topping for ice cream, whipped cream, jelly, cake, etc. But be aware that the cherries still contain their pits.

Modern Recipe Adaptation #2: Cherry Bounce

A quick and easy way to make cherry bounce is to mix together 1 cup simple syrup, 1½

cups tart cherry juice, and 1 cup brandy. Refrigerate until ready to use.




Posted on Nov 12, 2021 in , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve, for public education and enjoyment, the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts.
Scroll to Top