Historic Kenmore was associated with gingerbread for decades. Many people’s first memories of Kenmore involve the square of gingerbread and a cup of tea that used to be served at the end of every tour. The dessert welcomed visitors to the world of colonial Fredericksburg, it comforted soldiers on their way to war in Europe or the Pacific, and, most important of all, it helped save the historic house itself.
The ladies of the Kenmore Association, which owned and operated the historic home in the 20th century, took on a great challenge when they accepted stewardship of Kenmore. Raising the money to purchase the house was not the only obstacle they faced. They also needed funds to restore and staff the house. Unfortunately, the ladies drive to save Kenmore coincided with the Great Depression and the Second World War. Led by Annie Fleming Smith or “Miss Annie,” the ladies triumphed, kept Kenmore running, and even used the grounds to assist Fredericksburg in the war effort. They did all this with their indomitable drive and patriotism and with a little help from gingerbread.
The beneficial partnership between gingerbread and Kenmore began in the early 1930s when the Dromedary Cake Mix Company launched a nationwide search for gingerbread recipes new and old. In the search, Mary Washington’s personal recipe was found in a cookbook owned by the Washington-Lewis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was tried and well-liked. The firm approached the chapter about producing the recipe as one of their mixes. Because the Washington-Lewis Chapter worked closely with the Kenmore Association in saving, restoring, and caring for Kenmore, Miss Annie and the ladies, being astute business women, brokered a deal with the company to benefit the historic home.
The arrangement allowed Dromedary to produce gingerbread mixes based on Mary Washington’s recipe. In exchange, the Kenmore Association got all the gingerbread they could serve to visitors. The company also donated mixes to be sold by the Association and various DAR chapters for 25 cents a box. The Association got half of the money realized from these sales minus the shipping costs. This agreement, in the end, earned the Kenmore Association over $38,000 – a hefty sum in the mid-20th century – and provided countless visitors with a yummy Washington family treat.
In 1941, the United States entered World War II. Fredericksburg became a hub of activity with thousands of soldiers stationed at the A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Bowling Green visiting town to get a break from military life.
The Association’s ladies knew that Kenmore, with its historical and patriotic legacy, had a unique opportunity to welcome soldiers who would be fighting for the country and ideals that the Lewis and Washington families helped create. So, they threw open the gates, set out the picnic tables, and recruited local women to put on their colonial best and greet the men of the United States military. At the heart of this hospitality was iced tea and Mary Washington’s gingerbread.
During the war years, Kenmore hosted over 60,000 soldiers making sure each one was fed and knew his service was greatly cherished. The ladies of the Washington-Lewis DAR even took time to write each serviceman’s mother, wife, or sweetheart about their loved ones.
The humble gingerbread recipe from Mary Washington’s cookbook gave Kenmore a perfect tangible link to its colonial past and bright future. The gingerbread that resulted assisted the ladies in their community outreach, their historic preservation, and their national patriotic duty. It was a sign of nostalgia, of hospitality, and most of all appreciation.
Today, when you tour Kenmore, our guides will happily take you through the reconstructed colonial kitchen that functioned as the Kenmore Association’s tea room. Regrettably, gingerbread and tea are no longer served to visitors because we do not have a fully-functioning kitchen. Gingerbread mixes and teas specifically created for The George Washington Foundation are available for purchase by anyone who might wish to relive their first taste of Kenmore’s famed gingerbread.