In this video, we make switchel, a summertime beverage popular in the 1700s. Its ingredients contain a lot of potassium which replenishes the body’s electrolytes. Learn more about switchel and other methods used to say cool in the 18th century on this blog post.
The history of coffee is long and complex and can never be fully explored in a single blog post, however, because of my admiration for the caffeinated beverage I wanted to learn how the colonist utilized coffee. Fortunately, in the collections at Kenmore, we not only have a selection of 18th century coffeepots and cups but also original records for coffee purchases made by the Lewis family. These objects give us a tangible record of coffee in the colonial home but this post will also explore how the drink became popular in the colonies, how the colonials made their morning brew, and how a tax made coffee a revolutionary drink earning it the nickname “King of the American breakfast table”.
Coffee plants are flowering shrubs that produce berries which are harvested, peeled, dried, roasted, ground and, eventually, brewed to produce the cup of dark brown liquid that helps most of us get through the day.
Coffee, tea, and chocolate were introduced into North America almost simultaneously in the later part of the 1600s. By the mid-1700s, coffee and tea were becoming staple drinks for early Americans. 
The easiest way to get a cup of coffee in Colonial America was the coffee-house, which usually was a mixture of café, tavern, and inn. Coffee-houses tended to offer more than just a strong cup of java and had ale, wine, spirits, or even tea available.  Even Fredericksburg had its own coffeehouse. As local historian Paula Felder notes, “In 1751, Charles Julian of Norfolk, a baker, opened a coffee house and was granted an ordinary license. When he joined the new Masonic lodge in 1756, the meetings were held ‘at brother Julian’s’ until the lodge meetings were moved to the new Town House in 1763. The coffee house remained a prominent gathering place for many years. A ceremonial luncheon was given here in honor of George Washington in February 1784 on his first visit after the Revolutionary War.” However, coffee-houses were not always a socially acceptable place for everyone. Nor were they always the most convenient way to get that much sought after cup of java. As the desire for coffee heightened, it made its way into the homes showing up on the breakfast table, in-between meals, and after dinners.
How to Make a Colonial Cup
In the 1700s, when you purchased coffee from your local merchant it most likely was in the form of bags of green beans. The burden of turning those beans into the perfect cup of coffee was on the consumer.
The first step was roasting the green beans to a dark brown. Humphrey Broadbent, writer of The Domestick Coffee-man, explained how to properly roast the beans, “Particular Care ought to be taken in Roasting the Berries, for without doubt in that, Depends much of goodness of them Berries. I hold it best to Roast them in an Iron Vessel full of little Holes, made to turn on a Spit over a Charcoal Fire, keeping them continually Turning, and sometimes Shaking them that they do not Burn, and when they are taken out of the Vessel, spread’em on some Tin or Iron Plate ‘till the Vehemency of the Heat is Vanished.”
If you had a more primitive set up and didn’t have a roasting spit you could place them in a frying pan, known as a spider, or iron kettle in the hearth. When the beans are heated, they slowly turn yellow, release steam, expand in size, and darken. Once they begin to crackle, they are ready to be cooled.
By the early 18th century in Europe, coffee grinders were quite common and inexpensive. These grinders were based on the original spice grinder. However, in the colonies, most people used a mortar and pestle to pound the beans into a coarse powder.
There were two different methods of brewing that were popular: boiling and infusion. Broadbent helpfully explained the difference to the novice coffee drinker who wished to become a connoisseur.
“The common way of making this Liquor, is, to put an Ounce of Powder, to a Quart of Water and so let it Boil till the Head is Boyled down; but this is a very silly way…if Coffee be but very little too much Boiled it is Spoiled, and grows either Flat or Sour, but if by long Custom you will not part from your Boiling, let it not Boil above a Minute.”
Broadbent much preferred infusion, stating “Put the Quantity of Powder you intend, into your pot then pour Boiling-Hot Water upon the aforsaid Powder, and let if stand to infuse Five Minutes before the Fire.”
To get that lovely cup of coffee in the 1700s, you just needed to purchase the beans, roast them, grind them, and then boil them.
As the drinking of coffee moved from the coffee-house to people’s homes, a group of tableware became associated with the drink. Central to this tableware was the coffeepot and cups. One of the earliest representations of these items is found in a 1674 woodcut showing an English coffeehouse where men are drinking from porcelain cups without handles and coffee is being served from a metal or earthenware jug. Later, a print from 1710 shows coffeepots with a long straight spout and small annular porcelain bowls cups. Initially, these coffees pots and cups looked quite similar to the ones used to serve tea but, over time, they began to differ in appearance to what we today would recognize as two distinct serving sets.
The prevailing but inconclusive theory as to why the two pots changed shape is that the countries of origin of each drink played a part in the style of the tablewares. Essentially, coffeepots and cups resembled those used in Arabic coffee houses while tea pots and tea cups resembled those used in Chinese tea rituals.
We know how colonial Americans made coffee and how they drank coffee but how did coffee become a revolutionary drink that Americans, who were once English, came to prefer over tea, Britain’s national drink? The answer, in a word, is taxes. The Tea Act of 1773 was created by the British government to bailout the financially troubled East India Company (EIC).  The government told the Company that they could ship tea directly to the colonies, duty-free. The EIC would get rid of loads of tea that was piling up in their London storerooms. Colonists would get tea that was cheaper than the illegal stuff smuggled in. Everyone should have been happy. But everyone wasn’t. The tea the Company was selling to the colonists would still be taxed under the Townshend Acts. If the colonists purchased it, they would be indirectly accepting Parliament’s right of taxation without representation.
Tea became an emblem of British oppression and a boycott of the drink became a revolutionary act. Rejecting British culture, patriotic associations gave less than hospitable “tea parties” in Boston and Yorktown for merchants who continued to sell the politically incorrect brew. Whether politicians or housewives, Americans up and down the colonies joined the boycott and vowed to never serve tea in their homes.
As John Adams wrote to his wife, “Tea must be universally renounced and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better.” However, the colonists still needed their caffeine and coffee stepped up to do its patriotic duty. Consumption of coffee soared and played a small role in the creation of a new American identity. More than a drink, it became a sign of independence and unity in the midst of revolution and upheaval.
Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution. Oxford: University Press, 2004
Broadbent, Humphery. The Domestick Coffee-Man, Shewing The True Way of Preparing and Making of Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea. London, 1722
Clark, F. (2009) Chocolate and other Colonial Beverages, in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (eds L. E. Grivetti and H.-Y. Shapiro), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA
Felder, Paula. “George Washington’s Fredericksburg: The Fredericksburg Scene in 1755,” Map in the Free Lance-Star, July 3, 2004.
Goodwin, Mary. “The Coffee House Historical Report, Block 17, Building 34: The Coffee-House of the 17th and 18th Centuries,” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series – 0050 (1956): http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/View/index.cfm?doc=ResearchReports%5CRR0050.xml#p12
Jamieson, Ross W. “The Essence of Commodification: Caffeine Dependencies in Early Modern World.” Journal of Social History, Vol 35, No2 (2001): 269-294
Regelski, Christina, “The Revolution of American Drinking,” http://ushistoryscene.com/article/american-drinking/
Root, Waverly et al., Eating in America (New York: Ecco, 1981)
Smith, Andrew F., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America 2nd edition (Oxford University Press, 2013, p 266
Ukers, William H. All About Coffee. England: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1922
Ukers, W.H. “The Early Preparation of Coffee.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol 2 (1919): 353-356
Witkowski, Terrence H. “Colonial Consumers in Revolt: Buyer Values and Behavior during Nonimportation Movement, 1764-1776,”Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 16, No. 2 (Sep., 1989), pp. 216-226
 Ukers, 107
 Ibid, 133
 Ibid, 105
 Felder, GW’s Fredericksburg; Ukers, 689
 Broadbent, p 8-9
 Ukers, “Early Preparation of Coffee”, 354
 Ukers, 695
 Broadbent, p 11
 Broadbent, p 11
 Jamieson, 285
 Ukers, 602; Jamieson, 285
 Breen, T.H. pg 298-301
 Ibid, pg 235-239
 Clark, p 276
 Root, p 127
 Smith, p 266
 Witkowski, p 218
Fads come and go. Such is life. Eighteenth century colonists were not immune to flash-in-the-pan trends. However, given that information traveled a bit slower before the digital age, in the 18th century a ‘quick trend’ may have lasted 10 or 20 years, instead of 10 or 20 months. Such is the case with ‘vegetable ware’, a refined earthenware molded to look like produce. Imagine being the envy of all your colonial neighbors if you served them tea out of an elaborate ceramic cauliflower, pineapple, melon, or cabbage. As evidenced by the archaeological record, Mary Washington, George’ mother, was similarly taken with the prospect of displaying her very own veggie-themed teaware.
The advent of vegetable ware seems to coincide with the development of bright green and yellow pottery glazes by a young and upcoming potter named Josiah Wedgwood in 1760. He used these new flashy glazes for a number of applications, including coloring teaware molded to resemble produce. While some combinations of ceramics and decorations had previously enjoyed decades or even centuries of popularity in the past, the demand for the initially popular vegetable ware seemed to drop off after only ten years, around 1770. At that time, Wedgewood indicated he was glad to send a shipment of overstocked vegetable ware to the colonies – a popular dumping ground for out of fashion or slightly damaged English goods.
Mary seemed to prefer the pineapple form and owned at least one item, if not more, of this fruit-shaped tea equipage. Her preference for the tropical fruit design was not unique. In the 18th century, the pineapple was an incredibly sought after luxury item loaded with symbolism. Today, many of us, especially along the East Coast, associate the pineapple with welcoming guests into our home and as a decoration for the holidays. Colonial Americans considered it a Christian symbol as well as a display of status. They readily incorporated it into the architecture of their houses, decorated room interiors with the motif, and served food and beverages out of pineapple-shaped objects. These were all cheaper options than displaying an actual pineapple, which was well outside the price range of the average colonial American. In fact, there are accounts of people actually renting a real pineapple for a party rather than purchasing one outright. Rented fruit! Let that sink in for a second.
Returning to Mary’s ceramic pineapple, which is represented archaeologically by a dozen or so sherds. It is almost certainly some type of tea equipage, although we are not exactly
sure which tea vessel it may be. The pineapple color and texture are unmistakable but we’ve yet to identify the specific object. A number of forms have been ruled out. It is not a tea or coffee pot because it appears to be relatively squat with a straight or very gently sloping body and a wide rim. What’s especially odd about this particular vegetable ware vessel is that the rim is unglazed. This would seem to suggest that it sported a lid of some kind or perhaps endured a defect during firing. Hopefully more of the vessel will come to light, we’ll be able to answer the question, and proudly display pineapple teaware in the newly recreated Washington house!
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist
For the past year or so my focus here at George Washington’s Ferry Farm has been determining what types of ceramics were owned by the Washington family. Once we have this information we want to acquire accurate examples to place in the reconstructed house for all to see. From door hardware to teacups, most of the details of the house will be informed by archaeology or historic documents. If a visitor asks “Why do you have these plates on the table?”, we can say “That’s an excellent question! Because we’ve dug up pieces of it right over here!” Our most recent focus has been on the white salt glazed stonewares, which have been featured in previous blog posts. In this post, we talk about fragments that have been identified as a patch stand and a porringer.
First of all, identifying whole vessels from tiny sherds involves a lot of research. This is made all the more difficult when you’re working with a ware-type such as white salt glazed that is defined by its plain white color. So, it’s always a thrilling moment when you’re paging through a huge book with a tiny but distinctive fragment of pottery in your hand and you manage to spot the fragment’s whole object.
My most recent ‘Eureka!’ moment involved both a patch stand and a porringer. You’ve likely never heard these terms but you may own modern day equivalents. A patch stand is a teapot stand, designed to elevate a teapot, arguably the most important object in a tea set, above the other tea wares. It also serves the practical purpose of keeping the hot pot off of the table surface.
At Ferry Farm, archaeologists found four small fragments from just such a patch stand. The fragments all have evidence of ‘piercing’ or the cutting out of wet clay before it was fired to form a pattern. The pattern created through piercing also promoted air circulation under the stand. Patch stands are not common in the archaeological record so we’re very happy to have identified the sherds. Now we’ll be able to furnish the new Washington house replica with a patch stand.
The other vessel is a porringer. Although kind of a weird name, porringers were really handy and ubiquitous in every colonial household. A porringer was simply a bowl with a handle for eating soups, porridges, stews, and the like. You may have some equivalent in your house, like those oversized coffee mugs you can also use to eat soup or cereal.
Stay tuned and keep your eyes out for a sweet patch stand and a nifty porringer once the Washington house is finished!
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist
During the holidays, it’s the curatorial team’s job to festoon Historic Kenmore in period-appropriate holiday swag to celebrate the Christmas season. Greenery is brought in to cheer up the rooms and a table of special desserts is laid out as if ready for Christmas guests. These sweet treats are a pretty traditional fare but one particular dessert garners far more attention and questions than the others: the hedgehog sitting at the center of the table.
“What is it?” and “Why a hedgehog?” are heard from visitors again and again. I decided to investigate to see if I could find out how and why this spiny confection graced Betty Lewis’s table during the holidays. Unfortunately, my research raised more questions than answers and ultimately lead me to an interesting but ambiguous conclusion based mainly on my own conjecture.
First, I have often heard the hedgehog referred to as a “cake” but it is not a cake. It is made out of marzipan; a sweet created using sugar or honey and ground almonds. Marzipan can be flavored, contain fruit and nuts, or even covered in chocolate …the possibilities are endless! It is often shaped into miniature fruits, vegetables, or animals and colored with dyes. The confection is usually eaten on special days or for special events.
No one knows for sure where marzipan was first created but it likely originated in the Middle East around the ninth-century. It made its way to Europe through trade and immigration. Each country personalized the candy by adding its own unique ingredients and traditions.
Regardless of which country has the honor of creating this particular delicious dessert, it became quite popular. Recipes for marzipan began to show up in various cookbooks dating from the sixteenth century onward. The two books most important to my investigation were The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith published in 1727 and Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy published in 1747. We know Betty owned both of these books because they are listed in the 1781 probate inventory. 
In Mrs. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, the chapter “All Sorts of Cakes” includes a recipe for ‘march-pane’ which is an old English word for marzipan. The recipe is a traditional non-baked marzipan that includes ground almond, refined sugar and orange-flower water for flavoring.  Twenty years after Mrs. Smith published her book, Mrs. Glasse published The Art of Cookery and, by this time, the hedgehog had made its debut. The Art of Cookery does not list marzipan specifically but in chapter sixteen titled “Cheesecakes, creams, jellies, whipt syllabubs” there is a recipe “To make a hedge-hog”. This is a cooked marzipan recipe that instructs the baker to form the almond paste into the shape of a hedge-hog with little slivered almond spines.
How did the hedgehog become associated with this almond dessert? The short answer is I’m not sure. I researched hedgehogs trying to discover any relation to the holiday season, to winter, or to the New Year. I was unable to find any.
Hedgehogs are native to England, where both cookbooks were published, but not to the Americas. Colonial Americans would likely never have seen a hedgehog. There is not a lot of positive symbolism or folklore associated with the little creatures besides being industrious and cute. They have been used medicinally for a variety of ailments and were a food source in many cultures. None of this provides a reason why these little creatures were immortalized in almond meal and sugar at Christmas.
I think the most likely development of this holiday treat was a combination of coincidence and novelty. Someone made the marzipan for the holidays,shaped it into a dome, and then decorated it with almonds. Eventually maybe someone else thought this resembled a hedgehog and added a little hedgehog face because it was clever and cute.
Why would Betty choose a marzipan hedgehog to sit on her holiday dessert table in colonial Virginia? As previously noted, marzipan was an established treat used to celebrate special days. The cost of the ingredients, which included two pounds of almonds, orange-flower water, canary wine, cream, butter and sugar, was substantial and illustrated to guests the effort and expense the family lavished on the party. While the table would probably have smaller bite-sized marzipan pieces in the more traditional fruit shapes, the novel hedgehog with the slivered almond spines created a visually appealing and attention-grabbing dish. The Christmas hedgehog was a great conversation starter then! The Christmas hedgehog is a great conversation starter now!
 Habeeb Salloum, Muna Salloum, and Leila Salloum, Sweet Delights from A Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets, (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2013), 168: Sidney W. Mintz, “Color, Taste and Purity: Some Speculations on the Meanings of Marzipan”, Etnofoor, Jaarg. 4, Nr.1 (1991): 103-108.
 Fielding Lewis Probate Inventory, 1781
 Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswifes Jewell (London: John Wolfe, 1587), 23; Thomas Dawson, The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin. (London: Richard Jones, 1594), 37b.
 Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, (Williamsburg: William Parks, 1742), 73.
 Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (London: A. Millar and R. Tonson, 1765), 288.
 Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Mammals of the Holy Land (Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1996), 63.
 Jacqueline Simpson and Stephen Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Tatjana Civjan and Dainius Razauskas, “Hedgehog in Cosmogonic and Etiological Legends of the Balto-Balcanic Area,” Tautosakos darbai, no. XXI (2004): 79-91.
 Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Mammals of the Holy Land (Texas: Texas Tech University Press, 1996), 64; Vincent Nijman and Daniel Bergin, “Trade in Hedgehogs in Morocco,” Journal of Threatened Taxa, (2015): 7132-7136.
Typically, when modern Americans think of summer barbecue food, they think of meat grilled over an open flame. While that would certainly appeal to an eighteenth century audience, it is not necessarily what they considered ‘typical’ summer fare. Large livestock like pigs and cattle were usually slaughtered and butchered in the late fall/early winter when the weather was far more conducive to task. This meant that large roasts (like mentioned in our earlier blog) were not the norm in the warmer months. Instead, people of the 18th century looked to the seasonality of ingredients to inspire their summer time fare.
Eighteenth century diets were very dependent on the growing seasons. Summer was a bounty of fruits, vegetables, greens, herbs, and anything else that could not be had in the dead of winter. Much like today, there were a variety of methods, styles, and recipes used to please the numerous palates.
With today’s weekend farmers markets and roadside stands, a salad seems the ubiquitous summer option. But what would our forefathers have thought of raw vegetables tossed in oil and vinegar? They certainly had all of the elements available to them but their tastes were different than ours. After all, we still have oysters and ice cream but most of us no longer enjoy oyster ice cream.
While the oldest references to salad come from ancient Rome (usually referred to as sallet) it was not ubiquitous in English summer cuisine. While there are some references in cookbooks and menus of the time that called for ‘salad herbs’ like lettuce and spinach to be served raw, most of their English recipes called for cooking the vegetables in some way.
The modern stereotype of English cooking insists that greens be boiled until no real flavor or texture remains. And while many of 18th century recipes for vegetables include boiling (and some for quite some time) there is also this warning in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.
There was a clear appreciation for fresh vegetables even if they were prepared in some manner. An appreciation that extended into George Washington’s own household. One recipe included in Martha Washington’s cookbook was for a ‘Lettis Tart’ which called for ‘cabbage lettis’ and prunes to be put in a crust with cinnamon and ginger and then baked like a pie.
In addition to recipes calling for fresh fruits and vegetables, early Americans were very familiar with numerous preservation methods in order to enjoy vegetables and fruit out of season. In the summer they would pickle vegetables, dry herbs, and make preserves with fruits so they could enjoy them all year long.
In September 1784, George Washington traveled west of the Allegany Mountains. He recorded some of his supplies in his diary and includeed a canteen filled with ‘Chery Bounce’. This was a drink made from cherries preserved in brandy and was a way for Washington to take the taste of Virginia summer with him on his travels.
This summer when you are contemplating your patriotic picnic options for your July Fourth festivities, don’t pass up the greener options. They have far more in common with the summer options of our founding fathers than you may have originally believed.
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services
In this video, we talk about how people, including George Washington, picnicked in the 18th century and take a closer look at one particular piece of furniture used while on a picnic 200 years ago.
You can read more about picnicking customs of the 1700s here.