In this experimental archaeology video, we reveal how well four different 18th century techniques preserved fresh uncooked eggs before the advent of refrigeration. Watch the first part.
In this video, we meet Mara’s chickens and learn how chickens naturally lay eggs seasonally.
In the 18th century, more women began to publish cookbooks. Previously, writing or compiling such books was the domain professional cooks or chefs, who were men. Two of these women and their books, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy and Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, ended up in Betty Washington Lewis’s personal library. She no doubt referenced these two useful books as much as I have referenced them in my blog posts about cooking here, here, and here. Both Glasse and Smith were part of an innovative movement to create guide books on cooking for common people in a common language without pretense.
Hannah Glasse was born in London in 1708 and had her first book Compleat Confectioner published in 1742. Her second book The Art of Cookery was published in 1747. This book on cookery was so popular that it went through ten editions before her death in 1770. It was reissued another sixteen times after 1770, including two American editions in 1805 and 1812. The book’s commercial success did not translate to personal success for Glasse, however. Unfortunate business decisions eventually led to her declaring bankruptcy, selling the copyright to The Art of Cookery, and being sent to debtor’s jail.
Eliza Smith and her life are shrouded in mystery and, unfortunately, not much is known about her. She wrote only one book, The Compleat Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, which went through eighteen editions and became the first cook book published in Colonial America in 1742. According to her own account, what she presented in the book was from her own experience. Her recipes and tips came from a “space of thirty years and upwards during which time I have been constantly employed in fashionable and noble families.”
When these two ladies were writing in the mid-18th century, more people were residing in urban areas as part of the emerging middle and gentry classes. These new relatively or very affluent groups were desperate to keep up with fashions, manners, and lifestyle of the aristocracy.
This often meant the middle-class housewife needed assistance with how to run a household or plan multi-course meals to keep her from committing embarrassing social faux paus. The old commercial cook books were usually unhelpful since they were written by grand chefs for other cooks working in courts or mansions with large kitchen staffs. These books were filled with technical language and extravagant recipes with expensive ingredients.
New writers like Glasse and Smith became popular because they offered practical advice, common sense recipes, and organization. They wrote their books to help average middle and gentry class homes with small staffs, basic cooking equipment, and a limited budget. As Glasse stated, she wrote her book “in so full and plain a manner, that most ignorant Person, who can read, will know how to do Cookery well” She only hoped her book would “answer the ends I intend it for; which is to improve the servants, and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.” Eliza Smith had a similar goal, writing that her book would be a guide for the housewife where “the receipts [recipes] are all suitable to English constitutions…wholesome, toothsome, all practicable and easy to be performed; here are those proper for a frugal, and also for a sumptuous table.”
Indeed, both women’s recipes had simple instructions, accessible ingredients, easy and practical help with weights, measurements, and cooking times. Recipes had no French vocabulary, no complicated patisserie, and no confusing directions. They were just simple, delicious dishes any housewife could make or have servants make without formal culinary training. Eliza Smith offered over a dozen different types of stew with everything from beef to eel and her pancake and apple fritter recipes sound delicious! Hannah Glasse included over 20 different types of pies, an easy and lovely syllabub, and even the first recorded recipe for curry.
The 18th century middle or gentry class housewife and her staff, e.g. Betty and enslaved cook Rachel, could use these books to create meals that no longer consisted of just boiled meat and a vegetable. Now, they could create a range of dishes that would not be out of place on the table of a Lord or Lady. Betty could have dinners prepared for the week, plan special dishes for a party, or undertake extravagant desserts for her Christmastime table. All would delight guests who were using the same books.
The Art of Cookery and The Compleat Housewife democratized cooking, which is something Betty Washington Lewis, sister of the first American president, would have appreciated.
 Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, T. Maiden for A. Lemoine & J. Roe, 1802: pg 3
 Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, J. Rivington and Sons [and 25 others], 1788: pg 4
 Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, J. and J. Pemberton, 1739: Preface
As Christmastime approaches again, it’s time to focus attention on two more forgotten favorites from the 18th century dessert table: ribband jelly and blancmange.
Our first dessert is a simple Ribband Jelly that descends from an ancient dessert called white leach. A white leach was a milk jelly flavored with rosewater and colored with gold to create an elaborate pattern. 
Ribband jelly simply means the jelly has multi-layers of different colors. Ribband jelly was a popular dessert on the salvers of Betty Washington Lewis’s holiday table because it added some pleasing color and texture to the spread.
We will be following a modernized version of the recipe by Hannah Glasse in her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy which was in Betty’s library. Traditionally, the jelly is thickened with calves bones and Hartshorn, which is the shavings of the soft velvet from the antlers of young male deer, as well as with isinglass, which is dried swimming bladders from fish, particularly sturgeon. 
The Ribband jelly we are making sounds similar to one written about by Thomas Jefferson during his diplomatic mission to France, where he lived from 1784 to 1789. He wrote down a recipe for a nutmeg- and lemon-spiked “wine jelly” on what appears to be an 18th-century version of a cocktail napkin.
However, we will be using the more modern powdered gelatin first made available in the Victorian era.
We will stick with the original coloring agents, however, using spinach for green and cochineal (the scales of the insect Dactylopius coccus) for red.
Our second dessert, blancmange or flummery, we know was popular with Betty’s brother George during his Christmastime feasts.
Initially, flummery and blancmange were two different dishes. Blancmange was a savory dish of capon or chicken in milk and was thought ideal for the sick. Flummery was a jelly made by steeping oatmeal in water overnight and boiling the strained liquor with sugar. 
However, by the 18th century, flummery had become a synonym for blancmange, which had evolved into a sweet almond-flavored dish made with milk or cream and thickened with Hartshorn, isinglass, or, later, gelatin. 
Flummeries and blancmanges were usually made with molds to create elaborate decorative displays that served as the center piece of the party.
These traditional desserts were the forerunners of today’s Jell-O molds that grace many tables during the holidays. Perhaps this year, try a traditional jelly or blancmange, similar to the ones that graced the Washington family table and enjoy a little bit of history with your holiday feast.
 Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswives Jewell (London: 1596)
 Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.
 Moskin, Julia. “How Jell-O Molds Claimed Their Spot on the American Table.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/25/dining/jello-mold.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&fbclid=IwAR3HCrnhDlqGZtsO7F_AdZxRJ8qJwlvQ57iMMs2MCiuMUKTLbOkQGCi-bZ0
The holiday season is beginning! No matter how you celebrate the next several weeks, you’re likely spending extra time thinking about food. We archaeologists are no different, only we also want to know what the Washingtons and their enslaved laborers ate, whether at the harvest, the holiday season, or simply a regular meal. Historians know about the past because people wrote things down in diaries, letters, receipts, legal records, and other documents. Of course, not everything was written down, especially when the things as mundane as what people ate for dinner. To find out more about the diets of those living at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in the 18th century, along with research in historical documents, we also turn to archaeological analysis.
We previously published a blog post detailing floral remains excavated in 2015 from a storehouse cellar abandoned in the mid-1700s. This cellar feature contained floral remains (seeds and wood) which were analyzed by a microbotanical expert. We are currently using this information to recreate the Washington era landscape and to plant in our garden examples of what the Washingtons grew.
Historical documents, namely the probate inventory of Augustine Washington compiled in July 1743, show that the livestock owned by the Washingtons included 6 oxen, 29 cattle, 19 pigs, and 11 sheep. Rather than consume this livestock themselves, however, the Washingtons most likely raised most of these animals for market. Many of them would be butchered by enslaved workers, the meat loaded onto small ocean-going vessels ported at Fredericksburg, and then shipped to the British West Indies or even to England.
To add to the probate inventory’s livestock picture, we also explored a root cellar feature under the Washingtons’ house as well as a root cellar feature associated with a nearby enslaved laborer’s dwelling. In these cases, we hoped to determine what kinds of animals – or fauna – each group actually ate. These diets would be revealed by archeologically recovered animal remains, usually bones, called “faunal remains.” Then, we had an expert in faunal remains analyze what came out of these two root cellars.
The results for Ferry Farm were unusual compared to other 18th century sites. The Washingtons weren’t only dining on typical domestic livestock like cows and pigs, they ate a variety of wild game and in much higher amounts than expected. Results from other studies show that typical 18th century Virginia households consumed a little under 4% wild game on average. Another study of planter households in Maryland and Virginia showed faunal remains only ranging from 4-15% wild game. The percentage of wild game recovered from the Washington house root cellar was a whopping 25%.
Mammal remains recovered from the Washington family root cellar include cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, raccoon, white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, and grey squirrels. Birds that were prepared and eaten include chicken, turkey, Canada geese, mallards and other ducks, bobwhite, and the now-extinct passenger pigeon. Fish eaten include longnose gar, stripped bass or rockfish, white perch, yellow perch, and carp. Shellfish consumed include oysters and crabs. The Washingtons also ate turtles, which were 18th century delicacies.
The species recovered from the slave quarter root cellar include cow, pig, chicken, possum, four types of fish, and an unidentified bird. Beef and pork account for almost 78% of the faunal remains. What meat Ferry Farm’s enslaved people consumed came in the form of mostly beef, pig, and chicken. The relative absence of wild animals, with the exception of fish, shows that the occupants of the slave quarter did not significantly supplement their diet using hunting or trapping. No lead shot, gunflints, or fish hooks were recovered in the slave quarter, the lack of which supports this conclusion. The enslaved laborers however were providing food for themselves by raising chickens, which account for over 7% of the meat recovered in the slave dwelling.
The prevalence of wild animals being served on the Washington table may be related to the makeup of the four Washington boys: George, Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles. The youngest Washington male, Charles, left home around 1761, meaning that the Washington boys hunted, fished, and trapped for up to 23 years at Ferry Farm. Farm life meant there were also frequent opportunities requiring the dispatching of varmints. At the time, hunting and fishing were considered fun and great practice for adult gentry life. There was also an economic benefit to provisioning one’s table with game. This supplemental meat source replaced domestic animals that could be steered toward the market, increasing the profits of selling livestock and poultry.
Elyse Adams, Archaeologist
Co-Field Director / Archaeology Lab Technician
On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Park Ranger Deborah Lawton of George Washington Birthplace National Monument presented a lecture titled “Foodways in the 18th Century” that explored the new dishes and changing tastes of the time.
Join us on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 for “The Social Role of Garbage in Colonial Virginia” with Dave Muraca, Director of Archaeology at The George Washington Foundation. Dave will explore some of the aspects of colonial waste disposal and put these practices into a larger context that in turn may make modern persons question their own sense of normalcy. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit kenmore.org.
On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Archaeologist Mara Kaktins, Ceramics & Glass Specialist at The George Washington Foundation, presented a lecture titled “Drinking with the Washingtons: Archaeological Evidence of Colonial Imbibing at Ferry Farm.” Mara explored a wide variety of beverage-related artifacts from teawares to punch bowls and discussed how cups and glasses reflected efforts by Mary Washington to demonstrate the family’s economic status and refinement.
Join us on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 for “Food in the Eighteenth Century” when Deborah Lawton, Park Ranger at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, will explore the new dishes and changing tastes that marked the foodways of the eighteenth century. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit http://www.kenmore.org.
The holiday season has arrived at Historic Kenmore, bringing with it our annual display in the house of colonial wintry traditions from greenery to lovely desserts. Two years ago, I explored the mysterious origin of Betty Lewis’s hedgehog cake and even made a pretty passable replica. This year, there is another dessert on our table at Kenmore that I have been eager to talk about and even taste, syllabub.
Syllabub is no longer the favorite staple dessert it once was two hundred years ago. I decided to investigate this fluffy confection to learn its history and to attempt to recreate it. You may find that it’s worth reviving this old classic for your upcoming holiday celebrations!
One of the earliest references to this frothy treat is from a 16th century Tudor drama called Thersytes, when a character states, “You and I…muste walke to him and eate a solybubbe!” It continued to be mentioned through the 17th and 18th century in plays, poetry, art, diaries and cookbooks. From poet laureate Ben Jonson to famous diarist Samuel Pepys to pioneers in household management like Hannah Woolley, Eliza Smith, and Hannah Glasse, they all knew and appreciated this sweet treat.
Through the centuries, syllabub evolved to suit changing taste and convenience.
One of the oldest and most legendary syllabub recipes was informally known as “under the cow”. To make it, a poor dairymaid was supposed to milk a cow directly over a bowl of sugar, sack (a white fortified wine), brandy, and cider to create a “fine frothy top.” Then she was to let it sit for a few hours in a cool place. It sounds simple, rustic, and even pretty tasty. However, this recipe was more fantasy than reality and incredibly impractical. Despite being unsanitary, it doesn’t seem to work and splits the milk in a most unappetizing way.
If you don’t have a live cow, another syllabub recipe, also rather dubious, was the so-called “Poured or Teapot” approach. This method called for the maker to fill a container with milk and then, from a substantial height, pour it into a bowl of sugar, wine, cider or bandy, and a bit of lemon to create a light and frothy mixture. This could actually work, if the maker used a heavily enriched cream (similar to modern heavy whipping cream). Otherwise, it also tended to create an unpleasant curdle. 
The two former methods, if they worked, were supposed to create a syllabub that was more of a drink and that was pretty heavy on the spirits. By the 18th century, however, the “Whipt syllabub” became the most popular style of syllabub. It contained less alcohol and was used as a topping instead of as a drink. The recipe called for the whipping of cream, wine, lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes egg whites. As the froth started to develop, the maker spooned it off into a sieve and let it dry. After drying, the maker placed the little clouds of froth on top of a glass of sweet wine or jelly.
I decided to try this fourth style and used a recipe for my experiment called an “Everlasting syllabub” found on page 276 of Mrs. Eliza Smith’s cookbook The compleat housewife, or Accomplished gentlewoman’s companion, published in 1773. Betty Washington Lewis owned this book, which is listed on the 1781 probate inventory of Kenmore. Additionally, I picked this recipe because I don’t have access to a cow, didn’t want to create too much of a mess, and wanted to create a dessert rather than a liquor-infused drink.
18th century recipe
To make Lemon Syllabubs
Take a quart of cream, half a pound of sugar, a pint of white wine, the juice of two or three lemons, the peel of one grated; mix all these, and put them in an earthen pot, and milk it up as fast as you can till it is thick, then pour it in your glasses, and let them stand five or six hours; you may make them overnight.
Recipe using modern measurements and a mixer and that makes less syllabub:
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 cup white sugar
½ cup white wine or apple juice for non-alcoholic
¼ cup of lemon juice
2 tsp of grated lemon zest
Nutmeg to sprinkle on top
Whip the cream and sugar (slowly tbsp. at a time) in a bowl until the cream begins to thicken. Add white wine, lemon juice and zest and continue to whip until light and fluffy and just holds a peak. Make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and does not give the syllabub a grainy texture. Serve chilled with a dash of nutmeg or lemon zest. Makes 12 servings.
Syllabub can sit in the fridge for a few hours but you may get some separation of the wine and cream.
Everlasting syllabub creates a fluffier mousse that is great on its own or as a topping on jellies and trifles. The recipe is quite simple and requires heavy cream, white wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar. This is all beaten together until it is almost the texture of modern whipped cream. The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and it took less than 15 minutes to create and serve.
After taste-testing my refreshing treat with several colleagues, we arrived at a consensus that this indeed is a dessert that needs revived for our holiday celebrations. It is light, fluffy, and citrusy and would be a great palate cleanser after a heavy dinner or a nice change from dense baked goods. For families with children, a non-alcoholic version can be made by replacing the wine with apple juice.
Our experiment was a success and many of you may now have a new dessert gracing your holiday table, if you can keep from eating it all yourself.
 “Syllabub.” The Foods of England Project, http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/syllabuboldtype.htm.
 Day, Ivan. “Further Musings on Syllabub, or Why Not ‘Jumble it a pritie while’?” Historic Food, https://www.historicfood.com/Syllabubs%20Essay.pdf; Pepys, Samuel. “Sunday 3 August 1662.” The Diary of Samuel Pepys, https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1662/08/03/; Woolley, Hannah. The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet Stored With All Manner Of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying And Cookery. Very Pleasant And Beneficial To All Ingenious Persons Of The Female Sex. Duck Lane near West Smithfield, Richard Lowndes, 1672. J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 114; Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. London, Company of Bookfellers, 1747, pg 218.
 MacDonell, Anne. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London, Philip Lee Warner, 1910, pg 120.
 Nott, John. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion. London, C. Rivington, 1723.
 Smith, Eliza. The Complete Housewife: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion. London, J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 276.
In a post several months ago, we discussed a piece of furniture listed in Augustine Washington’s 1743 probate inventory that gave us some interesting insight into the daily life of the Washington family – the sugar box. Recently, our reproduction sugar box arrived and is now on display in the Parlor, just as the probate inventory indicated. It’s been popular among our visitors, most of whom had probably never given much thought as to how colonial Virginians used and stored sugar. It also began to raise some questions among our staff. Turns out, there’s a lot more to the story of sugar in the 18th century than we thought!
By now, most history buffs know that refined sugar was sold by 18th century merchants in the form of cones, usually called loaves, which were wrapped in bright blue paper and sealed with red wax. You can even buy souvenir sugar cones in any number of historic site gift shops. Perhaps because we’re accustomed to seeing these small souvenir sugar cones, and because we hear it reiterated time and again that refined sugar was such a precious commodity in the 18th century, we tend to think that colonial Americans kept one of these dainty cones safely under lock and key in a little chest, carefully rationing out tiny portions as needed. That notion, however, is quickly squashed when you see the sugar box in the Washington house. The interior compartments of the box – there are two of them – are quite wide, and very deep, too, measuring 14 inches deep, 14 inches long, and 11 inches wide.. If the box was intended to hold two loaves of sugar, how big were these cones?? As often happens in our line of work, one question leads to another, and sometimes you discover some interesting and little-known facts.
The Kenmore historic manuscript collection came in handy in addressing these questions. This document collection includes more shop accounts and receipts for purchased goods than any other type of document, and it was an easy task to do a quick search for records relating to the purchase of sugar.
Betty and Fielding Lewis made regular purchases of “loaf sugar,” “sugar loaves,” “white sugar,” “brown sugar,” and sometimes “brown sugar loaves.” The prices they paid ranged all over the place, probably indicating a fluctuating market or scarcity at any given time. On occasion, the account records gave size and weight information on the loaves being purchased, and they were impressive! The smallest loaf mentioned weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces. The largest? It came in at 50 pounds! Interestingly, that 50 pound sugar loaf cost £3, 15 shillings whereas the 5 pound loaf was valued at roughly 7 shillings, meaning the 5 pound loaf was worth significantly more per pound than the much larger cone. Even taking a fluctuating market into account, that’s an enormous difference. What would cause that?
The answer to both the questions of why sugar cones varied in size so much, and why their value could be so wildly different lies in how refined sugar was produced. Get ready – you had no idea this was how sugar was made! First, raw sugar from sugar cane was boiled with lime water to remove impurities (yep, lime!). The resulting liquid was mixed with egg whites, ox blood or sometimes charcoal to further purify the liquid (yep, blood!). This step produced a layer on top of the sugar liquid that was scraped off and put aside – it was known as the scum (more about this later).
The sugar liquid was then alternately re-boiled and allowed to evaporate a few times before it reached the optimal thickness, and was then left in a vat to cool. As it cooled, the liquid began to crystallize, at which point it was poured into cone-shaped molds. The pointed end of the mold had an open hole in it, but this was initially plugged with a twist of paper. Once the sugar began to harden, the paper plug was removed so remaining liquid could drain out. This liquid was also saved and set aside – it was called the bastard (more about this later too).
Sounds pretty straight forward, but that’s not the end. The process up until this point produced a more refined, light-color sugar…but it’s still not the pure, bright-white sugar that was so highly coveted. How did they get the sugar to that final state? Well, a layer of white clay slip was poured over the large end of the cone, and slowly the clay percolated down through the sugar cone, adhering to particles and pushing out any remaining molasses. This process might be repeated two or three more times to make the most valuable refined sugar. In the end, those 18th century folks who wanted the good stuff were actually ingesting quite a bit of lime and dissolved clay in their daily cup of tea. Delicious!
Anyway, once the whitening process was complete the dried cones were carefully tapped out of their molds and the hardened lump of clay that had formed at the nose of the cone was broken off, giving the sugar cone its distinctive bull-nose shape. These cones were then wrapped in blue paper, which enhanced the bright white color.
Now, back to those scums and bastards. Both of these bi-products could be recycled again and again to make increasingly inferior sugar, each batch being less refined and less white (and requiring more lime, clay and blood to make it look good). Eventually very little of either was left, and the resulting “rubbish scums” were simply thrown out. The inferior sugar liquid produced in this recycling process didn’t crystallize as easily as pure sugar liquid did, and so larger and larger cones were needed to form it. Therefore, the larger a sugar cone, the lesser the quality of its sugar. And thus, larger cones were cheaper than smaller ones. The best sugar came in cones about 5 inches tall, while merchants could acquire mid-range sugar in cones up to 3 feet tall and 14 inches in diameter. But any level of refined sugar was still a luxury. Betty and Fielding Lewis’s accounts show that when white sugar was scarce or expensive, they resorted to cheaper molasses (which was actually itself a bi-product of the bastards) to sweeten their foods.
So, now we know why the compartments in the Washingtons’ sugar box were so large. For general, daily use, they probably purchased medium-grade sugar cones at about 2 feet tall, 7 inches in diameter. One of those cones might last them for the better part of a year, assuming they could keep the bugs away and keep the sugar relatively dry in Virginia’s summer humidity (no easy task, and likely meant that they simply didn’t use sugar in the summer).
As we know from teawares recovered archaeologically [PDF], Mary Washington was an avid tea drinker and collector of fine teawares. We can also surmise that she may have invested in the occasional small cone of truly fine sugar to serve guests to her tea table in the Hall Back Room, where she did her entertaining.
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations
 Lewis, Betty in Account with John Legg, 20th January 1794. Kenmore Manuscript Collection, MS 365.
 Account, undated. Kenmore Manuscript Collection, MS 1099.
 Porter, George Richardson. The Nature and Properties of the Sugar Cane: With Practical Directions for the Improvement of Its Culture, and the Manufacture of Its Products (London: Smith, Elder, 1843), 271-273.
 Magid, Barbara H. Sugar Refining Pottery from Alexandria and Baltimore, Ceramics in America 2005, Robert Hunter, ed. (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation, 2005), 223-224.
 Silliman, Benjamin, Manual on the Cultivation of the Sugar Cane and the Fabrication and Refinement of Sugar (Washington, D.C.: Printed by Francis Preston Blair, 1833).
 David, Elizabeth. English Bread and Yeast Cookery (Middlesex: Penguin, 1977), 139.
In this video, we do some experimental archaeology and try four different techniques used to preserve fresh uncooked eggs before the advent of refrigeration.
You can also read about meat preservation techniques prior to the invention of refrigeration here.