Stepping into George Washington’s shoes, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and other young people experienced life without apps, engines and appliances on Presidents’ Day. They joined more than 100 visitors of all ages in “Celebrating George” and his influence at Tudor Place, along with the chance to see Washington items of special significance on view just this one day each year. (The wider “Window on Washington” featuring displays of many Washington artifacts remains on view through March.)
Guests were met in the Conservatory with colorful baked goods made from period recipes, including Codling Apple Tarts, Hyson’s Green Tea, and Martha Washington’s own Great Cake (recipe follows this post).
Every child was invited to complete a scavenger hunt through the grounds, and its completion earned them small prizes. Our camera followed one set of scouts and families who, clipboards in hand, headed off after treats were finished for a little adventure.
Natural sunlight beaming through the windows lighted their way throughout the house as they searched for clues. First, they were introduced to appliances that residents used before the conveniences of electricity. They considered the absence of microwaves and freezers in the Peter family’s 1914 kitchen.
Scavenger hunters learned how, even in the absence of motorized tools, domestic workers pulled off elaborate dinners for the estate’s constant stream of guests and residents. In the absence of modern appliances, they recognized pots and pans and stoves, considering the different ways they were used before electricity changed household routines.
Moving into other areas of the house, boys and girls alike were fascinated with the network of bells and wires throughout the house that used to summon servants. As they explored the house, they searched for the cords in each room.
Students drew and discussed the visual angles in various works of art before drawing profiles of George Washington, which they then cut out and placed on elegant white backgrounds. To further adorn their images, Peter taught them about differences in fonts, uses of capital letters, and the origin of serif lettering.
Crossing back through the garden, the Pierce-Arrow Garage came next, where guests learned from “Martha Washington” herself how to have still more fun without electricity. She began with a lesson in dancing, explaining that Georgian-era style valued balance and symmetry.
Martha Washington’s Great Cake
tweaked for the modern kitchen by curators at Mount Vernon
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.
modern adaptationsIn making Martha Washington’s famed cake, Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff followed Mrs. Washington’s recipe almost exactly. Where the recipe called for 5 pounds of fruit, without specifying which ones, 2 pounds of raisins, 1 pound of currants, and 2 pounds of apples were used. The wine used was cream sherry. Since no one pan would hold so much batter, it was divided into two 14-inch layers, which were then stacked. (The cake in its original form would have been a single tall layer). These layers were baked in a 350-degree oven for 1.5 hours and iced with a very stiff egg-white-based icing flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.