“Dining with the Wash­ingtons” edited by Stephen A. McLeod. COLLEGIAN | Caramel Kookogey

The first pea soup I ever ate was George Washington’s pea soup. I’ve never had much of a taste for anyone else’s.

On one of mul­tiple summer road trips to Vir­ginia, my family toured Mount Vernon, the beau­tiful his­toric home of the first American pres­ident George Wash­ington. Rather unsur­pris­ingly, when perusing the gift shop, I asked my dad to buy “Dining with the Wash­ingtons,” a cookbook edited by Stephen A. McLeod and pub­lished by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Asso­ci­ation in 2011.

The cookbook, com­posed of recipes the Wash­ingtons either used or were likely to have used, boasts not only his­tor­i­cally accurate recipes, but also stories about the guests who dined with the Wash­ingtons, what dishes would tra­di­tionally be served together, and what a Wash­ington tablescape would have looked like.

Many of Washington’s family recipes come from “The Art of Cookery,” which was first pub­lished in 1747, or “The Ladies Com­panion,” from 1753 — but though Martha Wash­ington was familiar with them, she fol­lowed only a few of the recipes to the letter, filling her own man­u­script cookbook which she would later pass to her grand­daughter Nelly Custis, and which the authors con­sulted heavily in putting together the cookbook.

The book ded­i­cates a whole section to the workings of the Mount Vernon kitchen, too, which sprang to life at 4:30 each morning, and of which Martha Wash­ington was an essential part, though she did not do all her own cooking.

George Washington’s pea soup is so much more than the modern dish of lumpy, green-grey slop that most people envision when they hear the words “pea soup.” It’s vibrant green, chock full of mint and spinach, and gar­nished with fresh yellow cal­endula petals, also known as “pot marigolds.” The tangy bite of mace weaves between the fresh veg­etables and marries with butter and onions in each sweet, clean bite.

(The recipe is orig­i­nally French, where peas were sown in boxes in order to be ready in early spring, and is a repro­duction of a classic Potage St. Germain.)

Fric­asseed chicken is another classic we still eat today, though we’ve sim­plified it. Similar to a white wine chicken, fric­asseed chicken is stewed in a broth mixture that includes mar­joram, thyme, nutmeg and dry white wine. The leftover chicken liquids are then thickened with butter, flour, cream, and — very care­fully, so that they don’t curdle — whisked eggs. The result is a rich and creamy chicken dish with a lemon-pepper flavor that lingers on the tongue.

The idea of eating the same foods the American founders ate is felic­itous to say the least. It’s one of the things that make food such a per­vasive medium: though recipes are recreated mul­tiple times throughout each era, one bite of “Ragoo of Asparagus” trans­ports you back 250 years in an instant.

And cooking with these old recipes, it’s hard to miss how little has actually changed in those two and a half cen­turies: at the end of the day, we all still love apple pie, even if our methods of making it are dif­ferent.

“Apple pie seems to have been a favorite of George Wash­ington,” the book editors note. “In an August 1779 letter from West Point inviting friends to dine with him, he noted that they might be treated to an apple pie. ‘[The cook] has had the sur­prising luck to dis­cover that apples will make pyes,’ the general wrote.”

But what makes the Mount Vernon recipes so classic is not just their age, or even the American her­itage they rep­resent. Each are fla­vorful recipes in their own right, and create deli­cious food for any era. Like the tra­di­tional values espoused by our founding doc­u­ments, good food tran­scends time period. What was good for them is still — serendip­i­tously — good today.