Pulling from Martha Washington’s own recipe box, as well as other traditional 18th-century sources such as Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, this cook book presents some 90 historic recipes, adapted for the modern cook by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump. The recipes are complimented with information exploring the menus, diet, and styles of entertaining enjoyed by those dining with the Washingtons at Mount Vernon. Included are all sorts of classic dishes, from hoe cakes and dressed crab to syllabub and cherry pie. And if Martha’s famous Great Cake isn’t enough to tempt you, perhaps the gorgeously-styled photographs of food and interiors will.
When I decided to write about this book, I asked the editor Stephen MacLeod if he would allow me to include a recipe to whet your appetite. And he graciously agreed. These stewed pears (pictured above left) are a simple, but elegant compliment to any holiday meal. Enjoy. . . and Happy Thanksgiving!
The title of this Hannah Glasse recipe may confuse modern readers. Her directions specify baked, not stewed, pears, although they are to be baked in red wine or port if the recipe below is followed. Glasse noted, however, that the fruit “will [also] be very good with water in the place of wine.” As an alternative to baking, she suggested stewing the pears in a saucepan set over a low fire, using the same ingredients. Serves 6 to 8.
6 to 8 large ripe pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 whole cloves
1 cup red wine or port
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Arrange the pears in a single layer in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the lemon zest and sugar over the pear halves, and place the whole cloves in the dish. Pour the wine (or port) over the pears.
3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the fruit can be easily pierced with a skewer or paring knife, basting occasionally with the liquid. The pears should be tender but not soft enough to break into pieces.
4. Remove the pears from the oven, and set aside to cool completely in the baking dish before serving.
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Food styled by Lisa Cherkasky and photography by Renee Comet (all images courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association).