On February 22, 1732, “The Father of Our Country” was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Well, actually, not…. Washington’s birthday occurred on February the 11th according to the Julian Calendar, which was still in use at the time of Washington’s birth. The Gregorian Calendar (intended to reflect a solar year more accurately) was introduced in 1752, at which time February 11th “became” February 22nd.
When his father died in 1743, young George was sent to live with relatives first at Ferry Farm and later at Mt. Vernon, the estate of his elder half-brother Lawrence. The first president of the United States was self-educated, privately tutored, and homeschooled by his father and his brother Lawrence for eight years. This constituted his “formal” schooling. But what he lacked in formal education he made up for in ambition, and took it upon himself to engage in a program of “self-improvement.”
A county surveyor and colonial activist, he later became a delegate to the Continental Congress and was commissioned as Commander-in-Chief of revolutionary America’s armed forces. George Washington was elected President of the United States in 1789 and re-elected in 1792. His expanded remarks, after taking the oath of office, set a precedent for future presidential inaugural addresses. His voluntary departure from office sent shock waves around the world, and also set an even more important precedent.
How to celebrate this man’s birthday? You might start with some peanut soup, a favorite of the Virginians. The Colonial Williamsburg website offers this recipe:
Cream of Peanut Soup
King’s Arms Tavern
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
8 cups Chicken Stock (or low-salt canned chicken stock)
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 ¾ cups light cream or half-and-half
Finely chopped salted peanuts, for garnish
In a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened, three-five minutes.
Stir in flour and cook two minutes longer.
Pour in the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the sauce pan or pot.
Whisk the peanut butter and the cream into the liquid. Warm over low heat, whisking often, for about five minutes. Do not boil.
Serve warm, garnished with the chopped peanuts.
Well, let’s say you’re having a BIG party to celebrate Washington’s birthday. Go for broke! Make Martha Washington’s “Great Cake” (one of her favorite recipes). Mount Vernon’s website offers the recipe:
Martha Washington’s Great Cake
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.
Notes on making Martha Washington’s Great Cake:
In making the great 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 pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, two 14 layers were made and stacked (note: the original was one single tall layer). The layers were baked in a 350 degree oven for 1.5 hours. Should be iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.