A military hero, Founding Father, and first president of the United States, George Washington holds a unique place in American history. During his tenure as president, Washington spent time in the nation's early capitals - first New York City, then Philadelphia - and at his Mount Vernon estate. Everywhere he went, Washington dined on similar fare; he was a self-professed man of simple tastes.
America's first president enjoyed a mix of foods that spoke to his upbringing and environs. While he may be one of the most influential people of all time, Washington's favorite foods were pretty straightforward. Whether he was dining with political colleagues or family members, the president's meals reflected his personal preferences as much as his appreciation for moderation and tradition. Washington wasn't opposed to trying new things, especially when they alleviated his dental problems, and he didn't shy away from some of the finer things in life.
When it comes to favorite presidential foods, George Washington always made sure to have his cake - with some ice cream on the side - and eat it, too.
Washington Had An Affinity For Madeira Wine
One of Washington's favorite things to imbibe was Madeira wine, a fortified wine named for the Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa. Washington was said to have sipped wine during and after dinner.
After the Portuguese established a colony in the Madeira Islands in the 15th century, demand for its goods spread quickly through Europe. By the mid-18th century, Washington was quite taken with the wine, writing to wine merchants, "I should be obliged to you for sending me a Butt (of about One hundred and fifty Gall'ns) of your choicest Madeira Wine." He requested "cuttings of the Madeira Grape," perhaps in hopes of growing the vines himself.
As president, he continued to import the wine, although he noted its expense. In 1794, Washington wrote:
The duty upon Madeira wine makes it one of the most expensive liquors that is now used, while my stock of it is small, and old wine (of which that is) is not to be had upon any terms... I had rather you provide claret, or other wine on which the duty is not so high, than to use my Madeira, unless it be on very extraordinary occasions.
Washington Enjoyed Eating Fish Whenever He Had The Chance
One of Washington's favorite foods was fish - something his steward, Samuel Fraunces, knew very well. Washington's stepgrandson, George Washington Parke Custis, said the president "ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond."
Luckily for Washington, fishing on the Potomac River afforded him access to herring, shad, and bass. One of Washington's enslaved persons, known as Father Jack, regularly fished the Potomac from a canoe to catch dinner for the president.
Fish was served in a variety of ways in the Washington household. Roasted and boiled fish were common dinner foods. Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, a cookbook attributed to the First Lady, includes recipes for roasted carp, boiled trout, fried sole, and carp pie.
The Washingtons Bought Food And Drink From Around The World
George and Martha Washington purchased food and drink from local and international sources, reflecting both their European heritage and colonial lifestyle. Washington imported Madeira wine but bought American-made beer. Philadelphia brewer Robert Hare, Jr., supplied Washington with his favorite porter until his brewery was ended by fire.
The Washingtons ate fish from local waters, fruits and nuts from Mount Vernon, and other foods with a decidedly American flavor, such as hoecakes. Ice cream, on the other hand, mixed international influences and local foodstuffs. The French dish brought together local milk and fruit with imported sugar and salt.
Washington also imported a lot of coffee, bringing in as much as 150 pounds of beans in one month in 1799. According to his ledgers, he imported coffee from Yemen and Surinam. When it came to imports from England, the Washingtons enjoyed cheese - most notably double Gloucester, the president's favorite - mustard, and walnuts. They also imported Spanish pimentos, Mexican chocolate, French olives and brandy, and fruits and spices from India, the Mediterranean, and the West Indies.
He May Not Have Chopped Down A Cherry Tree, But Washington Probably Liked Cherry Pie
The story of Washington and the cherry tree highlights the man's honesty and morality, but it is most likely nothing more than a myth. That said, Washington seems to have liked cherries. The fruit was a common feature at Mount Vernon, where cherry trees dotted the landscape. Recipes in Martha's family cookbook include cherry pie, pickled cherries, and a drink known as cherry bounce.
Cherry bounce was a brandy-based drink made with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and, of course, cherries. After the cherries were pitted and cut into pieces, they were mashed to extract the juice. Once strained, the juice was mixed with brandy and sugar and set aside for 24 hours. A portion of the mixture was then brought to a boil and seasoned to taste with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Simmered and strained again, the seasoned portion was mixed back in with the rest of the concoction and left to sit for two weeks.