One of the most treasured gifts Martha Washington received after her first marriage (to Daniel Custis) was her mother-in-law’s cookbook. (You can see pictures of the original book at that link.) Now, Martha never knew her mother-in-law, Frances Custis, because the poor woman had died years before. However, this book contained a collection of recipes for everything a wife and house mistress would need to make. From simple medicines (aka simples) to breakfast cakes and side dishes and meats to desserts (aka sweet meats).
I think of this compilation as one woman’s private collection of tried and trusted recipes. I know that when I married my husband, whenever I talked with his mother about cooking or indeed shared a delicious meal, we inevitably exchanged recipes. Or tips and tricks for cooking and baking and preparing a tasty meal. In particular the ones my husband liked the most. For my own mother’s part, she’d been teaching me how to cook from the time I was old enough to handle a mixing bowl. I’m glad I paid attention while she was alive as she died a couple years after I married my hubby. Having all those years to observe and ask questions makes a huge difference in being able to interpret and adjust recipes. It’s how we learn and grow when we’re starting out. Or at least, that’s how I did!
I recently found myself thinking how some of my most cherished memories are related to experiences with food and beverages. My dad was a certified bartender (I still have his certificate!) and created his own recipe for a “Solomon Manhattan” which I have in my recipe box in his handwriting. Additionally I cherish the handwritten recipes passed down to me by my grandmother, great aunt, mother and my mother-in-law. I’ve prepared them many times and some I’ve revised to suit our evolving tastes. When my son and daughter went on the French-American Back-to-Back exchange program in middle school, we prepared a booklet of our family’s favorite recipes to send to their host families in France. So some of our go-to recipes have been shared in France as well.
When I saw that it had been transcribed and annotated I quickly ordered my own copy. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats is on its way to my home where I intend to try many of the recipes. I’m always on the lookout for simple, straightforward recipes with healthy ingredients. Not that I expect every recipe in the book will be healthy, but I will tinker with the ingredients and processes to make them so. I’ve tried out many 18th-century recipes in years past and have blogged about them, so I imagine I’ll continue that tradition once the new cookbook arrives. I’m also looking forward to learning more about what the cooking methods were then and how they’ve evolved into today’s technology and techniques since the editor kindly annotated the cookbook.
You may be wondering why this topic is so important to me. Is it because I enjoy cooking? Sort of. Is it because I love research? Yes. But more importantly, when I wrote both my A More Perfect Union historical romances and Becoming Lady Washington, both set in the 18th century, I endeavored to depict the cooking methods as they existed then. To do that, I had to delve into the way foods were cooked using which devices and methods.
I also made sure to include only foods I could verify were available in that time period and location(s). Availability was impacted by growing season, climate, and inflation during the American Revolution. Some foods I had assumed would be eaten didn’t even exist in America until centuries later (such as zucchini), so it was a good thing I did my research!
Outside of telling a meaningful and entertaining story, I strive to make my stories authentic and accurate to the historical reality. I may not be perfect with that regard; in fact I imagine I probably missed correcting some words that weren’t actually used during the time period of my stories. But I have done my utmost to tell a good, authentic, accurate story.
Becoming Lady Washington is available in hardback, paperback, and digital formats for preorder now. It will publish on June 2 in honor of Martha’s 289th birthday.
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!
Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Available for preorders now! Releases June 2, 2020…
Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.