Commerce has turned the Father of Our Country into a White Sale. While other people's birthdays are celebrated with cakes and party snappers, merchants have put George Washington's to work selling sheets and shoes. It no longer even falls on his proper natal day.
Today is the day to say Happy 250th Birthday, George. And the proper way to celebrate is the way our Founding Father would have chosen himself -- with a party. Even while throwing off the yoke of our British oppressors, George still found time to be a perfect host.
Two years after the Franco-American alliance and the harshness of Valley Forge, a French observer described a meal Washington served to our French allies:
"The repast was in the English fashion, consisting of 8 or 10 large dishes of butcher's meat and poultry, with vegetables of several sorts, followed by a second course of pastry, comprised under the denominations of pies and puddings. After this, the cloth was taken off, and apples and a great quantity of nuts were served, which General Washington usually continues eating for two hours, toasting and conversing all the time. These nuts are small and dry, and have so hard a shell (hickory nuts) that they can only be broken by the hammer; they are served half open, and the company are never done picking and eating them..."
Later, when the nation's capital was in Philadelphia, George and Martha were hosts to regular Tuesday and Thursday gatherings, where Martha served up a lavish array of "chicken frykasies, beef pyes, piggs, fowles," lamb roasts, blancmanges, trifles, syllabubs, and cakes made with as many as 20 eggs and 2 pounds each of butter and sugar. Among their kitchen equipment could be found an early ice-cream maker.
Later still, when the president himself was beginning to show a preference for simple meals and early bedtimes, he and his wife nevertheless maintained the hospitable tradition, giving dinners and hunt breakfasts where the board did indeed groan, though on one of the latter occasions less than it might, since Washington's favorite hound, Vulcan, made off with one of the hams.
So successful were George and Martha at entertaining that two cakes survive in the cookbooks to honor them: Mount Vernon Pound Cake (a paltry thing calling for only 12 eggs, unlike the Philadelphia extravaganza) and George Washington Cake, the recipe for which comes from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery:
"Rub two Cups of Butter and two Cups of Sugar to a light Cream. Beat four Egg Yolks very light with one Cup of Sugar and stir together.Sift together four Cups of Flour, one Teaspoon of Mace, two Tablespoons of Baking Powder, and add alternately with one Cup of Milk. Stir in one Cup of Raisins, one half Cup of Currants and one fourth Cup of finely-cut Citron. Fold in the well-beaten Whites. Bake in square shallow Pan in moderate Oven about one Hour; when cold ice with white Icing."