Friday, June 25, 2010

A Virginia Barbecue

John M. Duncan (1795?–1825)
From American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes

Barbecues and picnics—activities that today bring people together in parks and parking lots, in backyards and back lots—were regarded as a regional Virginia curiosity by John Duncan, a Scottish visitor to the United States in 1818. But, as food writer Molly O’Neill points out in her preface to our latest Story of the Week, Duncan’s assumption was not quite accurate: barbecues had already spread across the young nation and would be ubiquitous by mid-century.

Duncan arrived at Mount Vernon as a guest of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington (the first President’s nephew and the current owner of the estate). The first impression was a mix of awe and reverence:
You look round upon scenery which Washington often contemplated; you tread the turf over which he walked; you see the gardens in which he amused himself; the trees which he planted; the house, the rooms, the chair which he occupied; and the humble vault which he himself chose for the repose of his dust.
Yet, because the money for upkeep was in short supply, Mount Vernon was showing signs of decline:
The flower garden and greenhouse have nearly gone to decay; the tea-house on the bank of the river is almost in ruins. . . . Even the door of the vault is to all appearance so crazy that I think a kick would go far to knock it to pieces.
From Mount Vernon, Washington and Duncan went to the “rural fĂȘte” and, in this selection, he describes a daytime Barbecue at which slaves (“servants”) handled the “various processes of sylvan cookery” while “thirty ladies and somewhere about an hundred gentlemen” gave up the afternoon to eating, drinking, and dancing.

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After having spent an hour or two at Mount Vernon, Judge Washington politely invited us to accompany him to a Barbecue, which was to take place in the afternoon close by the road to Alexandria. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

Plus: See Thomas Jefferson's recipe for ice cream (PDF, also from American Food Writing)

These selections may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.