New Series: Menu of the Week


“The table not only abundantly, but handsomely provided; good soups, flesh, fish, and vegetables, well cooked-dessert and excellent wines of various kinds…”
                         -Charles J. Ingersoll, “A Visit to Mr. Madison at Montpelier,” May 2, 1836.


From April through October, guests to Montpelier have the opportunity to visit three experiential venues around the site: the Gilmore Cabin—a freedman’s farm, the Hands-On Tool Tent, and the Demonstration Kitchen Tent.  The focus of this post, and future posts, will be to highlight a selection of Madison-era recipes prepared in our Kitchen Tent. 

When James Madison returned to Montpelier with his new bride Dolley in 1797 a 30-foot addition was added onto the original home his father constructed, essentially turning this new structure into a duplex.  The construction lasted from 1797-1800.  In addition to this new wing, a detached kitchen was built in the north yard to serve the new couple.    It is in this approximate location that we have established our Kitchen Tent. 

The Recipes
Unfortunately, there is no extant Madison family recipe book so we must turn to other primary source material for a window into what food was being served at Montpelier.  Letters and diaries from family members, friends, and visitors provide us with accounts of specific meals and food served at Montpelier.  As for the actual recipes that are prepared at our Kitchen Tent we use a variety of period cookbooks to reflect what might have been prepared by Madison’s enslaved cooks and served in the Dining Room.   One cookbook that we rely upon is Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook.  Not only is this a period recipe book, but Mary Randolph personally sent a copy to Madison:

“I did not offer you a copy of the first edition of my Cookery book because it was exceedingly defective. The second is more correct and I have the pleasure of asking you to accept one. I shall be much flattered to know that you think it not intirely [sic] without merit” 

                -Mary Randolph to James Madison, March 17, 1825

To what extent Mary Randolph’s book was used is unknown to us, but we do know a copy was floating around somewhere at Montpelier. 

Menu of the Week
From now until the end of our cooking season—which runs through October—we will be posting a “Menu of the Week” here on the Montpelier blog.  The menu will typically have a main dish, several side dishes, and a dessert.  Each recipe we use in our Kitchen Tent is prepared over an open fire with period cookware including pots, kettles, Dutch ovens, spider skillets, and a host of other implements that may—or may not—be familiar to the modern cook.  Likewise, when you look over the individual recipes you’ll immediately notice some differences when compared to our modern cookbooks such as the measurement of ingredients or the size and shape of the item you're making up: "make them up into balls the size and shape of a turkey’s egg."  Give them a try and see how they turn out in your modern kitchen!

Check back weekly to find out the “Menu of the Week,” and other Montpelier food related topics.

Visit Us!
Come to Montpelier and visit our Demonstration Kitchen Tent and talk with our interpreters about period foodways, the enslaved cooks who prepared these meals, the Madisons and the Montpelier plantation.  Our Kitchen Tent will be open Thursdays-Sundays 10:00am-4:00pm through August 31st, and Saturdays & Sundays  10:00am-4:00pm September 1st- October 31st.  



The first menu:


Put into a stewpan a little butter and flour; add mushrooms, parsley, and shallots cut small, dilute these with equal quantities of stock, and red or white wine. When the sauce is well boiled, skim it; cut a roasted fowl in pieces, and put it into this sauce; stew it gently for a quarter of an hour. Add some gherkins cut in thin slices.

Source: The Cook’s Own Book: Being a Complete Culinary Encyclopedia. By a Boston Housekeeper (Mrs. NKM Lee), 1832.

“The vegetable kingdom affords no food more wholesome, more easily procured, easily prepared, or less expensive, than the potato…” –William Kitchiner

POTATO PIE—(No. 115).

Peel and slice your potatoes very thin into a pie-dish; between each layer of potatoes put a little chopped onion (three quarters of an ounce of onion is sufficient for a pound of potatoes); between each layer sprinkle a little pepper and salt; put in a little water, and cut about two ounces of fresh butter into little bits, and lay them on the top; cover it close with puff paste.  It will take about an hour and a half to bake it.

Source:  The Cook’s Oracle; and Housekeeper’s Manual. By William Kitchiner, M.D., 1830.


A coffee cup full of boiled and strained carrots, five eggs, sugar and butter of each two ounces, cinnamon and rose water to your taste, bake in a deep dish without paste, one hour.

Source: The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery.  Author unknown, published in Watertown, NY 1831.


Six whites of eggs.
Six large table-spoonfuls of jelly
A pint of cream

Put the jelly and white of egg into a pan, and beat it together with a whisk, till it becomes a stiff froth, and stands alone.

Have ready the cream, in a broad shallow dish.  Just before you send it to the table, pile up the froth in the centre of the cream.

Source: Seventy-Fife Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. By a Lady of Philadelphia (Eliza Leslie), 1828.










Fire pit at the Kitchen Tent



















Chicken Capilotade

Potato Pie-- (No. 115).


No. 88. Carrot Pudding


Floating Island


Kyle M. Stetz