Walking through the Mansion feels like a snapshot into the daily life of the Washingtons. Mount Vernon's Collections team changes the setup in each room seasonally to recreate the way Mount Vernon's guests would have seen it in the 1790s. Earlier this month, the staff again changed the scenarios in the dining room, butler's pantry, kitchen, and slave quarters to reflect the beginning of autumn.
The Dining Room
The dining room table is set for a typical family gathering with a meal appropriate for the season: boiled beef, oysters, and late season vegetables. Many eighteenth-century meals began with ale, beer, or cider, so ale glasses are also set on the table. Clear faceted-stem wineglasses with smaller bowls stand ready on the nearby side table for use with claret and Madeira during subsequent courses.
In the Butler's Pantry, a soup tureen and plates have been removed from the dinner taking place in the dining room. The dishes will be cleaned in the pantry and placed back on the shelves.
From spring to early fall, the enslaved cooks and hired housekeepers preserved fruits and vegetables to use throughout the year. In The Art of Cookery, Hannah Glasse offered simple instructions for pickling all sorts of fruits and vegetables, including cauliflower, in vinegar seasoned with mace and nutmeg. An alternate method “To Keep French Beans all the Year” was to layer the “young Beans” with salt in stoneware jars. These pickled and potted vegetables could be used in sauces, stewed with meat, and served on their own as side dishes.
Food in the men’s bunk room focuses on the rations Washington allotted to his slaves and the methods they used to supplement these rations. A basket near the first bunk holds a selection of seasonal vegetables. Pumpkins, winter squash, cabbages, onions, potatoes, and collard greens have replaced the early spring lettuce and peas. Fresh produce could have been gathered from a slave’s garden (or “truck patch”) or come from a relative on an outlying farm.