Where is it Located
About the Kitchen
The kitchen was used to prepare all meals served to George and Martha Washington and their many guests. Cooking in Mount Vernon’s kitchen was hot, smoky, demanding, and skilled work. Enslaved cooks like Doll, Hercules, Nathan, and Lucy, arose at four each morning to light the fire in the oven and prepare for the meals to be served in the Mansion. Their duties could continue well into the evening. The Washingtons placed great trust in their cooks, whose talent was evident in visitors’ descriptions of sumptuous meals.
Under Martha Washington’s supervision, cooks planned menus and selected ingredients for each day’s meals. Enslaved laborers on the estate grew and harvested most of the Washingtons’ food: wheat and corn from the fields, fresh vegetables from the garden, fruit from the orchards, fish caught in the Potomac, and smoked ham from hogs raised on site. Imported luxuries like tea, coffee, chocolate, olives, oranges, and wine supplemented homegrown ingredients.
Their role in the kitchen allowed enslaved cooks to shape the tastes of the household—and the region. Many iconic southern dishes bear the influence of West African cuisine, from stews like gumbo to ingredients like okra, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and collard greens.
The placement of the kitchen at Mount Vernon was dictated by a series of functional, social, and environmental factors. The concern for safety from potential fires, the desire to avoid kitchen heat, and the need to avoid the smell of food cooking in the household were of significant importance. In addition, there was a desire to separate domestic functions from the main house in order to reinforce the segregation of enslaved workers' activities from those of the planter family.
A kitchen based on these guidelines was constructed at Mount Vernon before 1753 and was replaced in 1775. The expansion and redesign at Mount Vernon began just before Washington left to command American forces outside of Boston in May 1775. The new kitchen was larger and more architecturally detailed than the original, matching the Mansion in many aspects. Most notably, the siding boards on the facade facing the circle were beveled and sanded to create the appearance of stone blocks. Covered walkways called colonnades were built to connect each of the new structures to the Mansion. Workers carrying food back and forth between the kitchen and the Mansion did so along this protected passageway.
The updated kitchen included three workrooms on the first floor and a loft above. From the documentary record, we know the loft served as a residence at different times for Eleanor Forbes (a hired housekeeper) and John Fairfax (a hired overseer). The largest of the three workrooms included a fireplace and an attached oven. The other workrooms were a scullery where food was prepared and dishes were washed and a larder with a subterranean cooling floor to store food. According to the inventory of the kitchen completed after George Washington's death, the kitchen contained a wide variety of cooking equipment, including pots and pans, skillets, a griddle, a toaster, a boiler, spits, chafing dishes, tin and pewter "Ice Cream Pots," coffeepots, and strainers.