In food Washington took what came with philosophy. "If you meet with
collegiate fare, it will be unmanly to complain," he told his grandson,
though he once complained in camp that "we are debarred from the pleasure
of good living; which, Sir, (I dare say with me you will concur,) to one
who has always been used to it, must go somewhat hard to be confined to a
little salt provision and water." Usually, however, poor fare was taken as
a matter of course. "When we came to Supper," he said in his journal of
1748, "there was neither a Cloth upon ye Table nor a Knife to eat with but
as good luck would have it we had Knives of our own," and again he wrote,
"we pull'd out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves every one was
his own Cook our Spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as
for Dishes we had none." Nor was he squeamish about what he ate. In the
voyage to Barbadoes he several times ate dolphin; he notes that the bread
was almost "eaten up by Weavel & Maggots," and became quite enthusiastic
over some "very fine Bristol tripe" and "a fine Irish Ling & Potatoes."
But all this may have been due to the proverbial sea appetite.
Samuel Stearns states that Washington "breakfasts about seven o'clock on
three small Indian hoe-cakes, and as many dishes of tea," and Custis
relates that "Indian cakes, honey, and tea formed this temperate repast."
These two writers tell us that at dinner "he ate heartily, but was not
particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was
excessively fond. He partook sparingly of dessert, drank a home-made
beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine" (Custis), and
that "he dines, commonly on a single dish, and drinks from half a
pint to a pint of Madeira wine. This, with one small glass of punch, a
draught of beer, and two dishes of tea (which he takes half an hour before
sun-setting) constitutes his whole sustenance till the next day."
(Stearns.) Ashbel Green relates that at the state banquets during the
Presidency Washington "generally dined on one single dish, and that of a
very simple kind. If offered something either in the first or second
course which was very rich, his usual reply was—'That is too good for
me.'" It is worth noting that he religiously observed the fasts proclaimed
in 1774 and 1777, going without food the entire day.
A special liking is mentioned above. In 1782 Richard Varick wrote to a
friend, "General Washington dines with me to-morrow; he is exceedingly fond
of salt fish; I have some coming up, & tho' it will be here in a few days,
it will not be here in time—If you could conveniently lend me as much
fish as would serve a pretty large company to-morrow (at least for one
Dish), it will oblige me, and shall in a very few days be returned in as
good Dun Fish as ever you see. Excuse this freedom, and it will add to the
favor. Could you not prevail upon somebody to catch some Trout for me
early to-morrow morning?" When procurable, salt codfish was Washington's
regular Sunday dinner.
A second liking was honey. His ledger several times mentions purchases of
this, and in 1789 his sister wrote him, "when I last had the Pleasure of
seeing you I observ'd your fondness for Honey; I have got a large Pot of
very fine in the comb, which I shall send by the first opportunity." Among
his purchases "sugar candy" is several times mentioned, but this may have
been for children, and not for himself. He was a frequent buyer of fruit
of all kinds and of melons.
He was very fond of nuts, buying hazelnuts and shellbarks by the barrel,
and he wrote his overseer in 1792 to "tell house Frank I expect he will
lay up a more plenteous store of the black common walnuts than he usually
does." The Prince de Broglie states that "at dessert he eats an enormous
quantity of nuts, and when the conversation is entertaining he keeps
eating through a couple of hours, from time to time giving sundry healths,
according to the English and American custom. It is what they call