5 o'Clock Tea with Anne Barone

A tranquil spot, a cup of tea, a book, and something to nibble. Afternoon tea is my favorite time of day. Please join me for Thé de 5 Heures.

book cover Joseph J. Ellis biography of George Washington (left) Martha Washington's cake (right)A George Washington Tea

The 2018 mid-term elections seem a good time to look back to the founding of the USA. For the past several weeks my tea reading has been a biography of America's first president George Washington.

à lire / to read

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

A century after Washington’s presidency, another American president Theodore Roosevelt reminded us that: In the nation, as in the individual, in the long run, it is character that counts. Joseph Ellis shows us how George Washington’s character helped define the character of the new nation he served — and how that character guided him in putting the United States on a foundation for success.

Ellis begins in the Colonial period with Washington, a young professional soldier in the French and Indian Wars. The story continues as Washington leaves the military and marries “the wealthiest widow in Virginia.” Washington begins his life as master of Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation inherited from his half-brother, and takes on the management of his wife and step children’s plantations. When, a decade and a half later, the colonies decide to declare their independence from Britain, Washington is the obvious choice for commander in chief. He answers the call to lead the Continental Army in the War for American Independence.

With a generous amount of French assistance, after a long struggle, the war is won. The newly independent Americans, opposed to any sort of monarchial system for their new government, chose Washington for their first president. Not only was he the foremost war hero, but he was, additionally, an attractive choice because he had no children — even his stepchildren were dead by the time the Revolutionary War ended. Unlikely Washington would found a dynasty.

Washington would have preferred to remain a private citizen. His ambitious plans for his properties had been interrupted by his war service. Furthermore, he believed the new country’s destiny rested in westward expansion. He had plans for organizing new settlements on lands he had acquired for his service in the French and Indian Wars.

Yet Washington realized that his personal ambitions could not be achieved unless the new nation succeeded. Success required a federal government strong enough to make the new system work and give the economic independence the colonists had fought for. As president, he would be in a position to put the new nation on a strong foundation.

Washington had a difficult eight years serving his two terms as president. If you think fake news and the slandering of political opponents is bad today, the schemes and intrigues of Washington’s political opponents were equally bad — lor worse.

Also interesting to note that, in the early days of the American republic, candidates did not participate in their campaigns for elected office. If a person even expressed an interest in serving in a particular office, it was considered evidence that he was unworthy of that office. The nomination and election had to come totally from the efforts of others.

Ellis’s writing is lively and informative. One odd feature, however, about this book: George Washington’s wife Martha is only rarely mentioned. True, Martha burned all the correspondence with her husband after his death, but surely there were other sources of information.

Washington’s relationship about which we find more information is his relationship with Lafayette, the 19-year-old French nobleman who arrived from France to help the Americans fight for independence, and with whom Washington developed a father-son relationship.

thé du jour / today’s tea

Gunpowder Green Tea. Since so much of the book focuses on Washington as a soldier, I have been drinking a gunpowder green tea for my Washington teas. The dense, green tea leaves are rolled into tiny pellets. This gunpowder green I bought a few months ago has a much more oaky taste than previous gunpowder teas I have drunk. For this Superior Gunpowder from The English Tea Store, I discard a first 45-second steeping. It’s just too harsh for an afternoon tea. A second steeping of about 2 minutes is what I drink. And, as with many gunpowder green teas, I get a third steeping.

le casse-croûte / the snack

Martha Washington's Great Cake. The obvious choice for a pastry to accompany a George Washington tea is the cake for which his wife Martha is remembered, her “great cake,” also often referred to as her “excellent cake.” Though I assure you I chose something less labor-intensive to prepare for my George Washington teas.

The original recipe for Martha’s cake calls for 40 eggs, 5 pounds of flour, 4 pounds each of butter and sugar and some 5 pounds of unspecified fruits.

You can access a Chicago Tribune article in which they present a simplified (and smaller) version of Martha Washington’s cake created by Walter Staib, chef of City Tavern in Philadelphia

Martha Washington's Cake Recipe (simplified)

image: book cover Joseph J. Ellis biography of Geroge Washington (left) Martha Washington's cake courtesty Chicago Tribune (right)

Other 5 o'Clock Teas with Anne Barone

A Cotterstock Hall Tea

A Woman in Black Tea

A Margaret's Hope Tea

A French Tea

A Margaret's Hope Tea