The Missouri Reader Vol. 43, Issue 2 - Page 11



David L. HarrisonFor the Fun of It


How Songs and Poems Help Your Children Learn to Read

Eric Litwin

In this first section, I want the readers to picture the sights and smells of Philadelphia:

On the days Hercules left the residence, the sights he took in weren’t like anything he would have seen at Mount Vernon. In Philadelphia, there were all kinds of entertainment, public buildings, taverns, inns, and stores filled with all manner of goods. The city streets were full of people, including foreign dignitaries, wealthy aristocrats, poor people, white abolitionists, and free black people.

In the president’s house, where Washington’s enslaved people worked alongside paid white servants, Sam Fraunces was the steward and manager of the kitchen. Hercules was the chief cook. According to G.W.P. Custis, Hercules was “as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States.”

Philadelphia was the new capital city of the United States, but it was also the culinary capital of America. Cooks from Europe arrived, bringing with them their own distinct talents. The smell of cinnamon was in the air as German bakers turned out sticky buns. Chefs from France who had fled the French Revolution offered sweet pastries and ice cream. Poor black street vendors from the Caribbean cooked and sold ladles full of pepper pot soup, a hot and spicy dish with the flavors of the islands.

The harbor bustled with ships arriving with their cargo of foods like limes, coconuts, bananas, plantains, guavas, and pineapples. Spices from the West Indies, raisins from the Canary Islands, and olives and Gruyère cheese from France were unloaded in Philadelphia. Some ships sold massive green turtles—some as large as seventy pounds—which were used to make a local favorite, turtle soup. Locally grown and imported foods were for sale at the High Street Market, an impressive covered market less than two blocks from the president’s house.

Here I want readers to picture the frantic activity of the kitchen as Hercules works:

Every Thursday night, members of Congress came to dinner at the president’s house. The amount of food Hercules and the kitchen staff cooked was enormous. One week they prepared and served 293 pounds of beef, 111 pounds of veal, 54 pounds of mutton, 129 pounds of lamb, 16 pounds of pork, 44 chickens, 22 pigeons, 4 ducks, 10 lobsters, 98 pounds of butter, and 32 dozen eggs—plus lots of vegetables, fruits, cheeses, drinks, and desserts.

Hercules was at the very top of his game as he prepared the weekly state dinner. He barked orders to his staff