Next week, George and Martha Washington are inviting Alexandrians to join celebrations of the general’s birthday by attending one of this year’s Birthnight Balls.
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is sponsoring a banquet and ball in honor of the first president on Saturday, Feb. 15. The next night, the Neighborhood Friends of Mt. Vernon will sponsor a supper and ball at the Mt. Vernon Inn.
Both evenings include a feast of colonial fare, country line dancing, a Madeira toast and the cutting of the birthday cake, all traditions directly extracted from records of birthday celebrations during Washington’s time.
Often, Washington invited his guests to join him at Gadsby’s Tavern, a favorite of the general’s. This year’s celebration will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a reception, at which Washington will greeted his guests, listen to toasts drunk to his health and watch a dance demonstration. Afterwards, guests will repair to the Legion ballroom at Gadsby’s for dinner.
“JUST A FEW years ago, we moved the dinner to the ballroom so that we could serve guests family-style, which is much more in keeping with the way the banquet would have been served in the 1700s,” said Paul Garver, assistant director of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. “Guests will sit at long tables and will interact with the re-enactors who will be scattered among them. We want it to be as much like it was in colonial times as possible.”
That includes the food. The first course of Albemarle pea soup will be accompanied by crocks of pickled vegetables and Sally Lunn muffins. This will be followed by a course of smoked venison and chilled rhotekraut. The “sallade” course will be a fine mixture of field greens.
After sallade come veal sweetbreads in pastry and Madeira sauce. The main course will be baked cod with she-crab gravy, cutlet of roast rack of Smithfield pork with apple butter, potato croquette, turnips and French beans a la Creole.
“While we don’t have the exact menu that Washington had, we are offering a menu that was typical of the time,” Garver said.
After dinner, the dancing begins. “Many of the guests won’t necessarily be familiar with the dances of the day so we have people around who are more than willing to teach those who want to learn,” Garver said.
The evening will end with desert and many more toasts.
ON SUNDAY NIGHT, The Neighborhood Friends of Mt. Vernon will hold a similar event at the Mount Vernon Inn.
“This is our 56th year of holding the birth night supper and ball,” said Peg Dunnigan, one of the event’s co-chairs. “This year, the money that we raise will help with our planned restoration of the Spinning House and needed repairs to the sea wall at Mount Vernon. We don’t want to see General Washington’s property fall into the Potomac, after all.”
This event will begin with a private cocktail reception at the home of Jim Rees, executive director at the Mount Vernon estate, followed by another reception in the New Vision Lobby at the Inn. After the general greets his guests, the company will dine in the Inn.
“We have planned a menu that is a blend of colonial fare and today’s food,” said Matthew Heiss, the Inn’s director of catering. “We find that, with large groups of people, this works best.”
Dinner will begin with walnut and cheddar pie over fresh field greens with champagne vinaigrette. “This dish is definitely one that might have been served during General Washington’s lifetime,” Heiss said.
The main course will be herb-crusted medallions of beef with béarnaise sauce and salmon sambal. The main course will be flanked by oven-roasted red bliss potatoes, broccoli with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, homemade breads and colonial crackers. Before birthday cake, diners can enjoy crème caramel flan with fresh berries.
“We will have a Madeira toast with the birthday cake, which was definitely what George Washington would have done,” Heiss said.
Dunnigan is very pleased with the silent auction items and raffle prizes that have been donated. “Our grand prize is a Parisian holiday,” she said. The holiday includes round trip airline tickets for two, a rental car for seven days, four nights in a Parisian hotel and a tour of the French capitol.
Some of the silent auction items are a lynx coat, valued at $7,500, various portraits of George Washington, a lithograph of Mt. Vernon and many others.