Martha Washington’s Preserved Pears: 1912

What is perhaps the most valuable jar of preserved pears in the world is in the possession of J. W. Mossburg, and is on exhibition at his restaurant on Pennsylvania avenue.

It Is a bushel jar. and was preserved, it is said, in 1760 by Martha Washington. Mr. Mossburg purchased the pears five years ago for 50 cents, and was not aware at the time that they had such a famous history.

He has recently learned from several men who attended the Philadelphia exposition in 1873 that they were on exhibition there, and from that fact he has traced their history back to the days of Martha Washington. They were preserved, it is believed, in 1760 in an earthen jar, and were never unsealed until they were transferred from the earthen jar to the glass one which now holds them, for the purpose of showing them at the  Philadelphia exposition.

Tracing Pear’s History.

According to John M. Boulter, of Philadelphia, who remembers seeing the pears at the exposition, they were removed to Philadelphia by Ali Benson, an old slave of the Washington’s immediately after the burning of the White House. It is said that when the slave was driving his load, he was held up by some British soldiers and forced to give up several Jars of the pears and some rare old wine. It was several days before he got the rest of his load to Philadelphia, and gave them to John C. Mailer, a friend of the Washington family, who was to keep them until the war was over.

When, at the close of the war, most of the pears were brought back to Washington, several Jars were left as a present to Mr. Mailer. At the time of the Philadelphia Centennial they were brought to light by Mrs. Eilen C. Haller, a descendant of John Haller, who showed them at the exposition.

martha washington's pears

Sold to Woman.

After the exposition was over the pears were sold to Mrs. John J. Keenan, of Baltimore. The price is said to have been $2,000. After the death of Mrs. Keenan’s husband, the pears were sold by the executors of the estate to Charles Sensencsy, of Washington, and their value seems to have been forgotten.

Mr. Mossburg considers the pears almost invaluable, and says he has refused an offer of $300 for them, and several offers of less amounts. The pears are perfectly solid, and so carefully were they preserved that even those touching the sides of the jar do not appear to have been at all flattened.

Society Wants Them.

Judge Charles S. Bundy. a prominent member of the Oldest Inhabitants Association of the District of Columbia, will Introduce a resolution at the next meeting of that organization, requesting that it take some action toward securing the jar of pears. Judge Bundy believes that such a valuable relic should not be owned privately, but should either be brought back to Mt. Vernon or put into the hands of some patriotic organization.

“These pears, preserved by Martha Washington In 1760, are In my opinion, one of the most valuable relics in the country,” declared Judge Bundy yesterday, “imagine having in our possession, in these modern days, a sample of the cookery of Martha Washington nearly 152 years old! Every precaution should be taken to safeguard the relic, and I for one am strongly In favor of having the pears taken over by some patriotic organization or cared for by the Government.”

Mr. Mossberg recognizes the propriety of having the fruit in possession of some patriotic organization, but at the same time felt that it was not an impropriety for him to retain possession of them as long as he allowed the public to view It freely.

Mossburg’s Position.

“You can readily appreciate my position In this matter,” he said yesterday. “The pears are, so far as I know, the only surviving examples of the cookery of Mrs., Washington. For that reason I am not over willing for them to leave my possession. Of course, if some responsible public organization would take them over, and guarantee that they would not get Into private ownership again, it is possible that 1 would part with them, if they are to remain in private ownership, I, above all people am entitled to keep them.”

A letter has been received from the regents of Mt. Vernon, asking that they be allowed to Investigate the authenticity of the history of the pears. Mr. Mossburg answered the letter, stating that he was exerting every effort to procure all documents necessary to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt the verity of his relic. The pears are of the Bartlett variety, and were grown. it is believed, in the orchards of Mt. Vernon.

While the recipe used by Mrs. Washington for preserving this particular jar of pears is not positively known, there seems to be no reason for supposing it was not the same as that now In the possession of Mrs. Arvllla McDonough, of 1401 Massachusetts avenue. This recipe, in the language in which it was originally written. is as follows:

“Ye pears shoulde be very freshe. Washe and put yhem into bollng lye for on minute. Remove and put yhem Into cold water. Nexte put ye fruit into a prepared sirupe of sugar and water. Use an half pound of sugar for everie pound of ye fruit; water to dissolve. Now cook for on quarter of an hour. Remove and put on plates to cool. Boyle sirupe down to one-half  its original quantitie. Put sirupe and pears into jars and add brandy. Seal while hote.”

“If Martha Washington were alive today and attempted to use her recipe for preserving pears, she would get in trouble with the pure food experts,” said Dr. Harvey W. Wiley when discussing the recipe supposed to have belonged to Mrs. Washington, now in the possession of Mrs. Arvllla McDonough, of 1401 Massachusetts avenue northwest.

“The recipe would have been all right,” continued the expert. “It would have been excellent if she had left out the part about boiling them in lye. That is plainly in violation of the pure food laws and there was a possibility of the poison getting into the pears if the skins were not promptly removed after immersion.

“The pears now in the possession of Mr. Mossburg are, I should say, not dangerous, even if Mr. Mossburg cared to eat them, which I understand he does not. The immersion in brandy for so many years has probably purified them even if they did originally become poisoned.”

The Washington [DC] Times 11 September 1912: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Happily, in time for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers in the States who celebrate Presidents Day, there has been quite a stir about the newly discovered Washington pears, said to have been “put up,” by Martha Washington herself.

From the time of the United States Centennial in 1876, the public was fascinated with the Revolutionary period and with relics of the early days of the United States. Martha Washington, in particular, was an object of reverence, as the Mother of Her Country. Exhibitions and reports on garments, weapons, locks of hair, and jewellery worn or owned by the Washington family filled the newspapers. There was also something of a “colonial revival” in dress, which had the disastrous result that many genuine 18th-century garments were altered for fancy dress, pageants, or “Lady Washington teas.”  (Mrs Daffodil has previously written of a disastrous attempt to organise such an entertainment, as well as a young lady who deceived the Concord Ball with a “genuine” 18th-century gown aged with the assistance of coffee and camphor.)

As for the “verity” of the Washington pears, Mrs Daffodil cannot find any independent evidence that the famous pears were any more than a canny marketing device on the part of Mr. Mossburg, the owner of the Cafe Florentine.

Mrs Daffodil has just been quietly taken aside by a kindly friend who points out that the recent thrilling discovery was actually of General Washington’s hairsfound by Archivist John Meyers in an ancient book at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Mrs Daffodil, who, distinctly heard “pears,” regrets the error.

Here is Susan Holloway Scott, author of I, Eliza Hamilton, on the fascinating “back story” of the Washington hair.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s