Cousin of George Washington Park Custis, Mary Randolph was Mary Randolph Custis' (Mrs. Robert E. Lee) godmother. A noted hosted, she wrote The Virginia Housewife, Or, Methodical Cook, a book of recipes and housekeeping suggestions that was published in 1824. It was the first truly American cookbook. Prior to its publication in Washington, DC, few cookbooks had been printed in America. Most were English reprints. The Virginia Housewife was extremely successful and was reprinted several times. It was widely used by upper-class women of the period who supervised large manor houses with supporting buildings and numerous servants. Responsible for the household, family and visitors, they needed to know how to acquire foods, as well as preservation and preparation, and elegant entertaining.
The Virginia Housewife provides a vivid picture of Virginia and Southern foodways. It is likely that the ingredients, flavors, recipes, household organization, and the preparation and presentation of meals at Arlington House were much like those described in this remarkable document.
Mary Randolph died while caring for a son who had been crippled in a naval accident. She was buried on the estate of her dearest relatives, the Custises. Her grave is believed to be the oldest in Arlington National Cemetery.
Paper, pencil. W 13.1, L 13.1 cm
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, ARHO 282
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