Archaeology reveals that the Muhlenberg family and their guests ate their meals using fashionable tablewares including pewter spoons and two-tine forks with bone handles. Two-tined forks were used to hold and spear food, which was conveyed to the mouth on the blade of a broad-edged knife. When Frederick Muhlenberg died in 1801, he owned an impressive total of 23 knives and 52 forks! He also owned more than three dozen silver spoons, but silver is rarely found by archaeologists. Because of their high value, silver objects were unlikely to be disposed of even if they were broken. Rather, they could be repaired or melted down and made into something else.
Fragments of a plate rim were found within several feet of the kitchen door. Made of press-molded, white salt-glazed stoneware, it shows that the Muhlenbergs participated in what has been called a “tabletop revolution” as American consumers replaced coarser earthenware and pewter vessels. Manufactured in England during the mid-1700s, the plate represents the large quantities of English ceramics that were exported to America in the 1700s and 1800s.
The plate has an elaborate dot-diaper-and-basket border pattern that dates to about 1755 to 1770; plates in this pattern have also been excavated at Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg. The location and large size of this plate rim is noteworthy. White salt-glazed stoneware was used for dining, not food preparation or storage. This plate belonged in the dining room, yet its location in the ground indicates that it was discarded from the kitchen. Perhaps it was broken by an unruly dinner guest or a clumsy servant. It could also have broken after the meal, when dirty dishes would have been brought into the kitchen for cleaning.
Documentary evidence also sheds light on the wide range of tools for cooking and dining used by the Muhlenberg household but not found by archaeologists. When Frederick Muhlenberg died suddenly in 1801 at the age of only fifty-one, a detailed inventory was taken of the contents of his household. The list reveals the presence of highly specialized objects for food preparation, such as a copper kettle for poaching fish, a cheese toaster, and two “kitchens,” portable reflector ovens that contained a spit on which small birds could be roasted. Specialized equipage for serving and dining were also present, including tureens and soup plates, custard cups, jelly glasses, and pickle shells. Tea equipage included porcelain cups and saucers; silver teaspoons; a silver slop bowl, cream jug, sugar bowl, and tongs; three teapots and a tea urn; and a “Tutany” (also known as paktong, a copper alloy with a silvery appearance) tea pot and stand. The following list is a selection of categorized objects taken from the complete inventory.
1 pair of andirons, 2 pairs of shovels and tongs, 2 chimney hooks, 4 pot hooks
Boiling and braising:
5 iron pots and 4 pot lids; 1 bell metal kettle; 1 copper kettle; 1 brass kettle
Frying and sautéing:
2 frying pans; 3 skillets
Poaching, roasting, and grilling:
1 copper fish kettle; 2 grates, 3 gridirons, 1 toaster; 2 kitchens (large and small)
Other kitchen utensils and equipage:
1 chopper and chopping board; 5 iron ladles and 3 large brass ladles; 1 iron cake turner and 2 forks; 1 colander, 2 graters, 3 funnels, and 1 sausage funnel; 1 tin cheese toaster; 1 brass mortar; 1 iron tea kettle; 2 coffee mills, 2 coffee strainers, 1 copper coffee boiler, and 1 coffee pot; 1 pepper mill
1 pewter platter and 4 pewter dishes; 1 pewter plate warmer and 1 warming pan; 2 copper and 1 brass chafing dishes; 2 dishes; 4 salvers; 2 tureens; 2 fish stands and 1 fish knife; 3 butter boats, 4 pickle shells, and 1 salad dishes; 3 salt stands, 4 salt cellars and 1 caster set; 1 tea urn, 3 teapots, and 1 tutany [or paktong] teapot and stand; 1 silver sugar dish, slop bowl, cream jug, sugar tongs; 1 china cream jug and china tea canisters
24 pewter plates; 36 china plates; 24 soup plates; 25 jelly glasses; 18 custard cups; 23 knives and 52 forks; 13 silver spoons, 12 silver soup spoons, and 12 silver teaspoons; China cups and saucers
1. Meet the Muhlenbergs 2. Cooking 3. Dining 4. Smoking 5. Drinking 6. Further Resources
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