Monday, August 17, 2015

DC markets in the heat of summer

Few people were in Washington, D.C. during the summer 1822, so the markets were "cruelly ill-supplied."  Bad potatoes, lamb, rock fish and catfish (cheap, but good fried). The bright sun, wind, no rain then floods meant no fruit gardens.

Henry Unwin Addington (1790-1870), the British charge d'affaires in Washington D.C., wrote about his experiences in the new capital and travels in America from 1822-25.

"The market was at this time [1822] cruelly ill-supplied with fish, meat, vegetables, and fruit during the summer months at Washington.  Not unfrequently potatoes, and those bad, were the only vegetable to be had, and lamb the only meat, or by good luck veal.  On Friday, the Catholic fish-day, we occasionally got fish, i.e., rock and catfish, the first esteemed, the latter not, because cheap.  Its goodness however depends on the mode of dressing it.  Fried like a cutlet it is far from contemptible.

The state of the markets, however, may better be judged of by the following dialogue which took place diurnally about 10 A.M. between me and my cook.  "Well, Cook, what have you got for dinner?" "The market was very poor today, sir." "Any fish?" "No, sir, they had a few stale catfish." "Any beef?" "The butchers do not kill beef now, sir, more than once a week; on Friday we may have some perhaps." (N.b., This being Monday.) "You have got us some veal then, I hope." "There were only some broken bits in market, sir, and I did not like to take them." "What the deuce have you got then? "I could only find a fore-quarter of lamb, sir, and two small chickens." "Hm! well - and for vegetables?" I have got some potatoes, sir, and a few beans, and an eggplant.  There was nothing else.  And I have bought a muskmelon and a few peaches.

Fruit gardens there are none, properly speaking, at Washington.  The climate will not, in the present state of horticultural knowledge and preparation, admit of it.  The sun scorches too much at one moment, and the wind pinches too much at another.  For many days no rain; then a raving flood, a water-spout, which in two hours wears the soil, if acclivious, into deep channels, riddles the roads, and tears up or beats down plants and seeds, knocking off the young fruits by the bushel."

Youthful America Selections from Henry Unwin Addington’s Residence in the United States of America, 1822, 23, 24, 25,,     Berkeley: U OF CAL Press, 1960.  p50-51

©2015 Patricia Bixler Reber
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