History's Just Desserts

Exploring American History through Desserts and Their Makers


Hill Center Historic Cooking and Baking Series

Recover recipes and stories of the American past with historian and former pastry chef Amanda Moniz.  In these fun hands-on classes, we’ll make historic recipes adapted for modern kitchens while we explore notable people and events from the colonial period to the late 1800s.  Whether you’re a beginner or an accomplished cook, you’ll learn something new.

Classes are open to anyone over the age of 16.  Tickets are $40 per person and each participant receives a booklet with the recipes we make in the class.  To see a listing of all the classes, please click here.

All classes are held at The Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Washington, DC.

Meals at Congressional “Messes”

Saturday, November 1, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Register here.

In the 1800, members of Congress lived in Capitol Hill boardinghouses in groups known as “messes.”  Based on state background or party loyalties, these intimate communities offered members of Congress camaraderie, moral support, and chances to wheel and deal.  In this class, we’ll explore life in a notable mess through Abraham Lincoln’s experiences at Mrs. Sprigg’s across from the Capitol during his one term in the House of Representatives as we make recipes typical of boardinghouse fare from one of the most popular cookbooks of the 1800s, Eliza Leslie’s Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches.  Recipes include beef-steak pie, carrot pudding, and short cakes.

Previous Classes in the Series

Food and Freedom: The Lives of Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher

This class explores how the first two African American cookbook authors used food in their struggles for freedom and equality before, during, and after the Civil War.  Malinda Russell was born free in Tennessee, but struggled for equality, and she staked out her independence with her own pastry shop.  Harassed during the Civil War, she fled to Michigan.  In 1866, with the war over, Mrs. Russell published A Domestic Cook Book to raise funds to get home.  Fifteen years later, ex-slave Abby Fisher published What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking.  Mrs. Fisher had been born in South Carolina around 1832 and married in Alabama in 1860.  After the Civil War, she and her family moved West to California, where the illiterate woman dictated her cookbook at the suggestion, she says, of friends and patrons.  We will compare and contrast these determined women’s lives as we make and sample Mrs. Fisher’s chicken gumbo and Maryland beat biscuits and Mrs. Russell’s lemon-brandy/spice marble cake.

Presidential Parties

In the early 1800s, Dolley Madison was the most famous hostess in the United States.  As First Lady from 1809 to 1817, Mrs. Madison gave frequent parties for Washington officials, foreign visitors, and many others.  These events were not just times to eat, drink, and be merry.  Mrs. Madison entertained with a purpose.  The White House and Washington City (as the capital was then known) would, she decided, be national symbols in a time when many Americans felt greater loyalty to their states than to the federal government.  Mrs. Madison set about to use the People’s House to build a suitable political culture for the young nation.  At her crowded parties, officials could do political business while their wives networked to political ends too.  We’ll explore Mrs. Madison’s parties and her politicking while we make and trying some of the sweets she was especially known for including seed cakes, caramel layer cake, and almond macarons.  No matter your politics, you’ll enjoy these goodies.

Mediterranean Cooking in Early America

Jewish life in what became the United States dates as far back as the 1650s.  A group of Jewish refugees in New Amsterdam (later to be called New York) stood up for their rights in 1654 and a number of Jewish families in Newport, Rhode Island, formed a congregation around 1658.  These first American Jews typically arrived from Dutch lands.  Their roots, however, lay in Portugal and Spain and it was they who introduced Mediterranean foods such as olive oil, capers, and almonds to North America.  We will explore their history as we make and sample dishes typical of the early American Jewish community based on recipes in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, an English cookbook that was very popular in colonial British North America, and Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book, published in 1871.  Recipes include cold fried fish, caper sauce, Jewish-style peas, and almond pudding.

Upcoming Classes

To receive notifications about upcoming classes in Washington, DC, please sign up here.

Custom Classes

You can schedule custom classes for your school, museum, historic home, or community group.  If there is a time or place you would like to explore through historical recipes, please email Amanda at historysjustdesserts@gmail.com.

Past Classes

Civil War Thanksgiving

A baking class commemorating the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s proclamation of a national Thanksgiving holiday based on recipes from Sarah Josepha Hale’s 1857 New Cook Book,.

Historic Family Baking Class: Cooking Her Way Home

A baking class exploring Malinda Russell’s life and recipes.  Mrs. Russell was the author of A Domestic Cookbook (1866), the first cookbook by an African American.

3 thoughts on “Classes

  1. Pingback: Family Baking Class at DC’s Historic Hill Center | History's Just Desserts

  2. Pingback: Historic Cooking and Baking Series at DC’s Hill Center | History's Just Desserts

  3. Pingback: A Pastry School in Colonial Boston | History's Just Desserts

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