MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) -- A heart-shaped waffle iron? It sounds like the kind of last-minute gift a husband buys for his wife at if he forgot flowers on Valentine's Day.
But this particular heart-shaped waffle iron belonged to none other than the father of our country, George Washington. The waffle iron and dozens of other food-related items are going on display at Washington's Mount Vernon estate for a new exhibition, "Hoecakes & Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington."
The exhibition, which opens Saturday in the museum on the estate's grounds, features a number of unusual kitchen items that belonged to the Washingtons: There's a specialized preserving kettle, which looks more or less like a wok that Martha Washington used and brought with her to Mount Vernon when she married George Washington. And there's a specially contoured pan that for many years was mistakenly assumed to be an egg poacher, but on further research was determined to be a pofferties pan, used to make a sort of specialized, puffed Dutch pancake. Dictionary author Noah Webster even recalled eating this "species of pancake," as he described it, at Mount Vernon in 1785.
The variety of specialized cookware "was characteristic of an elite, wealthy Virginia kitchen," said Susan Schoelwer, curator at Mount Vernon.
The exhibits provide some insights into Washington's preferred eating habits. Numerous written accounts document Washington's appreciation for hoecakes, a pancake made of cornmeal that could be cooked, if need be, out in the field over open coals on the surface of a garden hoe. Washington was said to prefer his swimming in butter and honey.
Schoelwer surmised that soft foods like hoecakes may well have appealed to Washington in part because of his notorious dental problems, though she joked that a regular diet of honey-drenched hoecakes may well have caused the problem in the first place.
Washington was also a fan of olives -- he kept a three-foot tall olive jar and preferred French varieties to Spanish -- and a brandy drink called "cherry bounce," which he was known to take on the road with him. A hand-written recipe found in Martha Washington's papers calls for the juice from 20 pounds of cherries to be mixed with 10 quarts of French brandy along with sugar and spices, and fermentation of at least a month.
The records seem to show that Martha Washington was much involved in the cooking at Mount Vernon, but usually as more of an overseer. The Washingtons owned slaves, and relied on slave labor to do the day-to-day cooking and serving. Dinner guests were frequent to the point that Washington once lamented in a letter that he and Martha almost never were able to dine alone.
The role of slaves in doing some of the back-breaking labor associated with a plantation kitchen is also explored.
Many of the pieces in the exhibition, especially those that can be traced directly to the Washingtons, are on loan from private owners. Schoelwer said the estate had a private sale of sorts after Martha Washington's death in 1802 in which extended family and friends purchased many household items and passed them on for generations.
The exhibit's opening coincides with the always busy Presidents Day weekend at Mount Vernon. Saturday morning will feature a hoecake cook-off among four prominent area chefs, including Cathal Armstrong and Robert Wiedmaier, David Guas and Christophe Poteaux.
Visitors to the exhibit will also get recipe cards featuring modern versions of food prepared by the Washingtons for visitors to take home and try for themselves.