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CREATING A FISH DISH FOR MOUNT VERNON

A Faux Entrée for Mansion's Small Dining Room

Mt Vernon fish

Food photos: HistoricFauxFoods.com; Potomac Shad Fishery Photo: Library of Congress

Among the many enterprises at George Washington's 8,000-acre Mount Vernon estate along the Potomac was a seafood business. Washington owned a schooner that fished herring and shad for the local market as well as for his family's dining tables. In 2010, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association commissioned Sandy Levins to design and create a period fish dish for display in Mount Vernon's small dining room. The room, down to its striking verdigris green paint, appears exactly as it did when George and Martha regularly dined there.

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The first part of the job involved cruising local fish markets to find three real fish that fit the exact piece of 18th-century Mt. Vernon chinaware (above, left). Then, (above, right) each fish was cleaned and prepared in the appropriate manner required for a latex mold-making process.
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Each fish is positioned on a board and brushed with a thin layer of a special liquid latex rubber (above, left). The exact number of layers needed depends on the nature of the subject being cast. Drying time required between layers makes the task a multiple-day process.
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After many days at room temperature and eighteen layers of latex, the odoriferous real fish are removed (above, left) and reverse molds of their exterior shapes are left behind. (above, right).
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The molds are filled with fine liquid plaster and allowed to harden (above, left). The end result is a plaster replica of the fish (above, right).
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When executed correctly, latex-molded plaster castings can hold an amazing amount of fine detail like the delicate surface features of these fish (above, left). The next step of the process involves painting and shading to make plaster fish look like real fish that have just been cooked in an 18th-century open-hearth kitchen.
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This dish replicates the "Herring in Mustard Sauce" recipe from Martha Washington's copy of The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. And, so, adding the faux mustard sauce atop the fish and pooled in the plate below was the final touch. The plate was garnished with faux lemons and parsley. This is one of several items Levins has made for Mount Vernon. Others include Yuletide cookies, cornbread and salt herring for the slave quarters, strawberry ice cream and a bucket of honey with honey comb.

All Rights Reserved © 2008-2013, HistoricFauxFoods.com

Sandy@HistoricFauxFoods.com

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