“to drink tea & eat whiggs … “

Sarah Jay in Paris, where her husband was one of the commissioners negotiating the peace treaty with the British, reported in a letter to her sister, that she had tea with the children of financier Robert and Mary Morris. The boys had been sent abroad to be educated, and Sarah kept an eye on them; “whiggs” were served.

Paris 24th April 1783My dr. Kitty,
…. The reason for my delaying to write so long was that I might give you the latest intelligence of the health & intentions of our little family. … Mr. Jay’s health I think is rather better within this week, & the little girl [Anne born in August] bears her weaning better than I expected. …

Present my Compts. to Mrs. Morris. … I’m sure she’ll envy me the pleasure I’m to have this afternoon, when I tell you that her little sons are to drink tea & eat whiggs* with me. Mr. Jay joins with me in love to our little boy & our friends. Adieu my dearest sister.
Believe me to be most affectionately yours, Sa. Jay

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “whig” or “wig” is a “wedge or wedge-shaped cake. A kind of bun or small cake made of fine flour. Wigs [are made] with as little flour as possible. … Split and butter them while hot.” You might want to try this recipe. My colleague, Louise North, bakes them, and we have served them at readings, where they are a hit.

1 pint milk
1 yeast cake
1 scant cup butter
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon salt

Scald the milk and add butter, sugar, and salt, and when cooled to blood heat [the temperature of the blood vessel on the inside of your wrist], add the yeast cake, which has been dissolved in 1/3 cup lukewarm water. Beat the eggs until very light; add them to the milk and the spices, and sift in enough flour to make a stiff dough. Knead well and set to rise overnight in a covered bowl. In the morning roll out on a floured board to 3/4-inch thickness; cut with a biscuit-cutter; put in a baking pan, or in muffin pans, and set to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Bake in a hot oven [375°] until brown.

Mitchell, Patricia B. At the Table in Colonial America. Chatham, VA: Sims-Mitchell House Bed & Breakfast, 1994, page 9. This recipe was originally taken from The National Cookbook: A Kitchen Americana by Sheila Hibben, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932, page 6.

The excerpted letter is from Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston, compiled and edited by Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, and Janet M. Wedge, published in 2005 by MacFarland & Company, page 134.

posted April 19th, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad, Children, Education, Food, Recipes

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