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George Washington slept here, but what did he eat?

Updated 4:02 pm, Monday, February 18, 2013

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  • George Washington stopped at the Sun Tavern in Fairfield in 1789. Photo: Contributed Photo / Fairfield Citizen contributed
    George Washington stopped at the Sun Tavern in Fairfield in 1789. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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On this President's Day, it seems like a good time to stop and reflect on the rich history that surrounds us in Fairfield County. Some people are interested in the Colonial-era structures that date back centuries. Others find joy in the artifacts that tell of times past.

As for me, I have one question: What did George Washington eat when he visited Fairfield?

To recap, it's believed that, in his travels through Connecticut, the nation's first president stopped at the Sun Tavern (now located behind old Town Hall off Old Post Road). In his diary dated October 16, 1789, he wrote, "From hence (Norwalk) to Fairfield where we dined and lodged, is 12 miles; and part of it is very rough Road, but not equal to that thro' horse neck."

A month later, on his return trip, Washington wrote, "Set out about Sunrise, and took the upper Road to Milford, it being shorter than the lower one through West Haven. Breakfasted at the former. Baited at Fairfield and dined and lodged at Majr. Marvins."

The anachronistic word, "baited," in those days generally meant "ate a small meal," said Walter Matis, program and volunteer coordinator for the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

Washington's "diaries don't record what he had, just that he baited. Whether that was a sandwich, fruit or a four-course meal, we have no idea," he said.

Washington's inauguration had taken place only six months prior to his visit to Fairfield, so it would be natural to imagine that a special meal was prepared for him, although admittedly times were tough, with houses still showing signs of fire damage from a British raid on Fairfield during the Revolution.

Perhaps whipping up a feast wasn't a priority at the time.

"You have to ask the question, `Did they serve soft foods?' " Matis said, as Washington, of course, is known for having false teeth (made of bone, not wood, as legend would have it). "We can only assume that back then, dentures were even worse than they are now."

It was written that Washington was particularly fond of fish, so given Fairfield's proximity to the sea, it's probably safe to bet that he had some sort of seafood, or maybe oysters. Would a clambake at Penfield Beach have been out of the question? Chances are he didn't have any of Southport's famous onions, though, as the Connecticut onion boom didn't take root until the 1800s. (No Ye Olde Bloomin' Onion for this foremost of the Founding Fathers.)

"The thing to remember with historical food is seasonality," Matis said. "Yes, they ate salad back then, but it couldn't be imported from Brazil. They were very much at the mercy of the weather."

So given Washington's denture issue and cooks' dependence on seasonal foods, he may have dined on applesauce or mashed potatoes.

One thing we do know about Washington is that he liked ice cream.

"Washington paid a good amount of money for ice cream, though it may have been more custard-like," Matis said.

Were he visiting Fairfield today, no doubt he'd make a stop at Pinkberry or Sunny Daes.

Approximately 200 years later, Fairfield played host to another presidential visit.

On Oct. 26, 1984, Ronald Reagan stopped in Fairfield during his re-election campaign. His helicopter landed at Fairfield University and he spoke at Town Hall Green at 2:30 p.m., so presumably he ate lunch before arriving. But, oddly enough, Reagan must also have been an avid ice cream lover just like Washington. The same year as his visit to Fairfield, Reagan convinced Congress to honor July as National Ice Cream Month.

Maybe Barack Obama indulged in some ice cream at Harbor Yard when he visited Bridgeport in October 2010. Perhaps the Secret Service snacked on peanuts, popcorn and hot dogs.

Of course, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W., all attended Yale University, which begs the question: Where did these presidents-to-be get their pizza? The city's most renowned pizza places, Sally's and Pepe's, both have been honored with presidential visits, so it's hard to say which is the preferred pie for the chief executive palate.

But always wanting to be a part of the action, Ronald Reagan stopped by Pepe's in 1980 and we know what he ate there. He had a sausage and mozzarella pizza.