- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

FREDERICKSBURG, Va.

Mark Taylor and his children slaved over an open hearth for hours, showing how food was cooked in the 1770s when people couldn’t zip open a frozen dinner and zap it in the microwave.

Even after guests left the steamy kitchen — at Historic Kenmore, the home of George Washington’s sister Betty and her husband — the Taylors acted like they were still in another era.

Sara, 19, and Joshua, 15, continued to banter in Old English as they scrubbed iron cookware and emptied sea salt that had been displayed in an oyster shell.

The two called out their characters’ names and spoke just as they had when Joshua explained earlier how to debone a chicken.

“Do you wish me to do that?” he asked his sister.

“No, I’ve already begun,” she answered, reaching for a bowl she said “was as clean as the soul of an infant.”

The Taylors’ research of 18th-century customs often spills over into their modern conversations.

“We don’t lapse into our characters. I think we just lapse into proper English,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s done wonders for our language skills.”

The family, which includes Deborah, 11, became interested in Colonial cooking six years ago when a group called George Washington’s Young Friends was formed. Ms. Taylor and Joshua were founding members, and are now the only of the original 15 still practicing their skills.

Their art is called first-person 18th-century historic interpretation, said Susan Bailey, an executive assistant at Kenmore, who helped start the program.

Participants aren’t given a script, but they are required to research a generic character - such as an indentured servant from Scotland - and find out about his life.

Then the young re-enactors come up with a name and take on the persona, with all the 18th-century trappings.

The Taylors are particularly good at it, Ms. Bailey said.

“You can give them the seed of an idea, and it blooms in their mind,” she said. “I love to stand back and watch them. It’s phenomenal.”

Kenmore is a Georgian-style mansion reflecting the wealth of Washington’s brother-in-law, merchant Fielding Lewis, according to the Historic Kenmore Web site.

He lost his fortune because of his support of the American Revolution. The house he built remained and, after years of work, has been nearly restored to its 1775 appearance.

The Taylors do most of their re-enacting — which always includes cooking — in Kenmore’s kitchen, a separate building outside the mansion. About a dozen times a year, they rustle up squirrel stew or meat pies, carrot pudding or onion soup.

They rarely cook the same recipe, a word that, in Washington’s time, was pronounced like receipt, without the “t.”

“We get bored ever so quickly,” Ms. Taylor said.

The re-enacting suits several parts of the family’s life. Mr. Taylor, the former Spotsylvania County attorney, and his wife, Francesca, own the Spotsy Spot, a restaurant and catering business at Spotsylvania Courthouse.

They operate in a 19th-century farmhouse they renovated.

“We all, as a family, treasure the learning opportunities the kids have had” with the group, Mr. Taylor said. “George Washington, being who he is, is singularly iconic and, it would seem to me, desperately needed in our present day.”

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