Happy Almost Halloween!
‘Tis the season to practice your cackles, dust up your brooms, and sip strange brews.
This past Sunday, Len and I headed out to the historic Carlyle House in Old Town Alexandria to attend a Cauldron Tea. I’m always happy to steep myself in the fun of a seasonal tea and this one came with the chance to tour the beautifully restored 18th century Palladian-style home of one of Alexandria’s founders, John Carlyle, a wealthy merchant who apparently knew how to invest his shillings and have a really good time.
We arrived a little early, so we strolled around the lovely 3/4 acre garden, which showcases plant materials available to Carlyle during the time of his residency. We were greeted by the chitter chatter of hundreds of birds, no doubt exchanging Sunday pleasantries and engaging in mini-debates (we are a swing state after all). I’d been to Old Town countless times, but never knew this sweet little haven was here. Perfect spot for a tête-à-tête!
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♠ ♠ ♠ Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble ♠ ♠ ♠
The tea was held on the terrace, where Count and Mrs. Dracula filled teapots when they weren’t filing their fangs. The epitome of social politeness, they complimented us on our clean necks.
The tables were set with a happy hodge podge of antique china mix-n-match pieces, a collector’s delight (it’s always fun to check your cups and plates for the name of the pattern and place of manufacture).
A black-winged Lucifer, who sounded just like Carson Kressley, brought us our cranberry apple tea and treats. We nibbled and sipped leisurely and attentively, checking our menu for all the clever names:
Curry Chicken salad sandwich
Ham on a biscuit in the shape of a “finger”
Pumpkin Bread with orange cream cheese
Deviled Eggs with Olives
Cranberry or Blueberry Scones
White Brownie Dessert
Cantaloupe & Grape on Skewer
Pumpkin Spice Tea Cake
Lucifer also brought us some warm cornbread and more cranberry scones, and later, host Stacey Hawkins of Calling Card Events came by with a cauldron full of chocolate eyeballs. Devilishly delish!
I liked the Pumpkin Bread with Orange Cream Cheese and Pumpkin Cheesecake the best. They didn’t give us the finger, er, a true Dracula Finger (not ham as stated on the menu), and I didn’t see a White Brownie Dessert on our tray (we were a last minute reservation so that could be why). But we did get a ham and cheese roll-up.
After we sugared up, we were more than ready to check out Mr. Carlyle’s digs (the vamps were starting to look thirsty).
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♠ ♠ ♠ TOURING THE CARLYLE HOUSE ♠ ♠ ♠
This is the only stone house in Alexandria, quite unique for its time. Carlyle built it for his first wife, Sarah Fairfax, who was from a very influential Virginia family.
It quickly became a hub of social activity; the Carlyles hosted George and Martha Washington, among other movers and shakers, and British General Braddock used it as his headquarters when overseeing plans to escalate the French and Indian War. Braddock stayed here for about 3 weeks, and apparently was a rude houseguest. Carlyle did not appreciate someone who “abused his house and furnishings,” and was “too fond of his passions, women and wine.” Tsk, tsk.
Carlyle had 11 children in all — seven with Sarah (who died giving birth to their 7th child), and four with his second wife Sybil West. Carlyle wanted a big family, but sadly most of his children did not survive early childhood. Nine slaves lived in the house; Carlyle depended on both slave labor and indentured servants to keep all three of his plantations and various business ventures running smoothly.
He owned thousands of acres throughout Virginia, and had all kinds of irons in the fire — a foundry in the Shenandoah Valley, retail businesses in Alexandria, trade operations with England and the West Indies, milling and a forge.
Because Carlyle died in October, the house was staged for a period of mourning — black bunting over the front entrance, the shutters half closed, all the mirrors covered with black cloths, his casket laid out in the big parlor (several of the rooms were too dark to photograph). His funeral will be re-enacted this weekend (a total of 19 people died in the house).
Though we enjoyed the tour and our knowledgeable guide, I was disappointed we didn’t get to see the dining room. I’m sure Mr. Carlyle would have wanted me to see it, even take my place at his table to feast on ham, oysters, and other niceties.
Still, it was a great way to spend an autumn Sunday afternoon — sweets for the tummy and juicy history for the mind with attendant spirits setting the mood.
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.