Influential Mid-Atlantic Cooks

Mary Randolph: [1]
Mary Randolph was born in Virginia, the daughter of Anne Cary and Thomas Mann Randolph, a legislator and wealthy plantation owner. Her tombstone lists Ampthill, her mother’s family home near Richmond, as her birthplace, though some genealogists believe she may have been born at her father’s plantation called “Tuckahoe,” in Goochland County. The oldest of thirteen children, “Molly,” as she was called, grew up among southern aristocracy. Her father (1741 – 1793), orphaned at infancy, was raised by Thomas Jefferson’s parents; the Randolphs were distant cousins of the Jeffersons, and the families saw each other often. Her father served Virginia in the colonial house of burgesses, the Revolutionary conventions of 1775 and 1776, and later in the state legislature. Her mother was the daughter of Archibald Cary, plantation owner and statesman. Her brother, Thomas Mann Randolph, became a Congressman and governor of Virginia and married Martha Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson.

Mary Randolph’s education consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, training in the household arts, and lessons in dancing, music, and drawing. In December 1780, at age eighteen, Randolph was married to a first cousin once removed named David Meade Randolph (1760 – 1830), a revolutionary war officer and tobacco planter. They settled at Randolph’s James River plantation called “Presqu’Ile” in Chesterfield County, and the couple had eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Around 1795 President George Washington appointed David Randolph the U.S. marshal of Virginia (a federal court official), and the couple moved to Richmond. There, at the turn of the century, the Randolphs built Moldavia, an elegant residence named after the two of them. They held sparkling social gatherings that quickly made Mary Randolph a celebrated hostess, known for her well-set table and her knowledge of cooking. David Randolph, however, was a champion of Federalism and an open critic of Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson removed Randolph from his post in 1801, and the Randolph family was forced to sell Moldavia and many of their plantation lands as a result of their declining fortunes.

Eventually, in 1807, Mary Randolph opened a tasteful boardinghouse in Richmond to supplement their income. At the time, boardinghouses were particularly popular in cities, where large numbers of workers and visitors were in need of meals and lodging. Restaurants barely existed at the time. Randolph’s boardinghouse was known as “the Queen,” after the name her boarders gave her. It was one of the most popular places in Richmond. As chronicler Samuel Mordecai attests in 1856, “There were few more festive boards . . .Wit, humor and good-fellowship prevailed, but excess rarely.” They closed the boardinghouse in 1820 and moved to Washington D.C. In 1824, just four years before her death, Randolph published her one and only cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. She writes in the Preface:

The greater part of the following receipts have been written from memory, where they were impressed by long continued practice. Should they prove serviceable to the young inexperienced housekeeper, it will add greatly to that gratification which an extensive circulation of the work will be likely to confer.

Randolph’s hope for success was fully realized. A second edition was published in 1825, and it was often republished – in Baltimore in 1831 and 1838, in Philadelphia in 1850, and at least nineteen editions before the outbreak of the Civil War. Replacing English cookbooks which until then were the standard in America, The Virginia Housewife became the most influential American cookbook of the nineteenth century. Practical and specific in weights and measures, it was simpler to follow than English cookbooks. Broad in its range of recipes, it called on the bounty of Virginia’s pastures, fields, waterways and woods, revealing the remarkable variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, berries, meats, wild game and fish of that place and time, matched only by the author’s remarkably varied and masterful methods of preparation. Not surprisingly, the book’s regional emphasis made it especially popular in the South, where every Virginia housewife, according to a later writer, Letitia Burwell, “knew how to compound all the various dishes in Mrs. Randolph’s cookery book.”

Mary Randolph lived for less than four years after the first publication of her cookbook. She was caring for an invalid son near the time of her death, which may have taxed her emotions and strength, for her gravestone describes her as “a victim of maternal love and duty.” According to her wishes, she was buried at Arlington, the home of her cousin George Washington Parke Custis, stepson of George Washington and father of Mary Custis (Mrs. Robert E.) Lee. This final detail of her life reflects what historian Karen Hess points out, in her introduction to a facsimile of the 1824 edition:

So it can be seen that, in addition to her culinary prowess, nobody was more qualified by reason of family and social milieu to record the cookery of Virginia, the home of so many of our founding fathers, and of our nation’s capital as well, in those early days.”

Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer:[2]

Sarah Tyson Rorer, also known as Sallie, was born on October 18, 1849, in Richboro, Pennsylvania, to Charles Tyson Heston and Elizabeth Sagers. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Buffalo, New York, where her father worked as a chemist. After exploring her father’s profession, Rorer became enthralled with the field of chemistry, which later influenced her choice to become a dietitian. Rorer attended school at New York State’s East Aurora Academy. In 1870, the family moved back to the Philadelphia area, where she later met her husband, William Albert Rorer. They had two sons, William Albert Rorer and James Birch Rorer, and a daughter who died very early in life.

Throughout her career, Rorer was a teacher of domestic science, a lecturer on the impact of food on health, an author, and an editor. She was a columnist for and a partial owner of a Philadelphia magazine called Table Talk. Rorer was also an editor for the Ladies Home Journal for 14 years. Rorer wrote cooking and health tips, and she also discussed about issues pertaining to being a housewife.

She enrolled in a cooking class at the New Century Club in 1882 and shortly thereafter was solicited by the Club to teach the class and lecture at the Woman’s Medical College on pertinent health issues. Her career picked up quickly. By 1884, Rorer had opened the Philadelphia Cooking School on Chestnut Street, which she ran for 18 years and educated more than 5,000 students. Her teaching provided cooks, the indigent, and medical institutions with nutrition information. She continued to attend lectures to educate herself in chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Rorer is considered to be America’s first dietician based on her work in preparing healthy meals for the sick. Her understanding of chemical compounds allowed her to prepare meals that would best react with the individual consuming them. Due to Rorer’s influence, a new field of study and employment opened up: hospital dietetics.

Rorer became a household name, which was uncommon for a woman during the period in which she lived. She was honored at the 1925 Chicago World Fair. Rorer also began giving weekly radio shows on cooking techniques.

Rorer’s cookbooks included recipes for a broad range of meals. She focused more on healthy recipes than desserts, although she did publish healthy dessert recipes. She provided a healthy way of making ice cream, called “Philadelphia ice cream,” in which she says not to use eggs, gelatine, or a thickening agent, but only the freshest of ingredients. She also wrote pamphlets with directions for cooking simple dishes, like vegetables. Her most famous cookbook, Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book: A Manual of Housekeeping, was published in 1902. The 731-page book has an extensive section on vegetables, which were her forte. She believed that vegetables were the most essential element to a proper diet and a healthy body. In this book, she stressed the importance of not overcooking vegetables because they lose their nutritional value. The book also includes sections on fish, meat, and poultry. Among her other major books, Mrs. Rorer’s Every Day Menu Book provided a suggested menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day of the year. The book also includes menus appropriate for specific occasions.

Rorer became involved with politics later in life. She was president of the Lebanon County League of Democratic Women and toured Pennsylvania in support of presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928.

Rorer lost all of her financial holdings during the Great Depression. She lived out the end of her life impoverished and alone, relying heavily upon the financial support of her son and her former students. She died in her home in Colebrook, Pennsylvania, in 1937.


  • Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Economics. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co. 1886.
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co., 1886.
  • How to Cook Vegetables. Philadelphia: W. Atlee Burpee & Co., 1891.
  • Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co., 1902.
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co., 1909.
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co., 1914.

Marion Cabell Tyree:[3]

Marion Cabell Tyree was the last surviving granddaughter of Patrick Henry and the daughter of Spotswood Henry. On her mother’s side she was descended from the Cabells, having been the great granddaughter of Col. John Cabell who figured in the Revolutionary War. She was born January 24, 1826, and lacked only about two weeks of being 86 at the time of her death on January 10, 1912.

Marion married Mr. Samuel Tyree of Lynchburg on February 9, 1843 at the age of 17. According to the 1880 census, Samuel was listed as an auctioneer, as his father, Richard, before him. Local histories indicate he later entered the real estate business, and that the Tyree and Wilkins Agency evolved from the venture.

Samuel’s mother was Mildred Young Douglas. She was the daughter of prominent Quaker parents, Achillis Moorman Douglas and Elizabeth Terrell Douglas. The marriage of Samuel’s parents on December 31, 1805, must have caused a stir because Richard was out of the faith. Samuel was fortunate in that those who knew him felt he exhibited in his own person some of the best Quaker traits. He was prosperous in business, and, according to Mrs. Tyree’s obituary, the couple had “a beautiful and comfortable home in which they dispensed in the most gracious and genial manner that hospitality for which old Virginia was famous.” During the Civil War especially, their doors were flung open not only to friends and relatives, but to strangers from the South.

In those days there were no sanitariums nor the thousands of appliances of today for mitigating suffering, and the war times and blockade rendered it harder to procure “dainties and remedies for the sick.” Mrs. Tyree kept a little sanitarium of her own. She created one of the more than thirty hospitals in Lynchburg established to care for the sick and wounded during the Confederacy. She sought out those soldiers who were far from their homes and friends and carried them to 1421 Harrison Street, on Diamond Hill.

She was described by her contemporaries as “a person of bright, quick mind, with a good command of language and fine descriptive power.” From her early youth she was a faithful and zealous member of the Episcopal church.

Mrs. Tyree had a peculiar aptitude for domestic economy. With her it was both a science and an art. In addition to being very energetic, she had “an infinite capacity for taking pains.” And thus every detail of her housekeeping received the most careful and efficient attention. She was induced by her friends to embody the result of her experience in an admirable cookery book published in 1879 by John P. Morton and Company of Louisville, Kentucky.

It was interesting to discover that Housekeeping in Old Virginia was used as a reference for the PBS series The Frontier House in 2002. Mrs. Tyree was a famous Lynchburger

What was the configuration of her book and how was it used in every day life? Most homemakers today probably have kept yellowed family recipes somewhere in a notebook or drawer. Indeed, we bring these treasured cards out on special occasions to create family dishes, and, therefore, continuity in our lives. Mrs. Tyree used a format much like earlier cookbooks in print. She gathered those family recipes from friends into one volume. In addition to the recipes, there is a chapter on housekeeping hints, and another on sickroom remedies. Mrs. Tyree has a lengthy treatise on two subjects: Setting up a Kitchen and the Art of Making Bread. The book contains over 1700 heirloom recipes in all including Flannel Cakes, Pigeon Pie, Souse Cheese, and Nasturtium Sauce. There is also a section of old advertisements which includes an entertaining description of Dr. Scott’s magnetic corset

Like other Virginia cookbook authors, Mrs. Tyree capitalized on the reputation of gracious Virginia hospitality derived from the Cavaliers who first settled here.

According to her, Virginia hospitality was opulent as a Royal Colony. When we declared our independence, its citizens “discarded all the showy extravagance of the old, and retaining only inexpensive graces, they succeeded in perfecting that system which surviving to this day, has ever been noted for its beautiful and elegant simplicity.

This system which combines the thrifty frugality of New England with the less rigid style of Carolina, has been justly pronounced, by the throng of admirers who have gathered from all quarters of the Union around the generous boards of her illustrious sons, as the very perfection of domestic art.”

Mrs. Tyree admonished women to master domestic arts, “making American homes more attractive to American husbands, sparing them a resort to hotels and saloons for those simple luxuries which their wives know not how to provide.”

In the early days of our nation, most of the cooks could neither read nor write. The most common recipes were not always written down as the cook knew what to do by practice. After slavery ended, cookbooks were helpful for women who had not spent much time in the kitchen. There was no format followed by those who wrote or used the recipes. Much of the actual instructions were often not mentioned as the lady of the house was expected to know how to put the ingredients together. If she was ill prepared, food was wasted. As mistress, she supervised kitchen activities, especially the making of jams and jellies because sugar was very expensive. She also had to be sure that non-edible products such as soap were made to assure adequate supply.

John Shields:[4]

Chef, author and television personality John Shields is the owner of the celebrated Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

John is often called “The Culinary Ambassador of the Chesapeake Bay,” and he has written three popular cookbooks on the cuisine of the region: The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook; The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook; and Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields. In 1998, public television stations across the country began airing John’s series “Chesapeake Bay Cooking,” based on the book of that title. For the series, John hit the road, interviewing folks around the Chesapeake region and showing how they prepared their favorite regional dishes.

His most recent book, Coastal Cooking with John Shields, highlights foods from America’s coastal regions and introduces the people who grow, raise and cook them. The companion PBS television series, “Coastal Cooking with John Shields,” currently airs nationwide. In “Coastal Cooking with John Shields” the cameras accompany John to locations across the continent, from Maine to New Orleans -from Charleston, South Carolina to the Pacific Northwest’s Whidbey Island.

John’s writings have appeared in numerous national publications, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, Coastal Living, and Southern Living. He is a frequent guest chef on radio and television and at public events. During his appearances, and in his writings, John often expresses his passionate convictions about healthy eating and the importance of supporting the growers, producers and food artisans of one’s region. He has spoken before the American Diabetes Association on the importance of promoting a healthier diet to combat what has become a national epidemic.

In 2010 he worked with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center For A Livable Future and appeared in the film “BFED – The Baltimore Food Ecology Documentary.”

In the spring of 2011, partnering with Johns Hopkins University, he launched a five-part kitchen garden series at Hopkins’ Evergreen Museum and Library. The series includes hands-on gardening workshops in the new kitchen garden Gertrude’s staff has created on the grounds at Evergreen, with harvesting and cooking demonstrations presented by John.

Every spring and fall John goes to local elementary schools volunteering as guest chef for the American Institute of Wine and Food’s innovative Days of Taste program. During the Days of Taste inner city students are led to explore the different flavors of healthy food and shown how to prepare a fresh salad from local ingredients.

John serves on the Advisory Board of the John Hopkins Center For A Livable Future’s Food and Faith Project and is a member of many other community organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group dedicated to protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding wetlands. He’s also active in a variety of professional organizations, including the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, Slow Food USA, the American Institute of Wine and Food, and the Chefs’ Collaborative, which promotes sustainable agriculture through use of indigenous foods and local suppliers.

Frederick Philip Stieff:[5]

Frederick Philip Stieff, son of the piano-making Baltimore family, was a celebrated amateur chef and a sort of menu historian. He made a personal crusade of collecting—mainly using hand-written family papers and the memories of aged cooks—old Maryland recipes. This volume, he declares in his foreword, offers merely “a generalization, a diversification of the receipts [as he calls them] which have for decades contributed to the gastronomic supremacy of Maryland.”

Cooking and mixing instructions cover, in separate chapters, everything from oysters, a specialty of the counties bordering on the bay, to buckwheat and maple syrup, indigenous to western Maryland. Stieff fills out the stories behind many of the recipes in accompanying headnotes: the recipe for Ellin North Pudding, for example, was handed down by Ellin North, born in Baltimore in 1740 and later married to John Moale, the Colonel of the Baltimore Town Militia, to her great-grandson, Walter de Curzon Poultney. There are also several interesting appendices: one gives us the menu for a traditional hunt breakfast at Elkridge; another spells out what was served at the Maryland Institute’s “Grand Banquet of the Railways Celebrations” in 1857; yet another itemizes the food that George Mann (of Mann’s Tavern, Annapolis) procured in December 1783 to stage a dinner celebrating the end of war with Britain.

“Eating in Maryland was a continuous feast, not alone because of the prodigality of its table, but because of the warmth of its ever welcoming hospitality. And certainly it seems to be that in this book… the traditions of Maryland’s hospitality, no less than those merely of its kitchens, will be preserved for all time.”—Emily Post

Mrs. J. Millard Tawes:[6]

Helen Avalynne Gibson Tawes, daughter of Minerva Amerinth and Oliver P. Gibson, was born in Crisfield, Maryland (ca. 1899). At the age of sixteen, she met J. Millard Tawes on a hayride, and the two were married on December 25, 1915. Millard Tawes won the governorship in 1959. He brought with him a First Lady with lots of ideas and unique interests. Mrs. Tawes had been an enthusiastic participant in the Tawes campaign. She laced campaign literature with copies of her favorite recipes for Eastern Shore cuisine hoping that “the way to Maryland voters’ hearts was through their stomachs.”

Jean-Louis Palladin:[7]

Jean-Louis Palladin was born in 1946 in the small southwestern French town of Condòm. In 1974, at 28 years old, Jean-Louis Palladin won two Michelin stars for his restaurant Tables Des Cordeliers in Gascony, France. At the time he was the youngest chef to have won two stars.

Always seeking a new challenge, Palladin came to America in 1979 to open Jean-Louis at the Watergate, in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Unsatisfied with the ingredients available to restaurant kitchens at the time, he learned about the special qualities of Chesapeake blue crab and rockfish, local tomatoes and corn, found farmers to grow fresh herbs and organic vegetables, and encouraged others to raise poultry and meats to his standards.

Whether he was visiting a scallop diver in Maine, a cheesemaker in California, or dining at every restaurant about which he had heard good things, Palladin was constantly on the search for the very best talent. He offered them his product resources, his time, and his friendship. He created a brotherhood among chefs, and truly raised the level of cuisine in America.

Palladin died in November 2001 at age 55 from lung cancer.

His great achievement to the culture of Mid-Atlantic cuisine was the spotlight he brought to the region.  He was the first chef to be internationally known in Washington DC and he led the way to establishing the region as one of the premier culinary destinations in the world today.

Frances Kitching:

Frances Kitching ran a popular inn on Smith Island, the only real establishment on the island and a mainstay of the tourist culture which has built up around Smith Island and replaced it former aquaculture economy.

Frances was known for her home cooking style of food which centered on the classics of the Eastern Shore.  She used ingredients that were available to her at the time including canned milk and many convenience products.

Mush of her style of cooking may seem out of place in today’s local, organic style of cooking, but to an island which was largely isolated for centuries; this was how they cooked and ate.

Her claim to fame came from a cookbook produced with Susan Stiles Dowell, which popularized the traditional Smith Island cake.  The book published in 1981, reestablished Eastern Shore cooking as the premier Maryland cuisine.  Still a best seller locally today, her cookbook has kept the traditions, cooking and romance of Smith Island alive in the modern world.

There are countless chefs and cooks throughout the region which have remained anonymous through history and contributed to the success and influence of the region and its culinary heritage.

The people mentioned above are but the tip of the iceberg in discovering the rich heritage which has been left to us through the culinary experience of the past.  There are literally, thousands of books and millions of recipes which you can choose from to express the cultural heritage of this region.  The list above will get you started but is by no means definitive.


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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One Response to Influential Mid-Atlantic Cooks

  1. It’s hard to find experienced people about this subject – Influential Mid-Atlantic Cooks | midatlanticcooking, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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