I know you were dying to hear about it. :) (And this won’t be the only post – you’re gonna get one for every day I was down there! I KNOW!)
First, if you have a chance to go down to Williamsburg in the weeks before Christmas when it’s all decorated, do it. Second, of you can stay at one of the “official” Williamsburg lodgings that are on the shuttle route, do it as well – that shuttle will be your friend by the end of the trip. (You can also have your purchases sent to the hotel. Very convenient.) I know people have a lot of mixed opinions on Williamsburg, it’s too sanitized, not real enough, etc, etc. but that is the challenge of any public history project. You want to educate, you’d like it if people actually enjoyed learning *something*, and personally, I think there is a point of diminishing returns when you’re trying to recreate something. (I do not think Williamsburg suffers by having paved streets, indoor plumbing, and restaurants with proper refrigeration.) Every year the programs get better, more inclusive and delve deeper into what was happening in the town and surrounding countryside. Is it perfect? No. Does it get people interested and engaged in history? Hell, yes.
Got down there Monday, just in time for a program at Raleigh Tavern about an English employee who had just arrived and was talking about Christmas back home. The short version was, “Just got here, everyone hates me, and Christmas is gonna suck.” The longer version was actually quite interesting and I certainly learned some interesting things about 18th century Christmases in England and what stuck in the colonies and what didn’t.
Then it was over to the DeWitt Museum for Decorative Arts & Abby Rockefeller Folk Art Musuem. It pains me to say this, but as many times as I have been to Williamsburg, I did not know this museum existed until I saw the photo of the “No Stamp Act” teapot in TH Breen’s “Marketplace of Revolution” and saw that the teapot was at this museum. So, I was on a hunt for the teapot as much as anything else. It isn’t a big museum, but it is great. Found the teapot, saw all kinds of terrific decorative and folk art, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a couple hours in Williamsburg. Found some very delightful things along with the teapot:
Then it was on to dinner at Kings Arms Tavern. (I’ll admit, I went down there as much for the food as the history.) I started with a champagne cocktail*, because if you can’t have a champagne cocktail when you’re on a Christmas vacation, when can you? Then it was on to the Sally Lunn Bread.** Oh my god, this is so good – slightly sweet and I could have eaten the entire basket if I didn’t have other great things coming. Then it was on to the cheese plate – brie, gouda, cheddar, pub cheese, toast points and a “tomato conserve” – sort of a tomato relish that went great with all of it. But, it got better – because they also bring around a traditional relish/condiment selection with pickled watermelon rinds, pickled sweet indian corn, and chopped salted ham. All of which went really well with the cheeses. (I’m not a big brie person, but pair it up with some salted Virginia ham and I’m in.) I then had what I swear was the best porkchop I have ever had in my life – brined with maple and whiskey, then cooked with a wonderful mustard glaze. It was amazing – I highly recommend it if you are down there. By the time dessert came around, I was utterly stuffed, and decided on a port to end the evening. Very, very good and just perfect to finish things off.
* From the menu: Champagne, sugar cubes soaked in bitters, a Cherry and a Twist. Very tasty!!
** There are many recipes for it online, you can also find the recipe in the Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, or buy the mix from the Williamsburg Marketplace.