American Art

Cooking with Whistler’s Mother

Photomechanical reproduction in halftone, after Whistler’s portrait of his mother, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1898.93

James McNeill Whistler painted Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, a portrait of his mother, Anna, in 1871. James was a devoted son and his mother’s arrival in London in the mid-1860s forced Whistler’s model and mistress, Joanna Heffernan, to seek other quarters.  Mrs. Whistler insisted on living with her “Jemmie” and presiding over his household.

That included the kitchen. Anna Whistler kept a diary and often recorded what she had been cooking. Her recipes, compiled by Professor Margaret MacDonald of the University of Glasgow, are filled with soups, puddings, cakes, and gingerbreads. There’s also a recipe for a peach cordial that calls for 300 peach pits and three quarts brandy and must be left for one month before opening. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave that for another time!

In honor of Anna Whistler and Mother’s Day, and the painting that has perhaps become the quintessential mom image of the art world, we present Mrs. Whistler’s recipe for a dessert called Floating Island:

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Take a cup of currant jelly, beat the whites of 3 eggs to a froth
add a spoonful of rose water then put it in a dish of cream on which it will float, sweeten your milk or cream to your taste

2 1/2 cups heavy or double cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 egg whites
1 cup red currant jelly
1 tablespoon rose water

Whip the cream with the sugar until it stands up in peaks. Put it into a large serving dish and smooth the top. Stiffly whip the egg whites and whisk in the red currant jelly 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat in the rose water. Spoon the mixture in 8 peaks on top of the cream. Serve as soon as possible after making or the peaks will gradually subside.
Serves 8

Light, fluffy, pink islands floating on a creamy sea. A delicate combination of flavors which tastes as good as it looks.

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Let us know if you give the recipe a try. If so, post some pictures on our Facebook page. Happy Mother’s Day from Bento, and remember: Mother knows best.


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