Thomas Jefferson has to be one of my most favorite people from colonial times. He was a multi-faceted individual. He entered the College of William and Mary at just sixteen and graduated two years later. He was an inventor, architect, horticulturist,and a musician (he played the violin) just to name a few of his many accomplishments. That is why when I was on the hunt for a non-fiction book this one popped out.
Jefferson as you may all well know was the was the second Vice President under John Adams and then went on to become the third President of the United States. He was one of the Founding Fathers and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He held many positions in the United States government including the first Secretary of state and the “ambassador to Europe” which lead him to take up residency in France. OK we all learned this in history class.
The timing for his journey to France was a good one, since he had recently lost his wife. His love for cooking with fresh ingredients and fine cuisine probably made the position in France a godsend to him. He took his slave James Heming with him and paid for James to be an apprentice in a French kitchen. His hope was to bring it back to the colonies and incorporate it into everyday dishes.
James Heming was an interesting character. He technically was the half brother of Jefferson’s wife. When Jefferson’s father-in-law died all his slaves passed to Thomas.
The cuisine of Virginia during Jefferson’s lifetime was more comfort food with very little done to develop the flavors of the food. My foodie friends probably would reject the food served as being to boring.
The gentry and some of the middle class had plenty to eat and it was not uncommon to be served a Huge breakfast and dinner. A common breakfast according to this book was freshly baked bread, corn pone, pancakes, cold ham, chicken and several types of hash. Coffee and tea were both served. My breakfast of toast and coffee pales against the early colony breakfast. Dinner was lots of meats, veggies from the garden, salad etc.
Jefferson enjoyed experimenting with different varieties of plants. He imported many of them from Europe. Monticello was a “laboratory” for his many species of fruits and vegetables. He also grew grapes for wine making.
When the French added their might and army to assist during the Revolution they brought with them their cuisine which Jefferson immediately enjoyed. Sadly the colonist did not share his love. It wouldn’t be until years later that Americans would accept French cooking. In fact, Americans can credit Julia Childs for making it popular in the 1960’s and to this day it is incorporated into many of the dishes eaten here in the US.
I have gone on and on but really if you are looking to read a little history of Jefferson and his time that is not bogged down in a lot of talk about politics this might be your book. It focuses of course on cuisine and the relationships between the people of his times. It also gives an account of life in Paris before the French Revolution.
I don’t read non-fiction as much as I should. Probably because non-fiction can be tedious but not this book. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do as well. And if you are interested in the first American Cookbook click on the book below.