Thomas Jefferson— The First Foodie
Most people know Thomas Jefferson as one of our Founding Fathers. He is also known as one of the main writers of the Declaration of Independence. From there he went on to be the second Vice President and the third President of the United States of America. As President he is also credited with the Louisiana Purchase and launching the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He was also a lawyer whose strong belief in individual rights and democracy led to the fight for independence from Great Britain.
Lately I have been hearing a lot about him and his influence in the foods we consider common in the United States. Some have likened him to the first gourmand or foodie. He was not an avid food connoisseur until after his wife passed away when he was 39, in the year 1782. He started in politics in 1775, but it was not until 1785 when he was appointed United States Minister to France that his passion for good food was established. This was when he first traveled to France.
If you have been to his extensive Virginia estate, Monticello, you will find many of the innovations and inventions that he created. They include advances such as the polygraph, the seven day clock calendar and a new plow that created less resistance when being used. Another aspect of the estate is the huge agricultural expanse of the estate. Jefferson grew up to 330 varieties of vegetables, and experimented with different varieties including up to 30 types of cabbage and 40 types of kidney beans. He also raised 170 varieties of fruit. The least successful crop he tried to grow was grapes. When he returned from France he brought back almost 700 bottles of wine and was anxious to grow grapes to make his own. Unfortunately for him, he was not able to establish a viable grape source.
Jefferson apparently liked his carbohydrates. He is credited with bringing ice cream to the United States. After his first stint in France he fell in love with ice cream and brought back the first ice cream maker, which he used very often when he was President of the United States. Jefferson also was instrumental in the popularity of macaroni and cheese. He learned about the pasta machine in France, sketched it and had it built when he came back to the States. He served macaroni and cheese in the White House in 1802. Whatever was served in the White House became a very talked about dish, and this started its popularity. Jefferson brought back French fries, but they did not become popular until the 1900s when soldiers in World War I came back from Europe craving the dish. All of Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipes for these dishes are on file at the Library of Congress.
Jefferson is also credited with bringing Champagne and Parmesan cheese to the United States. My favorite story though is how he brought rice cultivation back to the United States. Rice is thought to have originally come to the United States in the late 17th century when a ship carrying products from Britain to Madagascar got grounded near South Carolina. The locals helped the seamen repair their ship. Before they departed they gave the locals some rice seeds they were carrying to thank them. Rice was grown here until the American Revolution when the British that occupied South Carolina sent the entire crop back to Britain without leaving any seeds to regenerate to paddies.
When Jefferson was in France, he took a side trip to Italy where he found an Italian variety of rice. He decided to take some home with him, even though this was an illegal move. When he was left alone, he put some of the rice seed in his pocket. Not only was this illegal, but the penalty from the Italian government was the death sentence. When he returned to the States he helped move the rice industry from the Carolinas to a better environment, the Mississippi Basin, which had much higher fresh water availability.
Thomas Jefferson’s Pasta Recipe
6 eggs, yolks & whites
2 wine glasses of milk
2 pounds of flour
a little salt
Work them together without water, and very well. Roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness. Cut it into small pieces which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length. Put them into warm water a quarter of an hour. Drain them. Dress them as maccaroni spelled correctly at that time, but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water.