August 31, 1999
by Lee Edwards
“I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that as a condiment for the
vegetables, which constitute my principle meal.”
-- Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States for two consecutive terms, father of the University of Virginia and Minister to France.
Thomas Jefferson was an unmarried man when he took office in 1801 and moved into the White House. He brought with him a French chef, Honore Julien, having fourteen servants. Thomas revolutionized dining in America.
The first great change President Jefferson made to the White House was limiting State receptions to two days a year; New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July were set aside for these affairs. The turn-out for the galas grew with such enormity because of the legendary lavish gourmet food offerings he bequeathed that tables and tents had to be placed all around the White House lawn to accommodate all of the guests.
But, the greatest change he brought to the White House was a radical concept for doing business. He conducted business affairs at a large round dining room table beginning about two thirty in the afternoon and often lasting to well into the night generally not having more than twelve guests at a given time. These dinners took place almost every afternoon of the year.
Scuppernong wine was a countryside favorite for dinners. The President added import wines to their bill of fare. He is, to this day, heralded for having been the greatest connoisseur of fine wines to have lived in the White House, and an authority on coffee. It was not unusual for him to spend close to $3,000 a year on imported wines during his stay there -- an expense he bore from his personal assets (about $30,000 these days). President Jefferson’s obsession with fine wines was not overwhelming as one might assume considering his expense. He did not serve wine with his meals; that and his conversations of the state were withheld until the dishes and table cloth and been cleared away.
The White House did not have a First Lady during those years. He relied on the charms and grace of Dolly Madison for special dinners when other ladies were present at these State dinners. He was an intelligent, gentle, generous, well-mannered and handsome host himself, who introduced many culinary staples to our industries that I, frankly, could not live without. French fries, olive oil, tomatoes and vanilla are among the many delights he brought back home from his stay as Minister to France when he visited Europe. And, on one occasion he risked facing a death penalty in doing this when he successfully smuggled rice he kept concealed in his pockets from Italy.
In lieu of all that he has given our country in the way of food and dining he was basically a man with simple tastes for foods. Simple, but not bland. He was a gardener beyond my dreams. He grew his own herbs, twenty different kinds of peas, thirty-eight varieties of peaches, many, many kinds of other vegetables and fruits, and he raised goats. In all, he introduced 250 varieties of his garden produce to Americans. These gifts of bounty were but a few of his many talents.
It is said that he never went inside of a kitchen except to wind the clock. I wish he could have wound my kitchen clock.
In 1826 he passed away on the fiftieth anniversary to the signing of the Declaration of Independence while at his home in Monticello. A most unusual man. And, the nature his stature brings to my mind...
To the ladies; God Bless Them! May nothing distress them! (a toast)
The following recipes are a few of President Jefferson’s favorites. He was also very fond of tarragon vinegar, macaroni, sweet potatoes, and English peas. I have included a recipe from his daughter’s governess and one of his hostess, Dolly Madison, from her days as First Lady while married to the fourth president of the United States, James.
1/3 cupful of butter
1 cup sugar (any kind)
1 teaspoon vanilla, almond or rum
Cream the butter until it is very soft. Blend in the sugar and flavoring. Keep it chilled until you are ready to use it. Pipe rosettes with servings of rice waffles.
2 cups of uncooked medium grained white rice
2 large eggs
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon salt
Cook the rice according to the directions on its package. Add all of the ingredients to a blender or a food processor, mix them until the batter becomes smooth. Keep the sides of the blender scraped down with a spatula.
Bake the batter in an oiled, preheated waffle iron until the waffles are golden brown. Yields six waffles.
Annette’s (his daughter’s governess) Julienne Soup
6 cups of beef broth
1 small turnip
1 medium sized potato, peeled
1/2 teaspoon of crushed, dried marjoram
1 onion cut into thin wedges
1/2 teaspoon salt
Clean the vegetables and cut them into julienne strips, except for the onion.
Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
Albemarle Peach Chutney
5 lbs. (12 cups) peeled, sliced, fresh peaches
2 lbs. (4 1/2 cups) packed, dark brown sugar
6 medium (5 cups) peeled and diced tart apples
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups vinegar
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 cups raisins
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
Place the peaches in a bowl and sprinkle them with sugar and vinegar. Put the remaining ingredients in a 6-quart pot and cook them covered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture frequently. Add the peaches and bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat to a slow boil cooking it uncovered until it thickens (about 30 minutes). Pack the chutney into 7 or 8 sterile, hot pint jars leaving a 1/2-inch head space. Adjust the lids and process in boiling water bath for about 20 minutes.
Dolly Madison’s Pound Cake
1 lb. butter
1 lb. sugar
1 lb. cake flower
12 eggs separated and beaten
1/2 lb. pitted dates
8 large almonds
Preheat oven to 325F. Cream the butter and blend in the sugar. Alternately add the egg yolks, stiffly beaten egg whites and flour to the butter mixture beating the batter until it becomes light. Pour the mixture in to a round, well-greased and floured pan leaving at least 1 inch of space between the batter and the top of the pan. Bake it slowly and carefully until the sides of the cake pull away from the pan and the cake is golden brown. When the cake has cooled, remove it from the pan and decorate the top with the dates and almonds. Drizzle honey over the cake.