Friday, August 31, 2012

Thomas Jefferson was a wine lover and connoisseur, but also a fine gourmet

His good health was attributed to his diet : wine, in moderate amount, and a varied and well balanced alimentation, giving a large place to fruits and vegetables. A list of his market purchases from January 1806, includes seafood, large quantities of meat and poultry, wild game, various vegetables according to the season and an impressive quantity of fruits of all kinds from locals ones, to exotic fruits and dried fruits.

Moreover, we know that Thomas Jefferson imported some special items from Europe and in particular delicacies from Southern France, that he ordered from his agent in Marseille : olives and olive oil were for him indispensable (about the olive tree, he wrote : " Of all the gifts of heaven to men, it is next to the most precious, if not the most precious ".), artichoke hearts, anchovies, different kinds of almonds, seedless raisins, figs and Maille mustard.

Jefferson, it seems, understood, ahead of his time, all the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. His biographers have estimated that during the first years of his first mandate, he spent more than one fifth of his presidential salary on wine and food (for a total of $25,000). An observer testified : " Never before had such dinners been given in the President’s house, nor such a variety of the finest and most costly wines ".

Jefferson as President had chosen two Frenchmen as butler and cook. After his return to Monticello, Jefferson would continue, as much as possible, to entertain but encountered difficulties maintaining the culinary standards that he established at the White House. Jefferson would not only organize elegant dinners but would also methodically make an inventory of his cellar and make sure that his monticello garden contained the largest selection of vegetables (he registered more than thirty varieties of peas, his favorite vegetable, in his garden book).

He himself participated in the preparation of meals and initiated his daughters to culinary art. Several hand-written family recipe books survived. Written by Jefferson are his famous Vanilla ice cream, Madeira jellies and Brandy peaches recipes, all available at the Library of Congress. The recipes of Etienne Lemaire, his butler, and Honor√© Julien, his cook, have also survived. Among them, were found recipes for Beef √† la mode, Rabbit fricassee, Lamb breast, Fish matelote and Rice pudding (also at the Library of Congress and transcribed by Marie Kimball in Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book).