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
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
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 Honoré Julien,
his cook, have also survived. Among them, were found recipes for Beef à 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).