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Jefferson’s Table, Revolutionary, Foodie

Updated on November 6, 2016

Signing Declaration of Independence


The Founding Foodie

Thomas Jefferson was an extraordinary man, Deist, aristocrat, architect, inventor and slave owner. Not only did he help write the Declaration of Independence he served as the Ambassador to France during the writing of the Constitution, he was Secretary of State for George Washington and the third President of the United States. Besides these minor accomplishments he did some important stuff too, he, introduced French fries, vanilla, “maccaroni” and ice cream to this country. Yes Dolly Madison has taken credit for introducing ice cream at the White House but research indicates Tom beat her to the dish.

View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden depicting Jefferson's grandchildren at Monticello watercolour on paper  by_Jane_Braddick_Peticolas_ 1825_at_Monticello
View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden depicting Jefferson's grandchildren at Monticello watercolour on paper by_Jane_Braddick_Peticolas_ 1825_at_Monticello

Dining at Monticello

Jefferson was a bit of a fop when he was in France but he turned out so well.
Jefferson was a bit of a fop when he was in France but he turned out so well.

"Vegetables. . . Constitute My Principal Diet"

Jefferson ate meat only "as a condiment to the vegetables which constitute my principal diet." In the gardens at Monticello he grew more than 250 varieties of herbs and vegetables, brought in from all over the Western world. Included in his gardens were those that others considered possibly poisonous, such as the tomato, or just exotic such as broccoli, asparagus, asparagus bean, sea kale, rutabaga, lima beans, okra, winter melons, peanuts, "sprout kale," serpentine cucumbers, cauliflower, Brussells sprouts, orach, endive, peanuts, chick peas, cayenne pepper, "esculent Rhubarb," black salsify, sesame, eggplant. Some of these veggies were probably introduced by Jefferson but records are inconclusive. Jefferson obtained new vegetable varieties from foreign consuls, passed them on to Washington market gardeners, and ordered his maitre 'd to pay the highest prices for the earliest produce. In Jefferson’s words, "the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture,"

At the end of the Revolution, the British shipped all the rice out of the former Carolina colonies not even leaving seed rice for a new crop. Jefferson tried his hand at smuggling, he discovered the superiority of Italian rice stemmed from the strain, which was closely guarded. "They informed me that its exportation in the husk was prohibited," Jefferson wrote, "so I could only bring off as much as my coat & surtout pockets would hold." Worried that his pocketful of purloined rice would be insufficient to successfully cultivate the strain, Jefferson arranged for a muleteer to "run a couple of sacks across the Appenines to Genoa." Thus he is responsible for restarting the Carolina rice industry and countering a potential famine. Perhaps Uncle Ben should show a picture of Jefferson. Jefferson imported Italian olive oil, French mustard and a long list of items that were not yet common in the colonies. He even gets credit for the first waffle iron in the States.

Monticello Tour- Home of Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's hand written recipes


Jefferson was always ahead of his time as a statesman, President and foodie, the term foodie could have been coined to describe the President for all of his innovations.

In 1789 William Short was still Jefferson’s private secretary and Short was on a mission for Jefferson. Short was in a stage coach riding on the ancient Apian way to Naples Italy, he was charged with finding out how the Neapolitans made those delicate strands of “maccaroni” and maybe even a mold for making the same. In those days, “maccaroni” was our name for any kind of pasta but we learned quickly the correct Italian names. Short succeeded, the molds were on their way to Jefferson in Paris and Short was on his way to be ambassador to France. While those molds were on their way to Paris, Jefferson was leaving for home, soon to become Secretary of State. The molds eventually made their way to Jefferson and he held the first formal dinner featuring “maccaroni” in America.

Jefferson’s culinary experience and tastes were developed and sophisticated during his time as Ambassador to France. Jefferson decided to bring his slave James Hemings with him to study "the art of cookery." James was the brother of the now famous Sally Hemings, slave and mistress to Jefferson and mother of his children. The French influence endured at Jefferson's table for the rest of his life: in 1824, Daniel Webster noted that dinners at Monticello were "served in half Virginian, half French style, in good taste and abundance."

Jefferson left us 8 family recipes written in his own hand and quite probably written using his polygraph, his own invention to copy the written word.

Maccaroni machine
Maccaroni machine

Monticello's kitchen

Jefferson's recipe for maccaroni

6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 tb of flour
a [?] salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices 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.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

French Vineyard

“Wine is a necessary of life.” Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s time in France gave him an enduring love of fine European wines and he became a life long collector of the fine wines of Europe. He had a reputation as a wine connoisseur, and advised presidents Washington, Adams, Madison, and Monroe on the best wines for executive functions. Jefferson tried to introduce European wine grapes (vitis vinifera) hoping to reproduce the great wines of France. He even brought over Italian vineyard workers to tend the vines. The grapes and the endeavor failed, and Jefferson stopped trying to reproduce the great wines of France, satisfied to be a collector and trying to advance the art. Long after Jefferson died we discovered that phylloxera, a tiny, almost microscopic, sap sucking fly native to North America had a taste for the roots and leaves of the European grape vines and was the cause of destruction in Jefferson's vineyard. Today's great American vitis vinifera wines are made possible by grafting European vines onto American rootstock. Jefferson couldn't forget the common people; Jefferson lobbied to lower tariffs on inexpensive wines. He hoped that cheap wine would divert the American public from their considerable consumption of whisky and rum.

Monticello, Little Mountain

Dinner at Monticello

Tom relied on the women of his family and his female slaves to run Monticello his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, managed the Monticello household. Overseeing the preparation and service of meals, dairying; curing, and smoking meats; and brewing and bottling beer were all women’s work at Monticello. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Randolph trained her own daughters each to take a one-month turn as "housekeeper." One of Jefferson's granddaughters described her part as "seated on my throne in the kitchen with a cookery book in my hand," and another granddaughter said "to think of anything but beef and pudding is out of the question."

If you were a guest to dinner at Monticello you would hear the first dinner bell at three o'clock, and the second bell called them to the table at four. When they arrived in the Dining Room, they frequently found Jefferson reading. Hating to waste even a moment waiting for others to gather, he kept books on the fireplace mantel to satisfy a voracious appetite for reading. Jefferson preferred to be alone when he was writing and to have privacy during conversations he invented various dumb waiters so he would not be interrupted by servants. However, when Jefferson dined he always had a table set for anywhere from 8 to 30 guests, without regard for the number of guests old Tom always set for more.

White House Mid 19th Century

Entertaining at the White House

Jefferson had a reputation for lavish meals and entertaining at the White House, Jefferson hired 42 year old Honore Julien as his chef and Etienne Lemaire, to administer the White House. He also brought two of his Monticello servants, Eda and Fanny, to learn French cooking techniques. Eda and Fanny later became Jefferson’s chefs when they returned to Monticello. Lemaire shopped the Georgetown market daily often accompanied by Jefferson. Dinner with Jefferson was an egalitarian affair and he managed to offend some of his guests. Seating at a White House dinner under the third President tended to be laissez faire gatherings where people took their own seats instead of the customary manner of seating assigned according to rank. One guest described a meal at the White House thus, "Dined at the P.'s. Dinner not as elegant as when we dined before. Rice soup, round of beef, turkey, mutton, ham, loin of veal, cutlets of mutton or veal, fried eggs, fried beef, a pie called macaroni . . . . Ice cream very good; a dish somewhat like pudding . . . covered with cream sauce -- very fine. Many other jimcracks [nuts, sweetmeats, and fruit], a great variety of fruit, plenty of wines, and good." That may not be an elegant menu for the standards of the time but it certainly is copious.

Thomas Jefferson

Life mask
Life mask
Old man
Old man

Elections, Immigrants and Regulations

It might be interesting to note that after 235 years we are still engaged in the same arguments, only the nationality of the immigrants has changed. “It has not been easy to take,” Jefferson admits. “One newspaper warns that my election will lead to civil war, and hordes of Frenchmen and Irishmen will come to America and destroy everything we hold dear. Jefferson left a legacy of small farms and a mistrust of banks and business. As a country we turned toward Hamilton and his support for big banks and credit. We pay the bills today for bank bailouts and subsidies for big business that would have Jefferson rolling over in his grave. Perhaps we should turn back to Jefferson's principles today.


“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~ Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson didn’t want government telling you what medicines to take. I wonder if he were alive today, if he would still want to decide which drugs are safe.


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Hazel

      Yes we would all do well to remind ourselves of the failings of the founders. At a time where some of us want to revert to the ideas of the founding fathers it is worthwhile to remember that according to them women were not able to vote or own property and slaves were common in the Southern Presidents lives.

    • hazelbrown profile image


      8 years ago from Central PA

      awesome hub! although i can't thoroughly like TJ because of his slave owning, I do think he was a brilliant man and very interesting! I enjoyed reading this very much.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Dirtfarmer

      I've been fascinated by this time in our history for a long time so I had a head start on this one. We need to find some Jeffersons and Franklins for our time!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Wow! You're a fast writer! Nice one--vote up.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx peter

      Yes, the Founders were fascinating men. We need more people like them now instead of our current crop of sell outs for money.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      8 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Chefsref, this was a wonderful look at Jefferson and a lot of really interesting facts that I did not know. What an amazing human being. I fear old Tom would be sorely disappointed to see his beloved country today. There is stillmuch to learn from him and you have added to that, Thanks for the story.



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