Happy birthday Thomas Jefferson! Born April 13, 1743, this Founding Father became America’s third president; but he was America’s First Foodie.
According to culinary historian Karen Hess, Jefferson was “our most illustrious epicure, in fact, our only epicurean President.”
He loved his veggies, stating that they “constitute my principal diet.” His favorites: tennis-ball lettuce, Brown Dutch lettuce, prickly-seeded spinach and for fruit, Marseilles figs. He sought out new produce varieties from the foreign consuls in Washington, and is credited with introducing broccoli to mainstream America.
He is credited with popularizing fried eggplant, French fries, johnny-cakes, gumbo, mashed potatoes, peanuts, sesame seed oil and sweet potato pudding, among other dishes, blending colonial cuisine with African (slave), Colonial, Creole, European and Native American traditions.[Source]
At the time Jefferson left to serve as minister to France, in 1784, the mainstays of American colonial cooking were primarily meats—baked, boiled, roasted or stewed—breads, heavily sweetened desserts and [generally] overcooked vegetables. [Source]
The sophistication of French cuisine and his travel to another culinary stronghold, Italy, broadened his perspective. He returned to America with recipes, foodstuffs (French wine, olive oil and vanilla beans) and cooking gear, including a pasta machine.
Long before the invention of the crank ice cream machine, strong-armed kitchen staff would whisk the mix in a vat set in a bowl of ice. Photo courtesy Nielsen Massey.