BY Colleen Thompson
On the 243rd birthday of the United States of America we reminisce on the choices the third president of our young country brought home from France.
This fourth of July when you pop a french fry into your mouth indulge in a side of mac and cheese cool off with a scoop of ice cream or lift a toast with a glass of Champagne give a thought to founding father President Thomas Jefferson because we have him to thank for all of it. Not only did he draft the Declaration of Independence he also played a pivotal role in American food history.
“The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our Independence Day ” Jefferson said.
The parties Jefferson threw were indeed some of the finest and most lavish Washington had ever seen. The Fourth of July along with New Year’s Day became the first and only celebrations held at the President’s House while he was president.
At the center of these gatherings was the food. In addition to being an eloquent writer philosopher and skilled gardener Jefferson was intellectually curious exceptionally creative and passionate about food.
In 1784 Jefferson was appointed minister to France by the American Congress and set off for Paris. It was during this time that he learned a great deal about French cuisine and cooking and developed an appreciation of fine cuisine and cooking methods. Accompanying him to France was one of his enslaved workers 19-year-old James Hemings. Under the instruction of French chefs including a master chef from the hotel Prince de Conde Hemings became a skilled chef himself and went on to become the chef de cuisine at Jefferson’s residence in Paris.
Jefferson sailed back to America in 1789 and with him brought back several French culinary paraphernalia and food. There are many myths and legends about which foods Jefferson brought back from France. Author Thomas J. Craughwell’s book “Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America” tells us he brought back 86 crates of kitchen supplies including European cookbooks a pasta maker 680 bottles of wine grapevines (he said one day America would make wines as good as those in France) Parmesan cheese olive oil pasta figs apricots teapots and tablecloths. Back in Virginia at his Monticello homestead in Virginia these foods blended with those arriving on the slave ships to create a unique Southern cuisine.
While Jefferson loved French cuisine he also grew a vast variety of his own food in his Monticello gardens. Along with Irish wheat Italian grapes French tarragon Mexican chilies African okra and tomatoes Jefferson also grew 330 different vegetable varieties and more than 170 fruits (now considered heirloom varieties).
Immensely proud of his gardens he was fond of saying that his kitchen was “half French half Virginian.” When the American South was known only for tobacco Jefferson pushed crop diversity which is the lasting legacy of him as a gardener and farmer.
While in Washington he became known for hosting lavish fine dinners never seen before at the President’s House.
Food historian Karen Hess says Jefferson initiated America’s love affair with pommes de terre frites a cru en petites tranches — or simply French fries. He reportedly served the deep fried sliced potatoes while entertaining guests at the President’s House. He also brought back a recipe for vanilla ice cream along with a freezer and regularly served the dessert along with Virginia pound cake and brandied peaches to guests at formal dinners. Jefferson’s handwritten ice cream recipe resides at the Library of Congress. He became enamored with macaroni and hand sketched a pasta maker which he replicated in the U.S. The noodles which were combined with milk and parmesan cheese became macaroni pie which Jefferson first served to Congress in 1802.
But the biggest celebration of the year in Jefferson’s day was the Fourth of July. The President’s House was opened up to all people. On the lawn of the White House patriotic hymns were played by the Marine band; speeches and cheers were given in honor of the president and the nation; fine refreshments were served. In the State Dining Room tables were pushed up against the walls bowls were filled with punch and platters laden with food.
Here are a few Jeffersonian approved recipes for Independence Day celebrations:
Red White & Blue Potato Salad with Buttermilk Herb Dressing
2 pounds baby potatoes mixed colors of red white and purple.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp wholegrain Dijon mustard
6 green onions chopped
2 Tbsp Italian parsley chopped
2 Tbsp fresh chives chopped
1 lemon zested
2 hardboiled eggs chopped salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan over a high heat boil the potatoes in salted water until tender and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl whisk together the mayonnaise buttermilk and Dijon mustard. Add in 1/2 the green onions 1/2 chives 1/2 dill 1/2 parsley lemon zest salt and pepper.
When the potatoes are cooled slice them in half.
In a large bowl combine the cooled potatoes with the buttermilk dressing and hard-boiled eggs and season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
Place in the fridge for 45 minutes to cool. When ready to serve sprinkle with the remaining herbs.
Red White & Blue Coleslaw
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
3/4 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium red cabbage very thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1/2 medium white cabbage
2 medium white carrots peeled julienned or grated
1 red bell pepper julienned
1 Granny Smith apple chopped into matchsticks
Whisk mayonnaise vinegar honey celery seeds salt and pepper in a large bowl to combine. Add white and red cabbage and carrots red bell pepper and apple to dressing and toss to coat. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Summertime Heirloom Tomato Salad
Servings: 4 side-dish servings
2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound small mozzarella balls cut in half
6 canned anchovies
2 Tbsp capers
Small bunch fresh basil
2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp spoons extra-virgin olive oil
Wash the tomatoes pat them dry slice them into quarters and place them in a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Slice the mozzarella balls in half dice the avocado and add them to the tomatoes. Finely chop the anchovies and capers together tear up the basil into small pieces and add. Drizzle with good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar and mix to combine all the ingredients.
Sparkling Berry Limeade
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp lime zest
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh cherries
2 cups sparkling water
Lime wedges for garnish
Dissolve sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in lime zest and lime juice. Cover and chill for one hour. Add an ounce or two of sugar syrup per glass. Add blueberries and cherries and top with sparkling water.
Summer Berry Pavlova
6 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cups assorted berries (raspberries blueberries strawberries currants)
2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Using a pencil draw around a dinner plate on parchment. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks then whisk in the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until the meringue looks glossy. Add the vinegar and salt and beat until the meringue forms stiff peaks. Spread the meringue inside the circle. Bake for 1 hour then turn off the heat and let the meringue cool completely inside the oven. When the meringue is cool mix the berries together with confectioner’s sugar. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla to the cream and whip until thick. Spread the cream even over the meringue and place the berries in a circular pattern on top.
Fresh Berry Flag Cake
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter plus additional butter for greasing pan
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 inch jelly roll pan.
In a medium bowl whisk together the boiling water cocoa powder milk and vanilla.
In a separate bowl sift together the flour baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the butter and sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium.
Add the flour and cocoa powder mixtures in batches.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes then invert the cake onto the rack remove the wax or parchment paper and let it cool completely.
Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar sifted
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the cream cheese butter and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar beat until the frosting is smooth. Chill the frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2 cups raspberries
1 cup blueberries
Frost the top and sides of the cake.
Using a toothpick outline a 4×3-inch-long rectangle in the top left corner. Arrange blueberries in horizontal rows in the top left corner of the cake.
Starting at the top edge of the cake pipe a line of frosting then arrange two horizontal rows of raspberries directly below the line of frosting. Pipe a second line of frosting below the raspberries and arrange two more horizontal rows of raspberries directly below the frosting. Repeat this process across the cake.
Slice and serve immediately with vanilla ice cream in true Jefferson style.