Yep, the Founding Father was not only a revolutionary, he was a Flaming Foodie who seldom ate alone. Friends, farmers and statesmen of the time flocked to his octagon-dome mansion in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fortunately, Jefferson enjoyed entertaining at Monticello and trying new foods on his guests.
Lover of Fine Food and Kitchen Gadgetry
When the dinner bell rang at four o’clock, guests assembled in the dining room, where Jefferson was often seated and reading. Visitors knew they were in for a culinary treat as well, as a lively discussion of Paris, travels, books, wine, philosophy and democracy.
Jefferson was so eager to reproduce a dish he had enjoyed in Italy, he dispatched his private secretary to Naples to buy a macaroni mold and designed his own pasta making machine. In Holland, after eating his first waffle, he purchased a waffle iron. From France he brought back recipes for fancy sauces and rich desserts.
Jefferson imported Parmesan cheese, olive oil, capers, anchovies, and Dijon mustard. Ships from Europe brought him the best vinegar, raisins, almonds, pistachios, figs, and vanilla for his Monticello kitchens. In 1787 he even risked the death penalty in Italy by smuggling out a pocketful of rice to grow on his plantation.
Dining with Jefferson
Those who dined with Jefferson had mixed reactions to his offerings, that ranged from as few as 8 dishes to 32. Daniel Webster described the meals as “a sophisticated cuisine, served in half-Virginia style, half- French style.” But Patrick Henry found the food too “Frenchified” for his tastes.
Dr. Manasseh Cutler (botanist, minister, and family ancestor), recorded a strange dish of noodles he ate with Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis: “. . . a pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with strillions of onions, or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not agreeable.” (There were no onions in the recipe. It may have been the Parmesan cheese that displeased him.) Meriwether appears to have liked the dish, while Manasseh wrote approvingly of the encrusted ice cream and good wine.
Though he entertained lavishly, Jefferson still enjoyed the simple fare of his countrymen: greens, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, fried apples, hot breads. He grew more than 250 different vegetables and herbs in his garden, preferring those to meat that most of his countrymen favored.
Despite his many culinary interests, it is said Thomas Jefferson never went into the kitchen except to wind the clock.