Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
Thomas J. Craughwell
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This culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.
Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in United States history. As Hemings apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, Champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative history tells the story of their remarkable adventure—and even includes a few of their favorite recipes!
where everyone sat together with no regard for a traveler’s desire for privacy, much less respect for the traveler’s social rank. Nemeitz soon discovered that people of quality did not frequent public inns; instead, they went to private ones, where they were treated with courtesy and served delicious meals prepared by master chefs.22 Nemeitz was not the only critic of the food and service at French inns. In 1763 an ailing Tobias Smollett, the English novelist, passed through France en route to a
building. “His look was sombre, haggard, and dejected beyond description,” Jefferson wrote, “even his dress uncouth and neglected. He asked to speak with me. We stood in the street near the door. He opened the subject of the assumption of the state debts, the necessity of it in the general fiscal arrangement and it’s indispensible necessity towards a preservation of the union.” To Hamilton, the assumption of the states’ debts appeared so essential that, he confessed to Jefferson, “if he had not
likely that other recipes from Monticello appear in the 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph (1762–1828), Patsy Jefferson’s sister-in-law. The following pages present undated recipes recorded by Thomas Jefferson as well as a nineteenth-century transcription of a recipe that Virginia Trist attributed to “James, cook at Monticello.” Bon appétit! Ever the farmer, Jefferson sought access to a year-round supply of fresh produce from his estate. In this recipe for preserving French
Franklin and to have the pleasure of telling stories about his simplicity, his balding head and scattering straight hairs.” Initially, Franklin brought Adams along to the dinner parties and salons at the homes of individuals who stood at the pinnacle of French society. There, amid the superb meals, the sparkling Champagne, and the even more sparkling wit, Franklin set about launching a subtle public relations campaign to make the newly formed United States of America a cause célèbre among the
recommended the product to the ladies, who were instantly delighted by his choice. After the Adamses left France for England, Abigail wrote often to Jefferson, sending him shopping lists of items unavailable there, such as certain types of dessert plates or the silk stockings that she and Nabby now could not live without.22 * * * In the eighteenth century Southerners routinely referred to their enslaved servants and farmworkers as members of the family. In the case of James Hemings and Thomas