‘Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America’
By Thomas J. Craughwell (Quirk Books, $19.95)

Thomas Jefferson was a complex man, and one of our most intriguing Founding Fathers. In addition to drafting the Declaration of Independence and serving as U.S. president, he was a political philosopher, gardener, naturalist and bibliophile. Lesserr known, perhaps, is thatt he helped to redefinee food in America by introducing ong and popularizing such dishes as Frenchch fries, pasta and evenen our quintessential comfort mnd food, macaroni and cheese.

Jefferson was a free thinker when it came to food. During the 18th century, when most American supper tables were laden with meats, Jefferson preferred vegetables and served meat as a condiment or side dish. While many thought tomatoes were poisonous, he used them in many of his meals along with other homegrown fruits and vegetables.

The big surprise in Thomas J. Craughwell’s fascinating new book, however, is a deal he struck in 1784 with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings, brother of Sally Hemings. According to Mr.

CrauCraughwell, the bargain was a simplesi one: If Hemings wouwould accompany Jefferson to PParis and learn the art of

FrenchFre cooking, he would be granted his freedom. In a ththree-year apprenticeship, HemingsHe mastered not only FrenchFre cuisine, but the language gu as well.

While in France, Jefferson fe studied both agriculture cu and winemaking. in When the two men returnedr to America, theyt brought with them champagne,c designs for pastap presses, seeds and, of course, the recipe for creme brulee. What Jefferson learned abroad, he tried to share with his fellow Americans. His ambitions included seeing Arborio rice and olive groves flourish in South Carolina and producing our country’s first grand cru wines, at Monticello.

A final thought: If you have a bottle of olive oil in your family pantry, you have Jefferson to partially thank. ¦

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2012-10-18 digital edition

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