Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook 

Following on the heels of Susan Harris’ post, Thomas Jefferson, The Gardener, a food post on Edibles From Thomas Jefferson’s Garden seemed right in line. In The Gardener post, photos of edibles were shown so the process has begun. It is a known fact that Thomas Jefferson was quite a connoisseur, transporting many plants, recipes and dishes from Europe-particularly France. It was there that he tasted ice cream and learned the art of fine wines which he called, “A Necessary of Life”.

As our country’s first gourmet, Jefferson had a keen awareness of food at a young age. He raised his own vegetables and kept copious records as he continued to do throughout his years at Monticello. His favorite edibles were his olive tree and many pea plants. A lush pantry of pasta, Parmesan cheese, figs, raisins, almonds, mustard, tarragon, vinegar, oil, and anchovies was brought from aboard and introduced in the US. The introduction of crepes, Italian rice, endives, French beans, capers, and pistachios are credited to Jefferson.

The Monticello Explorer Gardens and Grounds Tour explains:

“For Jefferson plants were intimately associated with people-a union of gardening and sociability. The gardening process for him certainly brought friends and family closer together.”

For more excellent reading on Jefferson’s edibles read, Dining at Monticello: in good taste and abundance By Damon Lee Fowler.

Thomas Jefferson's Sweet Potato Biscuits 1774

Serves 10-12

This recipe is from the National Constitution Center (NCC), Philadelphia PA. According to the NCC, Thomas Jefferson's biscuits were served at the first meeting of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and are served today at the famous City Tavern (built in 1773) located in Philadelphia's historic district at 2nd and Walnut Streets.

  •  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sweet potato, mashed (about 1 large Virginia Sweet Potato)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Combine the dry ingredients. Add butter with fork, food processor or pastry cutter until the texture is small crumbs.

Combine milk and sweet potatoes. Add to flour mixture. Add pecans.

Knead dough with your hands until it is a smooth mass. Roll out on a floured surface to 1/2" thickness and cut with a 2" biscuit cutter.

Place on a greased baking sheet 2" apart.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.


Thomas Jefferson's Chicken Fricassee Recipe

Serves 6

Jefferson followed his love of French cuisine with this classic French stew, usually made with chicken. The livestock, of course was from the grounds of Monticello.

  •  3 pounds chicken pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup dry wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh small mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup half and half cream
  • hot cooked rice

Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg and paprika.

Brown the chicken in hot oil over high heat in a Dutch oven; remove the chicken when well browned. Reduce heat to medium, add flour, and cook the flour until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Whisk in water and wine until smooth.

Return the chicken to the Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 50 minutes.

Remove chicken, keeping warm, reserve broth in large container. Broth may be strained to remove particles.

Melt butter in Dutch oven, over medium high heat, add onion, cook until lightly browned. Add mushrooms, sage and parsley. Add broth, and chicken. Cook over medium heat, stirring until thoroughly heated. Served over rice.



“Jefferson and company was able to enjoy ice cream throughout the year because ice was "harvested" from the Rivanna River in winter and taken to the Monticello ice house, which held sixty-two wagon-loads. The ice house located in Monticello's north dependency wing was used throughout the year primarily to preserve meat and butter, but also to chill wine and to make ice cream. In 1815, Jefferson noted, the ice supply lasted until October 15.”

Marie Kimball's Thomas Jefferson's Cook Book gives modern versions of this and other recipes:

Ice Cream

Beat the yolks of 6 eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add, gradually, 1 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil 1 quart of cream and pour slowly on the egg mixture. Put in top of double boiler and when thickens, remove and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. When cool add 2 teaspoonfuls of vanilla. Freeze, as usual, with one part of salt to three parts of ice. Place in a mould, pack with ice and salt for several hours. For electric refrigerators, follow usual direction, but stir frequently.


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