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Thursday, February 15, 2007 

The Foodie President

Since we'll be celebrating President's Day this coming Monday, we should also celebrate the way that Presidents shape our food culture, customs and heritage.

Perhaps the most influential was Thomas Jefferson, the "Foodie President."
Among his many interests, the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), took a great interest in food and tested many varieties of seeds and fruit varieties. For over 57 years in his 1,000-foot long kitchen garden he tried 70 different species, 250 varieties of vegetables and also over 150 varieties of 31 different types of fruits, keeping copious notes on all.

He experimented with different imported seeds plus varieties of peas, beans, cabbage, asparagus, and tomatoes, just to name a few. The Lewis and Clark Expedition also sent bean and salsify seeds to him. Every two weeks during the growing season, lettuces and radishes were planted to provide the leafy salads he especially liked. Cabbage was also a popular vegetable.

As a minister to France, he enjoyed French cuisine and had French trained chefs in his kitchen. He also imported different foods such as Italian olive oil, and French mustard. Macaroni and vanilla were also introduced. If we check some of the food labels today, we are still purchasing imported items such as these.

A wine connoisseur, Jefferson was also a wine advisor to presidents Washington, Adams, Madison and Monroe.

...In 1809 he began planting and serving a new variety of fruit, the “Tomatas.” His daughter, granddaughter and chef developed many recipes using tomatoes. By 1824 tomatoes became a popular addition to the table because it was thought they kept one’s blood pure throughout the summer’s heat.

Jefferson was a strong advocate of testing new crops and incorporating crop rotations that we still practice today. - The Prairie Star
Thomas Jefferson acquired a taste for continental cooking while serving as American minister to France in the 1780s. When he returned to the United States in 1790 he brought with him a French cook and many recipes for French, Italian, and other au courant cookery. Jefferson not only served his guests the best European wines, but he liked to dazzle them with delights such as ice cream, peach flambe, macaroni, and macaroons. This drawing of a macaroni machine, with the sectional view showing holes from which dough could be extruded, reflects Jefferson's curious mind and his interest and aptitude in mechanical matters.

Thomas Jefferson also designed an improved version of the dumbwaiter. - About.com Inventors

Try a little something "Presidential." Walter Steib, of City Tavern in Philadelphia, provided this recipe.

Thomas Jefferson's Sweet Potato Biscuits

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup solid frozen vegetable shortening
2 cups roasted, mashed, and cooled sweet potatoes
1 cup heavy cream (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and allspice. Add the shortening and cut in with 2 knives or hands until crumbly. In another bowl combine sweet potatoes, cream and pecans. Make well in dry ingredients and add potato-cream mixture. Mix to combine. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut out with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits 1-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn down temperature to 375 and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack until room temperature.

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When I was in grade school, I decided to memorize the favorite food of each president. Strange, huh?

Jefferson was just alright with me. Ya he might have had some problems with slavery, but he was an artist and a dreamer above all, and generations later (like us) are blissfully and sadly unaware of how much influence his life and work impacts our daily lives even now.

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