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!
served as the residence of Louis’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Once the square had been formally inaugurated, it became one of the most fashionable areas in the city, sparking a residential building boom in the neighborhood and along the nearby rue Saint-Honoré. During the French Revolution, the king’s statue was destroyed and a guillotine erected in its place. There Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, along with hundreds of lesser French citizens, lost their heads. In 1795, in the
answer. By the 1740s, monarchs and generals had come to recognize that the potato was also a reliable source of nutrition for their armies. Frederick the Great of Prussia was such an ardent advocate that he had potato seeds distributed free to peasants throughout his kingdom.27 Within a decade the potato had become standard fare in Prussia, but it was still regarded with suspicion in France. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a botanist, was determined to change his compatriots’ opinion. During the
told Parmentier: “France will thank you someday for having found bread for the poor.” In 1802 Napoleon awarded Parmentier the Legion of Honor; after his death, in 1813, it was customary for many years to plant potatoes on his grave.30 Potatoes were not a new ingredient to James Hemings; by this time, the vegetable was already being consumed throughout the United States. But Hemings had other novelties to get used to. For one thing, French kitchens differed significantly from those James had
In the sixteenth century, Pope Leo X, Charles V of Spain, and Henry VIII of England all purchased vineyards in the region and filled their cellars with its delectable wines. Of course, these early wines were nothing like the Champagne we enjoy today. The beverage’s characteristic bubbles, produced by carbon dioxide released during the fermentation process, were considered undesirable until the early eighteenth century, when Philippe, the duke of Orléans, started a fashion for sparkling wine. The
sensibility and parental affection. His wife died when this child was born, and he was almost in a confined state of melancholy; confined himself from the world and even from his friends, for a long time; and this news has greatly affected him and his daughter [Polly].”4 Bereft once again and fearful he would lose Polly to the next epidemic of childhood illness that swept through Virginia, Jefferson decided that she must join him in France. Understandably, the young girl did not want to leave