Thomas Jefferson is one of the most written about presidents in American history. The butt of conspiracy theorists and professional historians, Thomas Jefferson’s life and legacy have been explored from countless angles.
Controversy, however, is no longer the only thing in which Jefferson steeps. A new book by Thomas J. Craughwell entitled Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and his Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America traces Jefferson’s involvement in the Franco-American culinary tradition.
The thrust of Craughwell’s books deals with Jefferson’s efforts to bring French cuisine to America, his secret life as a wine connoisseur, and his involvement in trans-Atlantic coffee culture.
Craughwell provides ample context for Jefferson’s culinary exploits. On the political front, Craughwell sets Jefferson’s culinary history against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the stirrings of the independent American polity.
Craughwell also places Jefferson’s adventures within the frame of American and French culinary history.
Designed for a novice reader, Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée is a light, frothy read. Only 160 pages, it can be digested in an afternoon.
Nonetheless, it may also be of some use to historians. Craughwell sheds light on hitherto unused historical documents, even if most of the sources relating to the story have not withstood the test of time. A selection of original documents and recipes have been scanned and included in the index of the book.
While Julia Child made French cuisine accessible to all Americans, Jefferson may very well have played a key role in beginning the Franco-American culinary exchange.
Whats more, Craughwell reminds readers that fine dining can be a political matter. Perhaps Jefferson’s own use of cuisine to build political bridges on both sides of the Atlantic will serve as inspiration to American politicians seeking to build consensus today.
Want to read more about Jefferson? The Smithsonian has some intriguing articles available online: