Food History

Mirth, Jollity and a Monticello Plum Pudding


By Diane Ehrenpreis, Assistant Curator

Details of how the holiday was observed at Monticello are scarce. I recently made a discovery in a set of Jefferson family letters that takes place at Christmas, and provides insights into the comings and goings of the household.

In December (date), Jefferson’s granddaughter Cornelia Randolph composed a hasty letter to her sister, Virginia Randolph Trist, asking her to send the family recipe for plum pudding as quickly as possible.

VRT to CJR 12 22 60 1

Courtesy of the Nicholas Philip Trist Papers #2104, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While Cornelia’s letter does not survive, her request and its urgency are clear in Virginia’s surviving reply. Virginia’s response, which was written in Philadelphia, is dated December 22, probably in 1860. She says, “I received your letter last night and hope the directions for the pudding may reach you to-morrow morning.” And despite having a sick headache, she transcribed and annotated the recipe so that her sister, who may have been with family in Alexandria, Virginia, could have the plum pudding that they both remembered from their childhood.

Once Virginia had copied out the ingredients, the sugar and flour, bread crumbs from a penny loaf bread, the dozen eggs, the cinnamon and citron, the suet and the brandy, she added one powerful word: “Monticello.” Virginia specifically associated this Christmas pudding with Monticello, and by extension, her Christmas past and present. Perhaps Virginia and Cornelia felt the same way about this exact pudding, as I do about my Nana’s Swedish pepparkakor recipe: it is not Christmas without this food.

When I read this exchange between sisters, I was struck by how modern the events seemed. I immediately empathized with Cornelia’s evident upset at not being able to find the pudding recipe. Have we not all been there, especially this time of year?  I was also immensely touched at her sister’s reaction to promptly share and send the recipe, despite feeling poorly. And, what about the U. S. Post Office, and the one-day turn-around time, in 1860!

Just as the Internet has changed how we stay in touch, and it has dramatically changed how I do much of my research. I found this letter while reading scans of the family correspondence available online from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I can now sit at my desk and have access to seemingly unlimited primary material, from here and other collections.

Earlier this year, this same collection yielded a reference to the Randolph family looking forward to playing whist and drinking eggnog at a Christmas gathering in the 1850s. While this may seem too late to apply to Monticello, it likely reveals a tradition that the family had kept for quite a while, considering that both whisk and eggnog first became popular in the 18th century. When I saw the recipe for “plumb pudding” and the date of December 22, I knew this was another discovery to add to our Christmas file.

Please enjoy reading Virginia’s version of the Christmas pudding, and do not overlook her helpful hints for making it a success. Do people still boil pudding for an entire day? I am hopeful that some one of you will take time to create this Christmas dish, so do let us know how it turns out.

“Proportions of a plumb pudding”

4 spoonful of brown sugar-

½ lb of currants-

1lb of raisins-

1 lb of suet- (*modern substitute: butter)

3 spoonfuls of flour-

crumb of a penny loaf of bread grated-

12 eggs-

1 nutmeg-


+ cinnamon 1 spoonful-


1 teaspoonful of salt-

1 wine glass of brandy.

The ingredients must be prepared and the pudding boiled a long time…a day’s boiling, it is better for it, but when made with bread it is not so necessary as when made with four + is lighter + more wholesome.

The suet should be grated fine and every string…taken out of it (*modern substitute: cream the butter)-the ingredients carefully and thoroughly mixed.

Virginia house wife recommends rubbing the raisins for pudding and cakes in a little flour to prevent their settling to the bottom, taking care the four should not stick to them in lumps.

 The cloth in which the pudding is boiled should be wet + floured + the pudding tied up…

 Put into boiling water and cover…

 If the pudding is boiled some hours the day before it is wanted it may be again put into the pot the following day + boiled as long as necessary.

 It should be kept in a cool place.


Interested in hearing more about Monticello holiday traditions? Visit for information on holiday programming and events.



Heirloom Okra and True Virginia Gumbo

In Notes on the State of Virginia, begun in 1781, Thomas Jefferson recorded that the gardens of his native state “yield musk melons, water melons, tomatoes, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe.” It wasn’t until 1809, however, that Jefferson began to plant okra on an annual basis at Monticello.

Jefferson experimented with this African native. He generally planted okra in late March or early April. In 1817, for instance, he noted its planting in Monticello’s Vegetable Garden on April 2 and its arrival at table on July 28, over sixteen weeks later. In 1813, Jefferson edged his “square,” or plot of tomatoes with okra – a rather unusual combination of plant textures.











When Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener” Steve Bender visited Monticello, he was delighted to see Cow’s Horn Okra, an heirloom variety with distinctive curved fruits, still growing in the Vegetable Garden today. Bender says okra is the “quintessential southern vegetable” and that Jefferson popularized many of today’s culinary southern staples.

okraA member of the mallow family, okra is both tasty and beautiful with large, handsome yellow flowers. The young fruiting pods were often combined with tomatoes for soups in Jefferson family recipes. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, left a recipe for okra soup, in effect “gumbo,” marking the early Africanization of the cooking of Virginia gentry. Gumbo works as a compelling metaphor for Monticello’s garden:  a rich blend of American native vegetables grown by American Indians like lima beans and cymlins mixed with South and Central American discoveries adapted by both northern (potatoes) and southern (tomatoes) Europeans, and tied together by an African plant, okra.

The gumbo recipe below was attributed to Martha Randolph in her daughter Virginia Randolph Trist’s manuscript and edited for modern use by Damon Lee Fowler in Dining at Monticello. The recipe is derived from classic African “long-pot” cooking and served with rice as per West African tradition. For authenticity, try this soup with fresh okra, truly vine-ripened tomatoes, and an all-natural, grain-fed chicken weighing no more than three pounds.

Okra Soup

Serves 18 

4 quarts water

1 pound young okra (each 2 to 3 inches long), trimmed and slice

1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cups fresh lima beans, or 1 package (10 ounces) frozen lima beans, thawed


  whole black pepper in a pepper mill

1 chicken (3 ½ pounds), cut up as for frying, setting aside the back and neck for another use

4 ounces salt pork, sliced about ¼ inch think and blanched

2 large sprigs each fresh parsley and thyme, tied together in a bundle with kitchen twine

1 pound (about 3 medium) pattypan or yellow summer squash, trimmed and diced

5 medium tomatoes, blanced, peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 rounded tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

3 cups cooked white rice

  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Stir in the okra and onion and return to a simmer. Reduce the heat as low as possible and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour. Add the lima beans and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the beans are just tender.
  2. Season liberally with salt and a few grindings of pepper and add the chicken, salt pork, herb bundle, and squash. Raise the heat briefly to return to a simmer, lower it once more, and cook at a bare simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, about 1 hour. Add the tomatoes and continue simmering for another hour. Remove from the heat and discard the salt pork and herb bundle. The soup can be made ahead and cooled, covered, and refrigerated. When chilled (about 6 hours or overnight), remove and discard any fat that surfaces. Otherwise, let it cool until all the fat settles to the top, and skim it off.
  3. When ready to serve the soup, return it to a simmer over medium heat, Knead together the butter and flour in a small bowl and stir it into the soup, simmering until lightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Serve it in warmed bowls with a whole piece of chicken in each bowl and about ¼ cup of white rice spooned into the center of each serving.

Jefferson and Apples

Of the many fruit species Thomas Jefferson cultivated in his Monticello gardens, his collection of apple trees were one of his most consistently successful crops. Peter J. Hatch,  the Director of Monticello Gardens and Grounds for over 34 years, said, “The apple was a standard, every-day fruit at Monticello…Jefferson’s cultivation of the apple was exceptionally discriminating as he concentrated on only four varieties.” Jefferson’s eight-acre Fruit Garden, called the “Fruitery” in Jefferson’s Memorandum notes, yielded a wide variety of fruit trees and special fruit plants. Included within the Fruitery was the North Orchard, a grove of about two hundred apple and peach trees. These trees were propagated from seed, which often resulted in interesting variations that remained unnamed and were unique to Jefferson’s garden.

With Jefferson’s favorite apple trees cultivated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants and featured at The Shop at Monticello, you can plant your own Fruitery. Each hardy variety produces a unique and delicious fruit that you can enjoy year after year.

Roxbury Russet

apple_roxburyrussetDescription: Vintage variety. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 10 to 12 feet high. Extremely productive variety, stores well through the winter.

Taste: The fruit has a greenish skin and a crisp, tart taste which ripens in early fall. Great for eating fresh, cooking, homemade cider and juice.

History: Jefferson planted several “Roxbury Russet” trees in Monticello’s South Orchard in 1778, referring to them as “russetings” because of the distinctive flaking russets on the skin of the fruit. These were one of the more popular apple varieties in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Albemarle Pippin

albemarle-pippin-apple-tree-malus-cv-3[1]Description: Heirloom variety. Limited distribution in United States. Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 1o to 12 feet high. Stores well during cold months in a cool cellar or refrigerator.

Taste: The fruit flesh is greenish-white, juicy, crisp, tart, and with a fine aroma. Considered one of the best keeping apples.

History: The “Albemarle Pippin” was one of Jefferson’s two favorite table apples. He planted as many as 50 Albemarle Pippins in the Monticello Fruitery between 1769 and 1814. Benjamin Franklin reputedly introduced the variety into England as an example of superior American fruit.

Esopus Spitzenburg

esopus_spitzenburgDescription: Semi-dwarf, deciduous fruit tree. Grows 12 to 15 feet high. Bears handsome red apples which ripen in late autumn.

Taste: Fruit features a firm, juicy yellow flesh with a delicious, brisk, rich flavor. Particularly excellent for baking pies.

History: The “Esopus Spitzenburg” was Jefferson’s other favorite apple variety. He planted 32 of these trees in the Monticello Fruitery between 1807 and 1812. This apple variety is still considered one of the world’s finest today.

Hewes Crab

Hewes' Crab or VaCrabApple.sjDescription: Hardy fruit tree that can be grown as an ornamental. Grows to eight feet. Yields small rounded fruits of a dull red streaked with green, which ripen in early autumn.

Taste: Fruit produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Considered the finest cider apple by apple connoisseurs.

History: This was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. Jefferson planted his entire North Orchard exclusively with this variety from which several batches of homemade cider were made over the years.


Made at Monticello

Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still bring ‘apples’ to your table! Monticello Handcrafted Apple Spoons are created from branches pruned from apple trees in Monticello’s Orchard. The spoons are beautiful and functional, perfect for serving salad or a delicious fruit cobbler dessert.

Our collection of fruit butters are the perfect addition to a breakfast or lunch spread. Wonderful on biscuits, toast, and sandwiches, Monticello’s Apple Butter, Peach Butter, and Strawberry Butter are staff favorites. Our fruit butters contain no preservatives and are truly versatile spreads.

Monticello kitchen records reveal that apple cider was a staple beverage at most meals. Jefferson’s extensive apple orchards were vital to the production of his homemade cider. The non-alcoholic Monticello Sparkling Cider is reminiscent of the third president’s preferred beverage.

For more information on Jefferson and apples, check out these staff favorites:

Apples of North America is brimming with beautiful portraits of heirloom and modern apples of merit, each accompanied by distinguishing characteristics and common uses. As the view broadens to the orchard, you will find information on planting, pruning, grafting, and more. The exploration of the apple culminates with an overview of the fruit’s transformative capabilities when pressed, fermented, cooked, or dried.

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello details Jefferson’s extensive Fruitery and orchards. Jefferson cultivated over 170 kinds of temperate fruits; this book explores his methods and research that helped him become a successful fruit farmer.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow provides plenty of information on growing and cultivating apples in your backyard, as well as tips on purchasing and cooking with apples. It’s handy to take along when visiting farmer’s markets and roadside stands, and will help buyers choose from the bounty of treasured heirloom breeds and tasty new types.



Cool Season Garden Fresh Salad

saladSalads were an important part of Jefferson’s diet; he engineered his famous vegetable garden so that he could cultivate salad greens and dressings year-round even through the somewhat unpredictable, sometimes unforgiving Virginia climate. He records in his garden notes planting several cool-season greens such as orach, endive, and nasturtiums, all of which graced Monticello’s dinner table during the winter months. Monticello salads probably included a mixed bouquet of greens which were gathered early in the morning, laid in cold water or laid on ice to ensure freshness, and removed just before dinner was served.

monticellostore_2272_160583216The late winter and early spring months are the perfect time to plant your own cool season garden fresh salad. Several cool season greens do not require much garden space to flourish and grow very well in containers. Additionally, a mix of varieties may be grown at once within a small space, making a windowbox the perfect mini-garden for your fresh garden salad. The Shop’s Natural Willow Windowbox  and Natural Willow Veggie Planter are a stylish and effective way to grow herbs and salad greens in a compact space.

So, what does a cool season garden fresh salad look like? The Shop at Monticello offers a variety of cool season salad greens and vegetable seeds that are perfect for growing in your backyard or windowsill garden.


Step 1: Start with your base greens

monticellostore_2268_118790903[1]Arugula makes for a nice base green, and its tangy flavor adds zest to a basic salad or sandwich. The green was important in early American diets for its nutrients and flavor and can be used in salads or mixed into pasta and rice dishes. It grows best in cool weather and grows quickly, making it a cool season garden staple.


monticellostore_2272_203463744Spotted Aleppo salad lettuce is an heirloom variety of lettuce that was grown in colonial America and remained popular until the 1870s. Its bronzy-red speckled leaves mark it as one of the more distinct varieties of lettuce, and its ability to withstand cool temperatures makes it a cool-season garden staple. Spotted Aleppo is a tender and flavorful base green that supports and enhances the flavors of your favorite fresh garnishments.

monticellostore_2268_121766716[1]The Prickly-seeded spinach is a smooth and triangular-leaved spinach that continues to grow over a long growing season. Records indicate that Thomas Jefferson sowed this variety of spinach in 1809 and 1812 as both a spring and fall crop. Spinach has been long regarded as an extremely healthy substitute for traditional lettuce, and tastes great eaten raw or cooked into other dishes.

monticellostore_2268_119217498[1]Brown Dutch lettuce is believed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite lettuce variety. It was sowed twenty-seven times in the Monticello Kitchen Garden between 1809 and 1824. The lettuce yields large, floppy outer leaves with a reddish tinge. It is best sowed in very early spring, making the months of February and March the perfect time to plant them in your cool season garden!


Step 2: Garnish with flavor

early-scarlet-globe-radish-3For a pop of color and flavor, cultivate Early Scarlet Globe radish seeds in your cool season garden. Radishes were regularly grown in the Monticello Kitchen Garden for use in salads and other vegetable dishes. It is a nineteenth-century variety noted for its bright scarlet skin and crisp white flesh.


monticellostore_2268_82466846[1]Nasturtiums are an edible, flowering plant that will brighten up any basic salad. They were grown in Jefferson’s kitchen garden and later became a staple in nineteenth century ornamental gardens. Both the nasturtium flower and leaf may be used as unique garnishments on your cool season salad. Jefferson also liked to use nasturtium seeds as capers when the pods were young.

tom-thumb-pea-7[1]Of his entire repertoire of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, the garden pea was one of Jefferson’s favorite plants. Garden peas enjoy cool, moist growing conditions; at Monticello, gardeners sow the Tom Thumb Pea in the beginning of March for a crop in early May.



Step 3: Dress for Success

monticellostore_2268_38868277Dining at Monticello reports, “Jefferson annually imported olive oil for its use at Monticello and saw ‘sallad-oil’ as ‘necessary of life,’ noting ‘what a number of vegetables are rendered eatable by the aid of a little oil.’” Surviving recipes of Monticello salad dressings indicate that Jefferson often combined garden herbs with oils and vinaigrettes for a simple yet savory dressing. Many herbs grow well during the cool season, particularly thyme, sage, sesame, and fennel. One of Jefferson’s recipes entitled “To Dress Salad” leaves room for the inclusion of a variety of herbs and greens according to the season. The only ingredients needed are vinegar, pepper, salt, and olive oil.

“To Dress Salad”- adapted from Dining at Monticello

  1. Put the vinegar, a small pinch of salt, and several generous grindings of pepper in a salad bowl and beat with a fork until the salt is dissolved.
  2. Gradually beat in about 6 tablespoons of olive oil, a little at a time, in a steady thin stream, beating constantly until emulsified. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, and oil as needed.
  3. Add the greens and herbs to the dressing and toss lightly to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings again, toss.


The Revolving Bookstand: Historically Inspired Cookbooks

Early American history is rich with a delicious mixture of traditional dishes and newly discovered foods. Historic figures like Thomas Jefferson, whose table was set, as Daniel Webster famously remarked, “in half Virginia, half French style, in good taste and abundance” are great sources of inspiration for modern cooks and hosts.

Monticello librarian and self-confessed foodie, Endrina Tay, shares her love for history and the culinary arts with the following cookbook recommendations and recipe suggestions for the Revolving Bookstand series.


Dining at Monticello

diningatmonticelloThis is a beautiful book that combines Jefferson family recipes that any home cook will enjoy with solid, historical research on Thomas Jefferson, his love for good food and fine wine, and on all aspects of foodways at Monticello. Filled with rich and fascinating details of ingredients and culinary practices from the period, coupled with stunning photography, this is definitely a book to feast your eyes on!

To complement your traditional ham or roast beef dinner for the holidays, I suggest trying these delightful vegetable sides – Asparagus with Herb Vinaigrette (page 136) or French Beans in Butter Sauce (page 138).


A Sweet Taste of History

a-sweet-taste-of-historyThe newest cookbook from famed Chef Walter Staib focuses on sweet treats and confectionary from eighteenth-century America. Accompanied by beautiful and mouth-watering illustrations for many of the historically placed dessert recipes featured, this elegant cookbook will inspire and impress any consummate cook or baker with a sweet tooth!

Looking for an easy make-ahead dessert to serve at your holiday party? My suggestion – the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tartlets (page 188)!


Dining with the Washingtons

washingtonsThis is a lavish work that celebrates food and dining at Mount Vernon, and the social life and customs of George and Martha Washington as they entertained scores of guests at their Virginia plantation. Detailed historical essays and recipes make this work a culinary delight.

Tired of serving the usual fare at your holiday table this year? Surprise your guests and family with Veal Scaloppini or “Scotch Collops” (on page 144).


TayEndrina Tay is Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at the Jefferson Library at Monticello.  Since joining the Foundation in 2002, she has been responsible for creating access to Monticello’s research and library resources, training and supervising library volunteers, and adapting technology solutions for the Jefferson Library.  Since 2004, she has been project manager for Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries, a project based at Monticello in partnership with, to build a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the books Jefferson owned, read, and recommended during this lifetime.

Jefferson & “the favorite drink”

Thomas Jefferson deemed coffee “the favorite drink of the civilised world” in 1824. He estimated in his Memorandum books that Monticello consumed a pound of coffee per day during his retirement. Favoring exotic flavors from the East and West Indies, Jefferson imported foreign beans which were stored in sixty-pound barrels in his cellar. Small quantities of beans were roasted and ground in the Monticello kitchen, and then prepared according to the recipe of Adrien Petit, Jefferson’s French maître d’hotel:

“On one measure of the coffee ground into meal pour three measures of boiling water. Boil it on hot ashes mixed with coal till the meal disappears from the top, when it will be precipitated. Pour it three times through a flannel strainer. It will yield 2 1/3 measures of clear coffee.”

The drink was a daily staple; it was served at breakfast every morning and likely in the afternoon after dinner, in a silver coffee urn made to Jefferson’s design. After the English taxation upon tea in the 18th century, coffee became a nationwide symbol of American pride and self-sufficiency—virtues Jefferson certainly celebrated in every way at his Monticello home.

coffeecanisterJefferson’s observations about the popularity of coffee remain as true today as they did in the 1820s. Our Monticello Coffee Collection celebrates the legacy of coffee at Jefferson’s historic home. The Shop’s Monticello Coffee Canister features his famous quotation and is a handy, attractive way to store your favorite coffee beans in the kitchen.  A Monticello fretwork-patterned pewter scoop complements the quality stoneware and makes scooping beans for a morning brew simple and easy.

csugarGlazed in a similar style as the coffee canister, the Monticello Sugar Bowl is a kitchen staple. A pewter plaque displays etchings reminiscent of Monticello’s terrace walkway railings— a small but eye-catching expression of classic Monticello style. The sugar bowl is an elegant and handy accent piece; keep it available on the countertop for whenever you need a pinch of sweet in your coffee or tea.

creamerThe Monticello Creamer features the same pewter plaque as the sugar bowl and is a beautiful addition to the medley of stoneware collection pieces. The creamer is a perfect addition to any breakfast spread as a milk pitcher for cereal or a cream carafe for coffee and tea. The quality stoneware ensures the creamer’s sturdy durability as a multipurpose vessel.

Sample Jefferson’s preferred coffee flavors with a pot brewed from our Monticello Colonial Blend Whole Coffee Beans. Inspired by 18th and 19th century flavors from the East Indies, the coffee blend’s authentic, aromatic experience resembles that which Jefferson likely enjoyed in his Tea Room. Hand grind beans the to your exact specifications with a Canister Coffee Mill and enjoy a cup of the colonial blend in the Jefferson Coffee Quote Mug featuring our third president’s famed coffee quote.

It’s Tomato Season at Monticello!


It’s a delicious time of year here at Monticello and we decided to check in with our resident gardening experts to see how they like to eat their tomatoes or “love apples” as they were often referred to in Thomas Jefferson’s era.

purplecalabashThe Purple Calabash Tomato was a clear favorite with our staff. Pat Brodowski, Monticello Vegetable Gardener, favors a fresh preparation, “I love Purple Calabash still warm from the garden. I cut them into scalloped circles that look like a mahogany-colored flower. The deep spicy flavor was rated first at this year’s Monticello Tomato Tasting.”

Brian Hartsock, Operations Manager of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Center for Historic Plants (CHP), doesn’t even bother with a knife, “I like Purple Calabash right off the vine like an apple!”

Lily Fox-Bruguiere, Garden & Outreach Coordinator for the CHP, has two delicious and easy go-to sauce recipes that she says work well with any of the tomatoes available at the Shop at Monticello. “For a fresh, no-cook sauce, I marinate fresh tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil for at least two hours and then toss with pasta and fresh mozzarella,” says Fox-Bruguiere, “and for a quick-cook fresh sauce, I start by blanching the tomatoes to remove the skins. Then, I sauté garlic and olive oil in a pan and add the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have cooked down I add fresh basil and serve over pasta with parmesan cheese.”

genovesetomatoAccording to Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Garden and Grounds, the secret to a great sauce is wine and the right tomato, “My favorite tomato is the Costoluto Genovese. It makes the best tomato sauce for pasta. It has a high amount of Lycopene, an antioxidant compound that gives the tomato its color. Lycopene is also highly soluble in fat and it combines very well with olive oil that I use for the tomato sauce.”

Find these tasty varieties and more like the German Johnson, Brandywine, and Prudens Purple Tomato in the Shop’s seed collection for the full Monticello “garden to plate” experience.

Gabriele Rausse’s Recipe

1) Slice a medium size onion thinly and fry it in olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat until it begins to brown. Add a glass of white wine to the onions.

2) Slice 1 lb. of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes, removing the petiole attachment and then adding to the browned onion in the pan. ( note: you can also use a blender rather than slice the tomatoes).

3) Add an half a vegetable bouillon cube or an equivalent amount of salt to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and then turn the heat down to low. The sauce should cook slowly for about an hour before serving with the pasta of your dreams.

While there are many myths surrounding Jefferson and tomatoes, it is true that he and his relatives frequently ate, enjoyed, and helped popularize the vegetable. “Tomatas,” as Jefferson spelled the name, were widely used in the Monticello kitchen and several varieties were planted in the Monticello garden. Jefferson’s granddaughters left records of numerous recipes that utilized the tomato, including gumbo soup, tomato pickles, preserves, and omelets. Virginia House-wife, a cookbook by Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolf, was one of the first appearances of tomatoes in an American cookbook. It contained 17 recipes featuring tomatoes including catsup, gazpacho, and stewed tomatoes.

If you are a fan of this American heritage food, check out The Heirloom Tomato by Amy Goldman and Tomatoes by Miriam Rubin. Both cookbooks offer delicious tomato recipes and history. Along with the recipes and photos in The Heirloom Tomato, there are profiles of the tomatoes filled with fascinating facts on their history and provenance, and a master gardener’s guide to growing your own. More than just a loving look at one of the world’s great edibles, this is a philosophy of eating and conservation between covers – an irresistible book for anyone who loves to cook or to garden.

tomatoescookbookTomatoes includes recipes that celebrate the down-home, inventive, and contemporary, such as Stand-over-the-Sink Tomato Sandwiches, Spiced Green Tomato Crumb Cake, Green Tomato and Pork Tenderloin Biscuit Pie, and Tomato and Golden Raisin Chutney. Rubin also offers useful cooking tips, lively lessons on history, cultivation, and preserving, and variations for year-round enjoyment of the tomato. With our seeds and cookbooks, you can’t grow wrong!

Need more recipes and food history to pair with those tomatoes? Check out our Jefferson and Pasta blog for Jefferson’s very own noodle recipe and the Shop’s latest pasta products.

Jefferson and Pasta

Thomas Jefferson is known as one of our “Founding Foodies” for good reason. His time in Europe, his interest in both foreign and native plants, and his influence as President allowed him to experiment with a number of “new” foods and promote unfamiliar dishes to his fellow Americans. Although popular legend attributes Jefferson with inventing macaroni and cheese, this is not the case. Jefferson first tried the noodle in Europe. macaronimachineEnamored with both the taste of the dish and how it was made, Jefferson made the following notes during his travels:

“The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF, comes out, and forms the Maccaroni g.g.g. which, when sufficiently long, are cut & spread to dry.”

italian-pasta-machine-4In February 1789, William Short acquired a “mould for making macaroni” at Jefferson’s request and shipped it to him in Paris. Although the machine probably did not arrive before Jefferson left France, it was shipped to Monticello by way of Philadelphia with some of his other personal items in 1790. With the Shop’s new Italian Pasta Machine you can follow in Jefferson’s footsteps and make homemade pasta. Below is a noodle recipe straight from Jefferson’s notes:

6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 lb of flour
a little salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Jefferson was most likely not the first to introduce macaroni (with or without cheese) to America, he did help popularize it. There is evidence of Jefferson serving macaroni to dinner guests during his presidency. In 1802, one guest wrote, “Dined at the President’s – …Dinner not as elegant as when we dined before. [Among other dishes] a pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with the strillions of onions, or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there were none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions was made of flour and butter, with a particularly strong liquor mixed with them.” Despite not being to everyone’s taste, noodles soon became popular in America.

The Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson and Wine

Thomas Jefferson claimed, in 1818, that “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.” His own habits had been formed over thirty years before—at the tables of Parisian philosophes and in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and a Virginia vintner worked to restore Jefferson’s vineyard at Monticello. Here are his recommendations for Jefferson and wine books:

9781604733709[1]Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman
This is probably the best researched book on Jefferson and wine. Hailman told me it took him 30 years to research and write this book. I love how detailed he is in every issue and situation on the topic. Nothing is left out—he puts together all of the little details and makes them into an attractive story. This book is not only for the person who wants basic information about Jefferson and wine, but also for experts who already know the subject.


passions[1]The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by James Gabler
This detailed book tells the story of Jefferson’s travels throughout the vineyards of France, Italy, and Germany as well as his introduction of European wines. I remember when Gabler showed up at Colle (near Monticello) in 1989 looking to see the land that Mazzei had used to grow European grapes (Vitis vinifera). This book is not a difficult read, and is especially good when enjoyed with a glass wine.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds


Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and local vitner, joined Monticello as assistant director of gardens and grounds in 1995. During his time at Monticello, he has worked to restore Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard, located just below the vegetable garden. The Northeast vineyard was replanted using several Jefferson-related European varieties, grated on hardy, pest-resistant native rootstock. The Southwest Vineyard was replanted entirely with the Sangiovese grape, a variety documented by Jefferson in 1807 and the principal ingredient of Chianti. Rausse oversees the production of wine as well as the care of the restored vineyards, which continue to serve as experimental gardens of unusual varieties of vinifera. Throughout Virginia, Rausse is known for his mark on Virginia wine and has often been called the “Father of the Virginia Wine Industry.” In October 2010, Edible Blue Ridge magazine called Rausse, “God of Wine.”

As an Italian immigrant, Rausse shares his Mediterranean knowledge of grapes and wine-making to the thriving market in Virginia. He first came to Virginia to establish Barboursville Vineyards in April 1976. Barboursville Vineyards was the first commercial vinifera winery in Virginia. By initiating the growth and development of this native Mediterranean grape, Rausse created a name for himself in the local wine community. He was drawn to other vineyards, such as Simeon (now Jefferson), Afton Mountain, and Blenheim, to help jump-start their place in the Virginia wine market.

Rausse has become one of the vital overseers in wine production and the restoration of vineyards in Virginia. He began the wine competition at the State Fair of Virginia and received Virginia Wine Person of the Year in 1996. Most recently, Rausse was awarded the 2011 Virginia Distinguished Service Award. This honor is presented to an individual for meritorious service to the council and state’s agribusiness industry.

Chocolate Dipped Figs

In a 1794 letter to his friend George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson wrote “…I ever wish to have the opportunity of enjoying your society, knowing your fondness for figs, I have daily wished you could have partaken of ours this year.  I never saw so great a crop, & they are still abundant of three kinds which I brought from France…”  Jefferson achieved some success with this tender species, often recording harvesting dates and regularly sharing his favorite variety, Marseilles, with friends and neighbors. The fig terrace, in the south-facing submural beds below the Monticello kitchen garden, was a popular site for Jefferson-escorted tours of the landscape. It also created a warm microclimate that, when compounded with the unusual hardiness of the Marseilles, gave the Monticello figs a reputation for unusual fruitfulness. At least one contemporary considered Jefferson a pioneer grower of the fig.  A friend and neighbor, John Hartwell Cocke, recalled that figs were “first successfully cultivated by Mr. Jefferson at Monticello after his return from his mission to France.”

Today, the Monticello’s Marseilles, Brown Turkey, and Angelique figs still abundantly grow on Monticello’s grounds and elsewhere including the White House.  In 2009, Monticello’s then Director of Gardens and Grounds Peter Hatch gifted a grafted Marseilles fig tree to Mrs. Obama.  Later that year, volunteers in the Kitchen Garden at the White House mistook the small fig tree for a weed and added it to the compost pile.  Thankfully, executive director and assistant chef Sam Kass realized the mistake, replanted the tree, and, jokingly, apologized to it profusely.  This year the young Marseilles fig tree bore fruit for the first time and gained the distinction of being the only fruit bearing tree at the White House.

In 1835 Margaret Bayard Smith, a friend of Jefferson and a central figure in the whirlwind world of Washington society, reported on a conversation with Henry Orr, “the most experienced and fashionable waiter in the city,” in which she suggested a dessert that included figs for a sophisticated dinner party. Orr responded, “Oh no, ma’am, they are quite vulgar.” Well, we beg to differ! Chocolate-dipped figs using American Heritage Chocolate are a delectable addition to your next garden party!


Chocolate Dipped Figs by Katy Woods

1 pound fresh or dried Brown Turkey figs

1 American Heritage Chocolate Block

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

  1. Over low heat, melt the chocolate block and semi-sweet chocolate, stirring constantly until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat. Line a plate with wax or parchment paper.
  2. If using fresh figs, clean each fig and dry completely with a paper towel. Delicately holding the stem, dip each fig into the chocolate until the fig is covered. Set on plate lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until the chocolate is firm. Delightful by themselves or served with a glass of Gabriele Rausse’s Merlot!

For over 100 more delicious fig recipes, check out Under the Fig Leaf.