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.


2 Responses to “Jefferson and Pasta”
  1. Mia Magruder says:

    Need some sauce recipes to go with your pasta? Check out the Memorandum post on Tomato Season at Monticello for recipes from our gardening staff!

Tell Us What You Think

If you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!