Breakfast Table Fun Fact

A Child's View of Breakfast

Another account of a breakfast at Monticello comes from Jefferson's great-granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Harrison, who recorded her family's stories about childhood at Monticello. This episode concerns grandson Benjamin Franklin Randolph and one of the many visitors to Monticello, Dolley Madison.

Mrs. Madison

"Of these visitors, none was more warmly welcomed than Mrs. Madison, who came every year with her husband for a visit of a month's duration. Mrs. Madison helped the older girls with their darning and fancy work, made clothes for the dolls, told such lovely fairy tales, and was so sympathetic and kind, that the youngest never hesitated to call on her kindly aid."

How to Butter an English Muffin

"On one occasion little Benjamin Franklin . . . seated next to Mrs. M., found himself unequal to the management of his muffin. Mrs. Madison's aid being invoked, she took the knife to cut it, but a little hand was laid on hers, and an earnest voice exclaimed, 'No! No! That is not the way!' 'Well, how then Master Ben?' 'Why, you must tear him open, and put butter inside and stick holes in his back! And then pat him and squeeze him and the juice will run out!' Mrs. Madison, much amused, followed his directions. Any lover of the English muffin will appreciate their wisdom!"

"How to Make Muffins in Peter's Method"

The muffin little Ben was eating was likely made according to the recipe of Peter Hemings, head cook at Monticello. The popularity of these "Monticello Muffins" is attested to by Jefferson's letter from the President's House to his daughter Martha at Monticello: "Pray enable yourself to direct us here how to make muffins in Peter's method. My cook here cannot succeed at all in them, and they are a great luxury to me."

The "Receipt for Monticello Muffins" was recorded in the manuscript cookbook of Jefferson's granddaughter Septimia Randolph Meikleham:

To a quart of flour put two table spoonsfull of yeast. Mix . . . the flour up with water so thin that the dough will stick to the table. Our cook takes it up and throws it down until it will no longer stick [to the table?] she puts it to rise until morning. In the morning she works the dough over . . . the first thing and makes it into little cakes like biscuit and sets them aside until it is time to back them. You know muffins are backed in a gridle [before?] in the [fire?] hearth of the stove not inside. They bake very quickly. The second plate full is put on the fire when breakfast is sent in and they are ready by the time the first are eaten.

A modernized version of this recipe is also available.

--Monticello Research, September 1994
   (recipe transcribed by Ann M. Lucas, Monticello Research Department)

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  • China discovered during archaeological excavations at Monticello.

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