The Jefferson Table and the Monticello Kitchen

On Friday June 8th, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will host a cooking demonstration and tasting at the USDA Farmer’s Market using the vegetables culled from the Gillette Family Garden including varietals of peas, greens, cabbage, and condiments. The food will be prepared and presented by culinary historian Leni Sorensen, PhD. The recipes are from the cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph, and the repertoire of Edith Fosset, President Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved cook at the White House and Monticello during his retirement.

Thomas Jefferson is considered by culinary historians to be America’s “epicurean president.” He enjoyed fine French cuisine and apprenticed two enslaved cooks, Edith Fosset and Fanny Hern, to a French cook in Washington, Honoré Julien. On Jefferson’s retirement they returned to Monticello where they oversaw both everyday meals and special events.  Daniel Webster once remarked, meals at Monticello as "in half Virginian, half French style, in good taste and abundance."

Below are some recipes that may have been used by Monticello’s chefs and can be found in The Virginia Housewife. The cookbook was published in 1838 and the spelling reflects the time period. 

Sweet Potatoes Stewed by Mary Randolph

Wash and wipe them, and if they be large, cut them in two lengths; put them at the bottom of a stew pan, lay over some slices of boiled ham; and on that, one or two chickens cut up with pepper, salt, and a bundle of herbs; pour in some water, and stew them till done, then take out the herbs, serve the stew in a deep dish. Thicken the gravy, and pour over it.

Dried Pea Soup by Mary Randolph

Take one quart of split peas, or Lima beans, which are better; put them in three quarts of very soft water with three onions chopped up, pepper and salt; boil them two hours; mash them well and pass them through a sieve; return the liquid into the pot, thicken it with a large piece of butter and flour, put in some slices of nice salt pork, and a large tea-spoonful of celery seed pounded; boil it till the pork is done, and serve it up; have some toasted bread cut into dice and fried in butter, which must be put in the tureen before you pour in the soup.

Green Pea Soup by Mary Randolph

Make it exactly as you do the dried pea soup, only in place of the celery seed, put a handful of mint chopped small, and a pint of young peas, which must be boiled in the soup till tender; thicken it with a quarter of a pound of butter, and two spoonsful of flour.

OCHRA SOUP by Mary Randolph

Get two double handsful of young ochra, wash and slice it thin, add two onions chopped fine, put it into a gallon of water at a very early hour in an earthen pipkin [earthen pot], or very nice iron pot; it must be kept steadily simmering, but not boiling: put in pepper and salt. At 12 o'clock, put in a handful of Lima beans; at half-past one o'clock, add three young cimlin [squash] cleaned and cut in small pieces, a fowl, or knuckle of veal, a bit of bacon or pork that has been boiled, and six tomatos, with the skin taken off; when nearly done, thicken with a spoonful of butter, mixed with one of flour. Have rice boiled to eat with it.

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