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4 Foods Jefferson Helped Popularize in America

From writing the Declaration of Independence to commissioning the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson is one of the most influential figures in our presidential history. But strides toward social and political freedom were not the only things he made relevant during his two terms. We have Jefferson's unique taste to thank for popularizing some of the most beloved foods in American culture—think ice cream, mac 'n' cheese and even french fries.

Recipe for Ice Cream in Jefferson's hand1. Ice Cream

While it's untrue that Jefferson invented ice cream, his obsession with serving the frozen treat at dinner parties greatly popularized it in America. There are multiple references of ice cream popping up in White House history between 1801 and 1809, and several notes of guests describing its presentation “inside of a crust or pastry” (pie à la mode, anyone?). Jefferson’s own ice cream recipe was inspired from his time in France and is one of the ten recipes in his handwriting that still exist today.

Tomatoes harvested from Monticello's Vegetable Garden2. Tomatoes

We can say with certainty that Thomas Jefferson both cultivated and ate tomatoes from 1809 until 1824 and quite possibly grew them as early as 1781. Tomatoes were not as popular in Jefferson's time and were often believed to be poisonous because of their membership in the Nightshade plant family. According to one published report, Jefferson created quite a bit of consternation when he publicly ate a tomato in front of the present Miller-Claytor house in Lynchburg.

Jefferson's drawing of a 'maccaroni' machine with notes3. Macaroni and Cheese

There may not be an exact known inventor of "mac 'n' cheese," but Jefferson's connections to this ever-popular dish are strong. One of the few surviving recipes in Jefferson's hand is nouilly á maccaroni.  Although the recipe is simply for noodles, a couple of Jefferson's relatives wrote down recipes for baked macaroni with the now-familiar milk, butter and cheese. Federalist senator Manasseh Cutler described eating "a pie called macaroni" at the President's House in 1802, and the population hasn’t stopped raving about it since.

'Potatoes, raw, in small rounds, deep-fried' as described by Jefferson4. French Fries

Jefferson returned to America from France with a recipe for pommes de terre frites a cru en petites tranches, which essentially translates to "deep-fried potatoes in small cuttings."  His notes from the President's house contain perhaps the earliest American reference to this now ubiquitous food. Mary Randolph, one of Jefferson's relatives, included a recipe for fried potatoes in her historic cookbook, The Virginia House-Wife. Though they have a round shape instead, the potatoes are otherwise nearly identical to what we call french fries.

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