Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet." Food was a large part of Jefferson’s life. His garden was organized into 24 squares and further divided into rows, according to which plant he planted. Jefferson daily noted the progress of his gardens in his Garden book from 1766 to 1824. He noted when the crops were planted, harvested, and when they came to the table. At dusk, Jefferson would go to the gardens to update the progress of his beloved plants. Jefferson constantly sought out new varieties of crops to experiment with including wheat from Ireland, grapes from Italy, and cucumbers from Ohio.
As a summer intern in the special events and marketing department and a rising third year at the University of Virginia, I am excited to be at Monticello where I am able to share my love and respect for food and learn more about Jefferson’s passion for cuisine and dedication to gardening. After living in Charlottesville for 2 years, I have come to cherish the local food community. It is rare to find a place so in touch with the local food movement and bringing food to table. Since I have started my internship, I have learned more about Jefferson himself and the practice of gardening, which once foreign to me.
Today, the gardens are maintained by the hardworking garden staff at Monticello. Monticello’s Vegetable Gardener, Pat Brodowski, showed me around the gardens. When I first met her, she was working on a lattice for the tomato plants. Staying true to the Jeffersonian era, Pat used twigs to construct the lattice. Walking down one of the 24 squares, she popped off a small star-shaped purple flower known as the Borage and asked me to eat it—not a normal request with flowers. The Borage has a refreshing, cucumber taste.
Pat freezes the flowers into ice cubes and serves them at the Revolutionary Garden Tour, an experiential garden tour, offered every Friday and Saturday at 9 am (April 27-November 2). She fills ice trays with water and places one to two flowers into each square.
At the dill plant, she gave me some of the dill pollen to eat. Never wasting any part of the plant, Pat explained the pollen is great to add to salads because it has a sweet, mild dill flavor.
Outside of Monticello’s grounds, many are inspired by Jefferson’s dedication to quality, local food. Local cheese maker, Gail Hobbs-Page says she is touched every time she visits Monticello. She believes without Jefferson, we would not have Charlottesville and all Charlottesville has to offer. At her own farm, Caromont, she has a philosophy that “Good milk makes good cheese.” Hobbs has thirty-eight milking goats. From the goats birth, Hobbs bottle feeds them four times a day. Hobbs says bottle feeding makes her goats calm and docile. Once old enough to breed and produce milk, Hobbs and her faithful coworkers milk the goats twice a day—at 6 am and 6 pm.
Unlike many farms, Caromont Farm analyzes each vat of milk for the milk components such as milk butter and proteins. Only the best milk is used for goat cheese. Her dedication to the local community is evident. Hobbs recently launched a new cheese called Crottin d’Albermarle in honor of her loyalty to her Charlottesville customers who were the first to support her. Each year Gail Hobbs hosts an event known as Hill and Hollar. The profits from the dinner go to a chosen non-profit. For more information, please visit hillandholler.org.
After visiting the beautiful and diverse vegetable gardens at Monticello and the local Caromont Farm, I was inspired to try out a truly local dish using beets from Monticello and farmstead chevré from Caromont. The chevré has a creamy, lemony flavor. The White, Chioggia, and Golden beet varieties have an earthy, sweet flavor. When the two flavors come together along with fresh herbs, reduced balsamic, peppery arugula, and a touch of sea salt they make a perfect summer dish.
2 tablespoons olive oil 2 Chioggia beets 2 white beets 1 golden beet 8 ounces fresh Farmstead chevre (a soft goat cheese), at room temperature 1 tablespoon chopped chives 1/2 tablespoon minced rosemary 1 tablespoon chopped mint 1 tablespoon chopped basil 1 cup arugula Balsamic glaze Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle olive oil over beets to coat. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes or until a fork inserted into the center goes in smoothly. Let cool completely.
2. While beets are cooling, prepare herbed goat cheese. In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese and herbs. Set aside. Once beets are completely cooled, carefully peel off the skin with your hands. Slice Chioggia and white beets into ½-inch slices. Chop the golden beet into bite-sized chunks.
3. Place a bed of arugula onto four separate plates. On each plate, layer goat cheese and beets as follows: white beet, ½ tablespoon goat cheese, Chioggia, goat cheese, white, goat cheese, Chioggia. Arrange golden beets around the stack. Garnish with a touch of balsamic glaze and salt and pepper.
If you are interested in learning more about local farmers and venues, please join us on September 14th and 15th at the 6th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival. Please visit heritageharvestfestival.com.