Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America Hardcover – Sep 18 2012
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“Like an enticing buffet, Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee brims with anecdotes ranging from a short history of French cooking to dining preferences of French kings, to the respective heat distribution properties of cast iron and copper.”—American Spirit
“…meticulously researched…”—Associated Press
“[a] well-researched look at the impact Jefferson and Hemings had on our eating habits.”—Chicago Tribune
“In Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America, author Thomas J. Craughwell serves up a lively story with a generous helping of culinary history....Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée is a charming book that will appeal to both foodies and lay readers.”—ForeWord Review
“Craughwell provides a delightful tour of 18th-century vineyards still in production, a look at French aristocrats just before the Revolution and the France that paid little attention to the color of a man’s skin...A slim but tasty addition to the long list of Jefferson’s accomplishments.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of several nonfiction books, including Stealing Lincoln’s Body, which was adapted into a documentary by the History Channel. He lives in Bethel, Connecticut.
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Top Customer Reviews
Within this story author Thomas J. Craughwell explores the relationships among the American commissioners, Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and their roles in French society. He compares the state of food in America and France and describes what Jefferson saw during the early phases of the French Revolution.
This short book is an easy read that introduces the reader to facets of Jefferson's life and character only touched on in more general volumes. For any fan of Jefferson and Early American cuisine, "Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee" is a delight to be savored.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The basic premise is that when Jefferson departed with his two daughters to France he made a bargain with a favored slave 19 year old James Hemmings that if he learned to prepare the French cuisine that Jefferson favored he would grant Hemmings his freedom.
The ensuing tale is a blend of culinary discovery, history, innovation, domestic dealings, and tidbits and morsels of personal information about Jefferson's social life and habits.
I've enjoyed visiting Monticello, Jefferson's primary residence, on several occasions through the years. Invariably, the one topic that always comes up is Jefferson's love for entertaining along with his interests in architecture, farming, politics, and invention. This book touches on a lot of things that have become part of the Jefferson persona and some things that I have never heard from a tour guide. This book touches on the Sun King Louis XIV and his insatiable appetite for rich food,Jefferson's view of the French Revolution, his daughter Patsy's infatuation with catholicism and her entertaining the idea of becoming a nun and how T.J. disavowed of that notion. Jefferson was so taken by the French way that he even studied grape growing with the intention of producing their wines.
This is a relatively short book, but it provided an interesting glimpse of Jefferson the diplomat when he escaped international dealings to become a social being with ever expanding interests.
As such, it's a nice and pleasingly-readable compilation of other people's research, but rather insubstantial too. And, as one other reviewer notes, the inclusion of some of Heming's recipes was one of the reasons I bought this, but they're reproduced from the originals in not overly clear scans - couldn't transcripts have been provided at the very least?
This is not an in-depth history of Jefferson's meals. Likewise, the slave James Hemmings plays a very minor role, probably because little was documented of his short life. Instead Craughwell fills in information about the foods that were popular in America and France at the time. He explains how the French excesses (including food-related) influenced the French Revolution. And this sort of background history that is often glossed over in many history books is what makes this one interesting. Likewise, I enjoyed the short appendixes discussing the kinds of foods grown in Jefferson's gardens and his fascination with wine.
But foodies looking for an in-depth examination of Jefferson's dinner table or James Hemmings' recipes may come away with more historical background than detail. I suspect that kind of 'mundane' information simply wasn't part of the historical record. Still, it was a fun and short read. (For a more detailed look at his gardening I recommend Andrea Wulf's Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation.)
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