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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America [Hardcover]

Thomas J. Craughwell
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 18 2012

This culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom. 
 

 
Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in United States history. As Hemings apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, Champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative history tells the story of their remarkable adventure—and even includes a few of their favorite recipes!



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Review

“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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Delight To Be Savored July 9 2013
By James Gallen TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee" is part history and part gastronomical journey. It focuses on Thomas Jefferson's time as a diplomat in Paris during which he undertook not only to get loans for his struggling government but to elevate the cuisine at Monticello and with it, America as a whole. Before leaving America in 1784 he struck a bargain with his slave, James Hemings, to grant James his freedom after he went to France to learn French cooking. The bargain was kept. Hemings was apprenticed in the finest kitchens in Paris while Jefferson researched plants and seeds that would broaden the food selections available in America. Upon his return he passed his knowledge on to his younger brother before his emancipation and subsequent career in the food service industry.

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.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  62 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Oct. 7 2012
By Wine Teacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
There has been recent interest in Thomas Jefferson's food and wine interest and his influence on American viticulture and the culinary art. These topics are highly related to his time in Europe during the late 1780's, especially France where he served as a diplomat for the young nation. James Gabler's "Passoins: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson" was the first. It is a small book doing a very concise job of covering Jefferson's European travels in the and his experiences and comments about wines and wine countries. More detailed and with more original material excerpted is John Hailman's "Thomas Jefferson on Wine". This volume is more scholarly in its goal but it is more restricted to Jefferson's wine interest. More of a coffee table book is Damon Lee Fowler's "Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste and Abundance". This one has a lot of very good pictures in glossy paper and some recipes. It is more concentrated in the food interest of Jefferson. Now, I need to get back to the new Thomas Craughwell book, "Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee". This book despite covering the same area that the other three books I have mentioned, it has much to offer. First, there is a very good story-telling narrative that is the back bone of this book. It covers well the ambiance of Parisian society just before the French Revolution, and from the point of view of a new visitor from America. It does a better job of the "time and place" aspect that any of the books I have mentioned here. The background stories about Jefferson's slaves, friends and family are well presented as part of the back drop of his time in Paris. They are robust stories and very interesting too. It ends up being a more holistic approach to the subject. The book spends a lot of pages on James Hemings as it should. Rather than just keeping count of the facts, the story telling approach should add to its popular appeal. The last part of the book shows facsimile of some of Thomas Jefferson's recipes and those with connection to him. They are so obscure and so hard to see that the effort is a waste. Some annotation would be very helpful. I think many reading this book would have interest in making food with connection to Thomas Jefferson, albeit recipes may need to be updated for the modern chefs. Some attempts in this area would have been nice.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jefferson at the dinner table Sept. 28 2012
By Bruce Trinque - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"Thomas Jeffer's Creme Brulee" is subtitle "How a Founding Father and his Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America". It is unfortunate that James Heming's part in the story is known principally from what can be inferred from Jefferson's papers; the social realities of the era left little room for a slave, even a privileged one like James Hemings, to record his own experiences. James Jemings' youger sister Sally later became Jefferson's mistress, and various syblings and relatives held favored positions of responsibility in Jefferson's household establishment. When in 1784 Jefferson was sent to France as an official representative, he brought along young James with a promise that he would be eventually given his freedom if he learned the art of French cooking, then something almost unknown in America. We are able to follow Jefferson's experiences with French food (and wine) during this period in considerable detail, but of necessity we catch only glimpses of Hemings' role in all this. Part of the bargain was that James would be emancipated after his return to America and after he trained someone else in the Jefferson kitchen in what he had learned. Although Jefferson's appointment as Secretary of State delayed this proceedings, eventually James trained his younger brother Peter as a French cook and achieved his freedom. Some of the recipes that James studied in France, such as macaroni and cheese and French fries, became standard fare on American tables.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serving Up More Than French Cuisine Sept. 27 2012
By Crabigail Cassidy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I liked this book. While admittedly this may not be most readers proverbial cup of tea or favored desert, it takes a look at Jefferson who in many ways may be viewed as this country's first foodie. It also looks at the eating habits of colonial America, the availability of foods and their presentation, and the strong influence that England still wielded over the upstart founding fathers and the new nation as a whole.
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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Light and fluffy... Nov. 6 2012
By stuart1776 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While I enjoyed reading this rather brief book, I was also rather disappointed with it. Craughwell writes clearly and engagingly, but all he has done here is compile information and ideas from other sources - there's no new research included here. As a result, the book is a bit flimsy, and often strays from the story into little digressions, that often give the impression of simply trying to add another page or two to the book, to bulk it out into something publishable as a book rather than a magazine article. I was particularly disappointed in the lack of material on James Hemings and Craughwell's failure to add anything new to his story over and above Annette Gordon-Reed's "The Hemingses of Monticello" from 2008.

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?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Boil 2 quarts of milk with a large piece of orange peel" (3.5 stars) Oct. 24 2012
By J. Green - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've read quite a few biographies and histories about Thomas Jefferson, but the aspect of his life that interested me most was his interest in food and gardening. Much of Thomas Craughwell's book covers the time Jefferson served as ambassador to France and the food fashions of Paris. From the sumptuous, lengthy, and extravagant meals of the aristocracy came a new sensibility and awareness of food that the aristocratically-minded Jefferson lapped up.

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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