The Slave Owner, the Cook, His Sister, and Her Lover

Posted in anniversaries, books by Editor on July 4, 2013

Published last September, Craughwell’s book underscores Jefferson’s complicated attitudes and debts to slavery. On, this, the day of the United State’s birth and Jefferson’s death, that strikes me as useful. It’s certainly fascinating to see the American introduction of macaroni and cheese as part of a trans-Atlantic story involving both Europe and Africa. Happy Independence Day.CH

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From Quirk Books:

Thomas J. Craughwell, Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1594745782, $20.

Book Review Thomas Jeffersons Creme BruleeThis culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings [brother of Sally 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.

Abram Barkshian reviewed the book for The Wall Street Journal (14 September 2012).

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