As mentioned in the first presidential post at the start of this summer, the President can often influence the taste and food preferences of the nation in large and small ways. For President Obama, this resulted in a boost to the sales of a Seattle chocolate-covered caramel maker. For Thomas Jefferson, this influence is even greater. Jefferson bears credit for sparking the popularity of several foods here in the United States that remain popular still today, such as macaroni and cheese. Jefferson’s culinary preferences seem to have been largely influenced by his time living in France (1784-1789) first assisting Benjamin Franklin with the negotiation of European commercial treaties, then serving as the U.S.’s Minister to France. His foodie legacy also includes two of our favorite treats today, ice cream – and chocolate, of course!
While Jefferson had probably already encountered chocolate in the colonies well before he arrived in France, his passion for it was largely sparked by his European residency, as chocolate was more well-established there as part of the culinary culture. In fact, Jefferson truly came to believe that chocolate would be the next big thing in the newly established United States of America. In a letter dated November 27, 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote of chocolate to John Adams and predicted that “the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.”
Jefferson also had a unique chocolate pot made for his household that was inspired by a bronze askos, a Roman vessel with a similar shape to wine jugs or wine skins made from animal blatters, that he had viewed in the Cabinet of Antiquities at Nîmes. The object had been excavated at the Maison Carrée, a Roman temple in the south of France, which Jefferson had been quite taken with when he visited. He first had a mahogany version of the vessel made in 1787, and in 1801 he commissioned a silver one from two silversmiths in Philadelphia. This silver askos was used by the family not to serve wine, but to serve chocolate! Due to its unusual shape, a family letter suggests that it may have been nicknamed “the duck.” The odd shape and lack of a stirring rod also suggests that the chocolate would have to be frothed in a separate container or pot in the kitchen and then transferred into the askos. Typically, chocolate would be frothed right up until the moment of serving. Using “the duck” likely meant that the drinking chocolate served at Monticello would have been a bit on the cool and oily side as the beverage cooled and separated on the journey from the kitchen to the Tea Room.
Arguably a more significant legacy than chocolate, Jefferson introduced ice cream to the American population during his time in the Presidential office. Though the popular myth that he invented ice cream proves to be false, extant documents suggest he was the first American to write down a recipe for vanilla ice cream – a recipe he would have picked up in France! He served this cold treat at least six times at formal events while President, baffling and intriguing his dinner guests.
While President Jefferson would likely not have thought of chocolate as a dessert, we certainly do so today! Lucky for you, this actually is only part one of two, because we here at Captain Jackson’s thought it would be fun to bring together the flavors of colonial chocolate and ice cream. We can’t help but think Jefferson would be a fan of our next recipe post coming to you next week!